Antonio Guterres UN chief decries attacks targeting medical facilities

Guterres made the remarks at the opening of a UN Security Council session devoted to the protection of civilians during armed conflicts.

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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres says medical facilities in war zones are increasingly being targeteds, like this one in Syria's Idlib province which was destroyed in April 2017 after a suspected chemical weapons attack play

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres says medical facilities in war zones are increasingly being targeteds, like this one in Syria's Idlib province which was destroyed in April 2017 after a suspected chemical weapons attack

(AFP/File)
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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Thursday warned that attacks on medical facilities are on the rise in war zones, and urged belligerents to do more to limit harm to civilians.

Guterres made the remarks at the opening of a UN Security Council session devoted to the protection of civilians during armed conflicts.

Citing the World Health Organization, he said there were attacks on hospitals, doctors, ambulances, and on the sick and wounded in at least 20 countries last year.

He singled out Syria and Afghanistan as countries where such attacks have risen sharply.

"These attacks are evidence of a broader trend: parties to conflict are treating hospitals and health clinics as targets, rather than respecting them as sanctuaries," he said.

In Syria, Physicians for Human Rights has documented 400 attacks on medical facilities since the conflict there began in 2011.

Guterres said more than half the country's medical facilities are closed or only partially functioning. Two-thirds of specialized medical personnel have fled the country.

A similar scenario he said is occurring in South Sudan, where less than half the medical facilities in areas affected by the conflict are operating.

"I urge parties to conflict to take concrete steps to limit harm to civilians in their military operations, as they are obliged to do under international law," Guterres said.

"And I call on all member states to use their influence to promote respect for international law and ensure accountability for violations," he said.

Countries supplying arms used in these conflicts, he said, should "show greater responsibility and consider the potential consequences of those sales, for human lives and for our common security."

Guterres also urged support for international efforts, including the International Criminal Court, to hold violators accountable.

Christine Beerli, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said attacks on medical facilities had been carried out by states as well as by armed groups.

Bruno Stagno Ugarte of Human Rights Watch said that in order to introduce more accountability for such attacks, the UN secretary general should "commit to alerting the Security Council of all future attacks on healthcare facilities on an ongoing rather than annual basis."

He said the UN should also gather more information about such attacks and push states to hold the perpetrators accountable.

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