Afghanistan Clinic Attack by NATO and Afghan Forces Violates Geneva Convention

French soldiers in Afghanistan's Wardak province, where the health clinic was attacked and taken over by NATO troops. (Photograph: Jeff Pachoud/AFP/Getty Images)

Afghanistan Clinic Attack by NATO and Afghan Forces Violates Geneva Convention

Swedish Committee of Afghanistan: October incident undermines medical care

NATO and Afghan forces attacked and occupied a non-profit health clinic in Afghanistan in October, the aid group that runs the clinic said Thursday after meeting with the international officials to discuss the violation of the Geneva Convention.

The soldiers "were dropped off by helicopters late one October evening and headed straight to the clinic," and then used the clinic as a jail and military command center, according to a report in The Guardian.

Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, which operates the clinic in Sewak, Chak district of Wardak province, said NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) forces and the Afghan National Army broke doors, windows and medical equipment and detained civilians and clinic staff, preventing them from carrying out their duties. No patients could seek care for the three days the clinic was occupied.

Reporting from Kabul, Emma Graham-Harrison of The Guardian continues:

And for the next two and a half days they brought dozens, maybe hundreds of prisoners through the clinic, using it as a jail, logistics hub and for mortar fire, contravening the Geneva conventions, which protect medical centres.

"It is not only a totally unacceptable breach against all established rules, but can also have a negative long-term impact on access to health care for ordinary Afghans," Andreas Stefansson, country director of Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, said in a statement. "Through incidents as these, patients and health staff lose confidence in the health facility as a neutral zone respected by warring parties and will thus fear approaching it again."

Aid groups in Afghanistan work to combat still-endemic polio and infant malnutrition. But Stefansson said regular abuse of buildings and staff by the ISAF is undermining that work.

He told The Guardian:

"Most NGOs who deliver healthcare in this country experience this almost on a monthly basis; that there are breaches in different provinces, where the Afghan National Army, or ISAF, or special forces basically don't show the level of respect they should for health facilities. We are getting quite fed up with it."

In September, a suicide bomber destroyed an SCA clinic and injured six patients in Saldabad in Wardak province. At the time, Stefansson expressed concern that "ordinary Afghan children, women and men are prevented from accessing public services due to the fear of attacks."

Stefannson said in Thursday's statement:

"We expect ISAF to take our concerns seriously and look forward to the actions they so far have committed themselves to in reviewing their mapping of health facilities and improving the training and mentoring of troops in the protection of medical facilities ... Together with other health actors in Afghanistan, we intend to continue keeping a close eye on these matters."

Speaking to The Guardian, human rights lawyer Erica Gaston, senior programme officer at the US Institute of Peace, said, "The protection of medical persons and facilities, and respect for their neutrality was one of the founding principles of international humanitarian law. This latest incident is a serious violation ... if true, it's incredible to me that they not only raided this clinic but that [NATO] command allowed them to continue occupying it for days afterwards."

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