Attacks on Health

Israel's Rewriting of the Law of War

Friday, December 22, 2023
With the Israeli government recently stating that, according to its own calculations, over 65% of deaths from Israeli military operations in Gaza were civilians, time and investigations will tell whether any of that military conduct violated the Geneva Conventions. Another question, however, demands critical attention as well: Whether Israel is promoting an interpretation of international humanitarian law that undermines the Conventions’ values and subverts their rules. That might explain some of the outcomes we are seeing on the ground. Despite couching its explanations in humanitarian law’s language of proportionality and minimization of harm, Israel has asserted a theory of justifiable conduct in war that, contrary to this body of law, elevates claims of military necessity in achieving the war’s aims over protection of civilians, particularly in a just war. The theory harks back to the influential nineteenth-century intellectual and military theorist Francis Lieber, who advanced it around the very time the first Geneva Convention was being developed. It is important to look back at that long-rejected concept of legitimate warfare and to closely trace what Israeli officials have propounded in the current conflict.

Coercion and Control: Ukraine’s Health Care System under Russian Occupation

Friday, December 15, 2023
This case study - a joint product of eyeWitness to Atrocities (eyeWitness), Insecurity Insight, the Media Initiative for Human Rights (MIHR), and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) - expands on existing documentation of Russia’s widespread and systematic attacks on Ukraine’s health care system. It explores ways in which Russia has sought to systematically target health care as an apparent means of degrading resistance and, in Ukraine’s occupied territories, as a means of enforcing control over the civilian population, including by limiting and conditioning access to health care through a range of coercive practices. These practices include: (1) Russian forces misusing civilian health facilities for nonmedical purposes; (2) requiring forced changes of nationality as a precondition for gaining access to health care (otherwise known as “passportization”); and (3) threatening and harassing health care professionals as a way to further limit care and assert control over Ukraine’s health care system. Based on a joint dataset, the study details a range of reported incidents that collectively suggest an apparent pattern of illegal attacks on health by Russia that both limit and violate the right to health of Ukrainian civilians. These attacks are violations of both international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law. They also threaten the integrity of Ukraine’s health care system, which, while resilient, faces ongoing challenges following Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.

Have attacks on healthcare become the new normal? a public health call to action for armed conflicts before it is too late

Wednesday, December 6, 2023
The scale of attacks on healthcare has become more visible and its impact greater in recent armed conflicts in Ukraine, Sudan and Myanmar. In these conflicts, combatants systematically target health facilities and ambulances. We need to ensure that attacks on healthcare do not become the new norm amongst governmental troops and non-State armed groups. There is limited evidence about why and how attacks on healthcare have become “normal” practice amongst many combatants, despite the likely tactical and strategic costs to themselves. We are convinced that the problem now needs to be tackled like any other public health issue by assessing: the scale of the problem; who is the most at risk; identifying risk factors; developing new interventions to prevent the risks or address the issue; and evaluating the effectiveness of these interventions.

Position Paper: The Harming of Medical Personnel and Facilities During the October 7, 2023 Hamas Attacks

Monday, November 27, 2023
One prominent aspect of the attacks carried out by Hamas on October 7, 2023, was the assault on medical personnel and facilities, during which emergency teams were prevented from reaching the wounded, while some of those attempting to provide care were killed. The evidence available to us through media reports and other public sources indicates that these actions must be investigated as war crimes. Given that the armed conflict inside the Gaza Strip is still ongoing, any attacks on medical personnel and facilities and attempts to prevent them from carrying out their duties within this context remain outside the scope of this report - and will be addressed separately. Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI) is currently engaged in protecting health workers and patients in Gaza and does not have immediate access or resources to collect testimonies and carry out adequate inquiries. Therefore, the subject of this report is limited to outlining the violations committed by Hamas on October 7, 2023. In doing so, we separately address attacks on hospitals and clinics and attacks on emergency medical personnel and vehicles.

Correspondence: Attacks on health are war crimes and a public health catastrophe

Sunday, November 12, 2023
The armed conflict in Israel and Gaza has strained the medical systems of both places, particularly in Gaza where at least 40 health-care workers have been killed. The destruction of hospitals and clinics in Gaza, with more than 75 attacks between Oct 7 and Oct 24, 2023, is a tragic echo of both targeted and indiscriminate violence against health care across the globe. The Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition reported nearly 2000 incidents of attacks on health care in 2022 globally, and the 2023 trajectory is set to surpass this.

Opinion: Why Gaza health care facilities and workers have suffered so much violence

Thursday, October 19, 2023
In a mere week, the fifth major conflict in the past 15 years between Hamas and Israel became its most catastrophic. Hamas’ slaughter of more than 1,200 Israelis represents the largest instance of the murder of Jews since the Holocaust. Hamas wounded another 3,700 Israelis and took more than 100 of them hostage. Israel has responded with massive airstrikes that, as of this writing, have killed more than 1,900 Palestinians, including more than 450 children, and wounded more than 7,700 others, according to the Ministry of Health in Gaza, though this figure may include both fighters and civilians. More than 350,000 Gazans were displaced even before Israel ordered more than 1 million people to leave northern Gaza. The expected Israeli ground invasion will surely multiply the number of deaths and injuries to people living there.

Annual Report Coverage: 2022 was the worst year on record for attacks on health care workers

Saturday, July 29, 2023
In conflict zones around the world, violence and threats against hospitals, health care facilities and their personnel reached a grim milestone in 2022, according to a new report from the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition (SHCC). It documented 1,989 such incidents last year — a 45% increase over 2021 and the worst total number since the group began tracking the data a decade ago.

Annual Report Coverage: Ukraine and Myanmar make 2022 most violent year in a decade for medical staff

Saturday, July 29, 2023
Russian attacks on medical facilities in Ukraine made 2022 the most violent year in a decade for hospitals and health workers operating in conflict zones, according to a new report by a coalition of humanitarian organisations.

Annual Report Coverage - Targeting health care in conflict: the need to end impunity

Saturday, July 29, 2023
On the morning of May 26, a Russian missile destroyed Dnipropetrovsk City Hospital No 14 in Dnipro, Ukraine, killing at least two people and injuring more than 30. Later that same day, the BBC reported that attacks on medical facilities and staff in Sudan might constitute war crimes. As described in a World Report, such attacks continue in Sudan, including most recently the looting and occupation of centres run by Médecins Sans Frontières, denying Sudanese civilians much needed medical care. From the deliberate targeting of hospitals in Syria and the destruction of the health system in Yemen, to the arrest and abduction of doctors in Myanmar and the persecution of health workers and violations of medical neutrality in Iran, the sanctity of the Red Cross and Red Crescent appears to be at a new low. The uncomfortable truth is that attacks against health facilities and staff in conflicts can be committed largely with legal impunity.

Event: Fifth Global Forum on Human Resources for Health, 3-5 April 2023

Wednesday, March 29, 2023
The toll of violence against health on the health workforce: Characteristics, impacts and responses Monday 3 April 2023 15:00-16:30 CEST Moderator: Rohini Haar Speakers: Aula Abbara, Larissa Fast, Naser AlMhawish, Christina Wille Advance registration is required. Visit: #ProtectInvestTogether