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Wednesday 13 December 2017

Independent fact-finding mission urged over deadly Kunduz strike

In this undated photograph released by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) on October 3, 2015, Afghan MSF medical personnel treat civilians injured following an offensive against Taliban militants by Afghan and coalition forces at the MSF hospital in Kunduz. An air strike on the hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz on October 3 left three Doctors Without Borders staff dead and dozens more unaccounted for, the medical charity said, with NATO conceding US forces may have been behind the bombing. The MSF facility is seen as a key medical lifeline in the region and has been running
In this undated photograph released by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) on October 3, 2015, Afghan MSF medical personnel treat civilians injured following an offensive against Taliban militants by Afghan and coalition forces at the MSF hospital in Kunduz. An air strike on the hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz on October 3 left three Doctors Without Borders staff dead and dozens more unaccounted for, the medical charity said, with NATO conceding US forces may have been behind the bombing. The MSF facility is seen as a key medical lifeline in the region and has been running "beyond capacity" during recent fighting that saw the Taliban seize control of the provincial capital for several days. AFP PHOTO / MSF ----EDITORS NOTE---- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO/MSF" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS -----MSF/AFP/Getty Images
A man donates money at a tent of the Afghanistan 3rd Trend, a civil organisation to help displaced people from Kunduz (AP)
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Doctors Without Borders has called for an independent and unprecedented fact-finding mission to investigate a US air strike on a hospital run by the medical aid group in Afghanistan that killed at least 22 people.

The group, which believes Saturday's air strike in Kunduz may have been a war crime, appealed to the US, Afghanistan and other countries to mobilise a little-known commission to look into the tragedy.

Afghan staff react inside a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) hospital after an air strike in the city of Kunduz, Afghanistan in this October 3, 2015 MSF handout photo. The U.S. military on Saturday acknowledged it may have bombed a hospital run by medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres in the Afghan city of Kunduz in an air strike that killed at least nine people and wounded 37. MANDATORY CREDIT REUTERS/Medecins Sans Frontieres/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. NO SALES.
Afghan staff react inside a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) hospital after an air strike in the city of Kunduz, Afghanistan in this October 3, 2015 MSF handout photo. The U.S. military on Saturday acknowledged it may have bombed a hospital run by medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres in the Afghan city of Kunduz in an air strike that killed at least nine people and wounded 37. MANDATORY CREDIT REUTERS/Medecins Sans Frontieres/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. NO SALES.
Afghan (MSF) surgeons work inside a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) hospital after an air strike in the city of Kunduz, Afghanistan in this October 3, 2015 MSF handout photo. The U.S. military on Saturday acknowledged it may have bombed a hospital run by medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres in the Afghan city of Kunduz in an air strike that killed at least nine people and wounded 37. MANDATORY CREDIT REUTERS/Medecins Sans Frontieres/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. NO SALES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

The aid group, also known by its French language acronym MSF, says it above all wants to ensure respect of international humanitarian law after the most deadly air strike in its history.

A dozen MSF staffers and 10 patients were killed in the hospital air strike amid fighting between government forces and Taliban rebels in the north-eastern city.

The US military has already vowed to conduct an investigation and says the air strike was a mistake.

MSF international president Joanne Liu called for an impartial and independent probe of the facts and circumstances of the attack, "particularly given the inconsistencies in the US and Afghan accounts of what happened over recent days".

In this photograph released by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) on October 3, 2015, fires burn in part of the MSF hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz after it was hit by an air strike. An air strike on a hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz on October 3 left three Doctors Without Borders staff dead and dozens more unaccounted for, the medical charity said, with NATO conceding US forces may have been behind the bombing. The MSF facility is seen as a key medical lifeline in the region and has been running
In this photograph released by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) on October 3, 2015, fires burn in part of the MSF hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz after it was hit by an air strike. An air strike on a hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz on October 3 left three Doctors Without Borders staff dead and dozens more unaccounted for, the medical charity said, with NATO conceding US forces may have been behind the bombing. The MSF facility is seen as a key medical lifeline in the region and has been running "beyond capacity" during recent fighting that saw the Taliban seize control of the provincial capital for several days. AFP PHOTO / MSF ----EDITORS NOTE---- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO/MSF" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS -----MSF/AFP/Getty Images
Afghan security forces take a wounded civilian man to hospital in Kunduz (AP)

"We cannot rely on only internal military investigations by the US, Nato and Afghan forces," she said.

