MSF vs. MSF in Afghanistan and Syria

Liz Sly of the Washington Post wrote a deeply reported piece about how extensive Russia’s bombing campaign against civilians has become, and the horrible effects it is having on civilians and aid workers in the conflict. Without excusing the inexcusable U.S. strike in Kunduz, this makes for a revealing point of comparison for how human rights groups and even UNOCHA are responding to Russia’s war crimes policy and how they reacted to an aberrant failure by the U.S.

On bombing hospitals:

Among the medical facilities hit since the Russian intervention are 12 in northern Syria that are supported by Doctors Without Borders, said Pablo Marco, who is in charge of the agency’s programs in Syria and does not think the health centers were struck by accident.

“Of course it is impossible for us to have certainty, but the frequency with which bombs are falling in hospitals or very close to hospitals is enough to make it really seem that, yes, they are targeting hospitals,” he said.

In Kunduz:

Doctors Without Borders is calling for an independent investigation of the deadly bombing of its hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz, which it says is no longer operational…

As the United States said it was investigating what struck the hospital during the night, the charity expressed shock and demanded answers, stressing that all combatants had been told long ago where the hospital was.

“Under the clear presumption that a war crime has been committed, MSF demands that a full and transparent investigation into the event be conducted by an independent international body,” said Doctors Without Borders, which is known internationally as Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF. “Relying only on an internal investigation by a party to the conflict would be wholly insufficient.”

While there was almost a race to scream “war crimes” in Kunduz as soon as news of the attack spread, in Syria aid agencies have gone out of their way to avoid using the phrase to describe a far larger campaign that is obviously targeting food distribution centers, markets, and hospitals. I’ve explained before the extremely negative consequences of this double standard on war crimes and humanitarian atrocities — but I still cannot understand why that is. MSF in particular was quick to lecture the U.S. that “even war has rules” after a single incident, but they remain shy of doing the same to Russia despite a dozen examples of the same. So why is that?


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