NATO forces, led by the United States, bombed a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Afghanistan. They repeatedly attacked the hospital for more than an hour, killing 22 people including at least twelve volunteer doctors.
Subsequently, the Afghan government attempted to justify the attack by claiming that the hospital was being used by militants, whatever that word might mean, prompting the MSF charity to express its disgust and forcing the US military to admit that they were not, in fact, under fire, and that the multiple air strikes had been called in by the Afghan authorities.
But let’s be clear. Even if the hospital was being used as a major military base by opponents of the Afghan regime, the staunch regional “allies” of the USA, it would still have been a war crime to attack it. According to the Geneva Conventions, it is always a war crime to attack a civilian target.
It defeats credulity to think that the US military would not have been aware they were attacking a hospital containing civilians and volunteer medical staff. They knowingly attacked a civilian installation and therefore, by definition, they committed a war crime.
Here are the relevant extracts from the Geneva Conventions.
Additional to the
Geneva Conventions, 1977
PART IV: CIVILIAN POPULATION
General Protection Against Effects of Hostilities
Chapter I: Basic Rule and Field of Application
Article 48 – Basic rule
Parties shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives.
Article 51 – Protection of the civilian population
1. The civilian population and individual civilians shall enjoy general protection against dangers arising from military operations. To give effect to this protection, the following rules, which are additional to other applicable rules of international law, shall be observed in all circumstances.
2. The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited.
3. Civilians shall enjoy the protection afforded by this Section, unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities.
a. those which are not directed at a specific military objective;
b. those which employ a method or means of combat which cannot be directed at a specific military objective; or
c. those which employ a method or means of combat the effects of which cannot be limited as required by this Protocol; and consequently, in each such case, are of a natureto strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction.
5. Among others, the following types of attacks are to be considered as indiscriminate:
a. an attack by bombardment by any methods or means which treats as a single military objective a number of clearly separated and distinct military objectives located in a city, town, village or other area containing a similar concentration of civilians or civilian objects; and
b. an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.
6. Attacks against the civilian population or civilians by way of reprisals are prohibited.
7. The presence or movements of the civilian population or individual civilians shall not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations, in particular in attempts to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield, favor or impede military operations. The Parties to the conflict shall not direct the movement of the civilian population or individual civilians in order to attempt to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield military operations.
8. Any violation of these prohibitions shall not release the Parties to the conflict from their legal obligations with respect to the civilian population and civilians, including the obligation to take the precautionary measures provided for in Article 57.
Chapter IV: Precautionary Measures
1. In the conduct of military operations, constant care shall be taken to spare the civilian population, civilians and civilian objects.
2. With respect to attacks, the following precautions shall be taken:
a. Those who plan or decide upon an attack shall:
i. do everything feasible to verify that the objectives to be attacked are neither civilians nor civilian objects and are not subject to special protection but are military objectives within the meaning of paragraph 2 of Article 52 and that it is not prohibited by the provisions of this Protocol to attack them;
ii. take all feasible precautions in the choice of means and methods of attack with a view to avoiding, and in any event to minimizing, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects;
iii. refrain from deciding to launch any attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated;
b. an attack shall be canceled or suspended if it becomes apparent that the objective is not a military one or is subject to special protection or that the attack may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated;
c. effective advance warning shall be given of attacks which may affect the civilian population, unless circumstances do not permit.
3. When a choice is possible between several military objectives for obtaining a similar military advantage, the objective to be selected shall be that the attack on which may be expected to cause the least danger to civilian lives and to civilian objects.
4. In the conduct of military operations at sea or in the air, each Party to the conflict shall, in conformity with its rights and duties under the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, take all reasonable precautions to avoid losses of civilian lives and damage to civilian objects
5. No provision of this article may be construed as authorizing any attacks against the civilian population, civilians or civilian objects.