MSF wants to mobilise the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, based in the Swiss capital of Bern. It is made up of diplomats, legal experts, doctors and at least three former military officials from nine European countries, including Britain and Russia.

Fully created after the Gulf War in 1991, the commission has never deployed a fact-finding mission.

Ms Liu said Doctors Without Borders is "working on the assumption of a possible war crime", but said its real goal is to establish facts about the incident and the chain of command, and clear up the rules of operation for all humanitarian organisations in conflict zones.

An arrested Taliban fighter lies in a courtyard of Kunduz as Afghan forces and NATO allies claim to have wrestled back control of the city
An arrested Taliban fighter lies in a courtyard of Kunduz as Afghan forces and NATO allies claim to have wrestled back control of the city
ATTACK: MSF staff cower on the floor after a sustained barrage from US forces in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz
Afghan security forces take a wounded civilian man to hospital after a Doctors Without Borders clinic was bombed (AP)

The weekend strike "was not just an attack on our hospital, it was an attack on the Geneva Conventions. This cannot be tolerated", she told reporters.

The US air strikes have all but shattered the humanitarian aid response in Kunduz, causing MSF - whose hospital was the primary medical facility in the region - and other aid groups to suspend their operations there.

MSF, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning organisation that provides medical aid in conflict zones, is awaiting responses to letters it sent on Tuesday to 76 countries that signed Article 90 of the additional protocol to the Geneva Conventions, seeking to mobilise the 15-member commission. The Conventions, whose roots date to 1864, lay out rules on the conduct of armed conflict notably over protecting non-combatants - including civilians, aid workers, medical personnel and prisoners of war.

For the commission to be mobilised, a single country would have to call for the fact-finding mission, and the US and Afghanistan - which are not signatories - must also give their consent for one to go forward. MSF says it has had no response yet from the US or any other countries.

An injured civilian is seen lying on the hood of a military vehicle as Afghan security forces prepare to transport him to safety after a battle with the Taliban in the city of Kunduz, Afghanistan October 3, 2015. Fighting has raged around the Afghan provincial capital, recaptured by government forces this week from Taliban militants who had seized it in the biggest victory of their nearly 14-year insurgency. REUTERS/Stringer TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
An injured civilian is seen lying on the hood of a military vehicle as Afghan security forces prepare to transport him to safety after a battle with the Taliban in the city of Kunduz, Afghanistan October 3, 2015. Fighting has raged around the Afghan provincial capital, recaptured by government forces this week from Taliban militants who had seized it in the biggest victory of their nearly 14-year insurgency. REUTERS/Stringer TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Afghan security forces take a wounded civilian man to the hospital after Taliban fighter's attack, in Kunduz city, north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. Three staff from Doctors Without Borders were killed and 30 were missing after an explosion near their hospital in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz that may have been caused by a U.S. airstrike. (AP Photo/Dehsabzi)
The burnt Doctors Without Borders hospital is seen after an explosion in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. Nine local staffers for Doctors Without Borders were killed and 30 were missing after an explosion that may have been caused by a U.S. airstrike. In a statement, the international charity said the "sustained bombing" took place at 2:10 a.m. (2140 GMT). Afghan forces backed by U.S. airstrikes have been fighting to dislodge Taliban insurgents who overran Kunduz on Monday. (M?decins Sans Fronti?res via AP)

MSF legal director Francoise Saulnier said it was "difficult to activate politically something that puts countries face to face" and would require the "good will" of some. However, she noted the importance of setting a precedent in application of humanitarian law, and ensuring that the never-used commission - which could act in any number of conflict zones in the world today - has a role in that.

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