One month after the U.S. bombing of a Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Afghanistan killed at least 30 people and wounded dozens more, the Obama administration refuses to submit to an independent inquiry while the aid group charges that the lack of global outcry over the incident has become deafening.
"The silence is embarrassing," MSF executive director Joanne Liu told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview on Monday. "We have seen an erosion over the years of international humanitarian law. Enough is enough. We cannot keep going like this."
The medical charity has appealed to 76 governments asking for backing for an impartial investigation to clarify what went wrong at the facility in Kunduz—one of the few emergency trauma centers in northeastern Afghanistan—and to prevent any future such tragedy.
"Yet today, as we mourn the killing of our staff and patients, none of the 76 countries have stepped forward to show their support for an independent investigation by the Humanitarian Commission," said MSF-USA executive director Jason Cone at a commemoration in New York City's Union Square on Tuesday. "No state has been willing to stand up for the Geneva Conventions and the laws of war."
Including—and perhaps most egregiously—the United States.
"That is why we again call on President Barack Obama to give his consent for the United States to participate in an independent investigation by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission," Cone said. "Consenting to such an investigation would send a powerful signal of the U.S. government's commitment to and respect for international humanitarian law and the rules of war."
More than 415,000 people have signed onto a petition backing this demand.
The memorial in New York City was one of several such events taking place worldwide on Tuesday under the banner "Even War Has Rules." Other vigils took place in London, Edinburgh, Brussels, and Johannesburg.
Noting that recent attacks in Kunduz, as well as in Yemen, "are not isolated cases," MSF-UK executive director Vickie Hawkins on Tuesday declared that "the protection of health facilities in conflict zones has been eroded."
This tragic and wanton destruction not only affects MSF. It affects the millions of people who are caught up in conflict and all too often, it is patients, doctors, paramedics and support staff who pay the highest price.
Since 1949, the Geneva Conventions have obliged warring parties to protect the wounded and sick, without discrimination and in respect of the rules of medical ethics. They bring some humanity to an otherwise inhumane situation. Is there a concerted effort to rewrite these rules of war?
"For me the key message is about the safeguarding of the humanitarian medical space in war zones," Liu reiterated. "No one expects to be bombed when they are in a hospital. Every human being can understand that."