No More Fig Leafs: Doctors Without Borders Rejects World Aid Summit, Rips U.N. For Ongoing War Crimes

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MSF hospital in Kunduz after the airstrike. Photo by Najim Rahim/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Having watched in aggrieved horror the last year as over 75 of its hospitals were bombed and hundreds of its patients and health workers were killed "in violation of the most fundamental rules of war," Doctors Without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières, has withdrawn from the World Humanitarian Summit slated for later this month in Turkey. The action comes just days after an MSF-supported hospital in Aleppo, Syria was attacked, killing at least 50 people, including one of the city's last pediatricians. It also follows last week's almost entirely redacted, predictably egregious Pentagon report finding that 16 U.S. military personnel involved in the grisly bombing of a MSF hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan in October 2015 - killing 42 and injuring many more - committed "errors" worthy of “disciplinary measures,” but no war or any other kind of crime. The bombings have led many to charge that U.S. so-called policy in those countries is a murky "recipe leading to disaster" born of massive political confusion, and that in the wake of its inevitable disasters, "the Pentagon shouldn't get to absolve itself for bombing a hospital."

Citing these atrocities and many more connected to them - from civilians wounded and killed in Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, Afghanistan to mistreatment of some of the world's nearly 60 million refugees in Turkey, Greece and elsewhere - MSF acknowledged that an international humanitarian summit seeking solutions has never been more needed. But even after spending months preparing for the Turkey summit, and after the U.N. urged global attendance by proclaiming,  “We will not accept the erosion of humanity which we see in the world today,” MSF has regretfully withdrawn.

“We no longer have any hope that the WHS will address the weaknesses in humanitarian action and emergency response, particularly in conflict areas or epidemic situations,” it said in a statement last week. “As shocking violations of international humanitarian law and refugee rights continue on a daily basis, WHS participants will be pressed to a consensus on non-specific, good intentions to ‘uphold norms’ and ‘end needs.’ The summit has become a fig-leaf of good intentions, allowing these systematic violations, by states above all, to be ignored."


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In a blistering speech before the U.N. Security Council last week, MSF president Dr. Joanne Liu further voiced the group's anger over the world's persistent failure to act to "stop the carnage." Citing last week's "murderous airstrike" in Aleppo that "blew apart at least 50 men, women and children" and the almost 300 airstrikes there over the last 10 days, she furiously asked, “What are individuals in wars today? Expendable commodities, dead or alive.” She went on, “Hospitals are routinely bombed, raided, looted or burned to the ground. Medical personnel are threatened. Patients are shot in their beds. Broad attacks on communities and precise attacks on health facilities are described as mistakes, are denied outright, or are simply met with silence. In reality, they amount to massive, indiscriminate and disproportionate civilian targeting in urban settings, and, in the worst cases, they are acts of terror.” Noting that four of five permanent members of the Council have ties to coalitions connected to these attacks - including the US-and-NATO coalition in Afghanistan - she insisted, "Medicine must not be a deadly occupation" and states must live up to their "extraordinary responsibilities." "You will be judged not on your words today, but on your actions," she said. "Your work has only begun."

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 MSF photo after airstrike

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Joanne Liu blasts UN security council. Photo by Paulo Filgueiras/MSF

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