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Afghanistan: US Should Conduct Criminal Inquiry in MSF Attack

Investigation Needed Outside Chain of Command

WASHINGTON - The US government’s investigation into the October 3, 2015 airstrike on a Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders, MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan should be treated as a criminal matter, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. The attack, involving an AC-130 gunship firing for at least 29 minutes on a designated medical facility, killed at least 42 people and wounded dozens of others. 

Human Rights Watch analyzed information from the US military, MSF, and other sources and found that there is a strong basis for determining that criminal liability exists. Under the laws of war, hospitals have special protections from attack, and attacks on them can be war crimes. 

“The attack on the MSF hospital in Kunduz involved possible war crimes,” said Sarah Margon, Washington director. “The ongoing US inquiry will not be credible unless it considers criminal liability and is protected from improper command influence.”

The US military justice system’s poor record prosecuting alleged war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, exemplified by new accounts of alleged abuses by Navy SEALs, shows the need for a criminal inquiry outside the military chain of command. Carter should create a special high-level and independent “Consolidated Disposition Authority” and an independent convening authority to control referrals of criminal charges and the convening of courts-martial.

“US military commanders who oversaw the Kunduz military operation shouldn’t be deciding who gets prosecuted for the MSF hospital attack,” Margon said. “The US government should recognize that its resolution of this horrific incident will have repercussions for US military operations far beyond Afghanistan.”

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Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.

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