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When Hospitals are Targets

How International Law Failed in Syria

An injured man sits at a field hospital after what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the Duma neighborhood of Damascus November 18, 2014. Mohammed Badra / Reuters

“Seeking or providing healthcare must not be a death sentence,” stressed Joanne Liu, president of Doctors without Borders, during a speech to the UN Security Council on May 3. A few days earlier, bombs had blasted through the Al Quds hospital in Aleppo, killing the city’s last pediatrician, and then at a Syrian government maternity hospital. The Security Council voted unanimously in favor of a resolution demanding heightened protection for healthcare workers, their patients, and hospitals. “All too often, attacks on health facilities and medical workers are not just isolated or incidental battlefield fallout, but rather the intended objective of the combatants,” stated UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. “This is shameful and inexcusable.”

The intentional targeting of hospitals and medical staff is not unique to the Syrian war; they’ve been hit in the wars in Yemen, South Sudan, and Sri Lanka as well. In fact, the problem is so

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