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UN chief decries attacks targeting medical facilities


United Nations (UN) Secretary General Antonio Guterres gestures as he delivers a speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, on May 17, 2017. PATRICK HERTZOG / AFP

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Thursday warned that attacks on medical facilities are on the rise in war zones, and urged belligerents to do more to limit harm to civilians.

Guterres made the remarks at the opening of a UN Security Council session devoted to the protection of civilians during armed conflicts.

Citing the World Health Organization, he said there were attacks on hospitals, doctors, ambulances, and on the sick and wounded in at least 20 countries last year.


He singled out Syria and Afghanistan as countries where such attacks have risen sharply.

“These attacks are evidence of a broader trend: parties to conflict are treating hospitals and health clinics as targets, rather than respecting them as sanctuaries,” he said.

In Syria, Physicians for Human Rights has documented 400 attacks on medical facilities since the conflict there began in 2011.

Guterres said more than half the country’s medical facilities are closed or only partially functioning. Two-thirds of specialized medical personnel have fled the country.

A similar scenario he said is occurring in South Sudan, where less than half medical facilities in areas affected by the conflict are operating.

“I urge parties to conflict to take concrete steps to limit harm to civilians in their military operations, as they are obliged to do under international law,” Guterres said.

“And I call on all member states to use their influence to promote respect for international law and ensure accountability for violations,” he said.

Countries supplying arms used in these conflicts, he said, should “show greater responsibility and consider the potential consequences of those sales, for human lives and for our common security.”

Guterres also urged support for international efforts, including the International Criminal Court, to hold violators accountable.

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