Afghanistan: UN envoy says inquiry into fatal Kunduz hospital air strike must be ‘impartial’

Special Representative for Afghanistan, Nicholas Haysom. Photo: UNAMA/Fardin Waezi

5 October 2015 – Nicholas Haysom, the United Nations Special Representative for Afghanistan, reiterated today the need for an impartial investigation into the deadly air strike on the Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, which resulted in the deaths and injuries of medical personnel, patients and other civilians this past Saturday.

In an interview with UN Radio, he said that the UN has been emphasizing the need to ensure the incident – which reportedly left more than 20 people dead and was strongly condemned by a host of senior UN officials, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon – is investigated properly.

“We issued a series of statements which I think, collectively, are very powerful indication of our concern over an attack on a medical facility [which is] clearly protected under international law,” continued, Mr. Haysom, noting that apart from his own statements, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, had also issued a “very strong call for an independent and impartial inquiry.”

MSF has been operating the only hospital in Kunduz, which is in the northeast of Afghanistan, under extremely trying conditions. Following Saturday’s attacks, the organization announced that it is pulling out of the city.

As for the current situation in Kunduz, Mr. Haysom explained that the air strikes had further deteriorated the humanitarian conditions. Moreover, he added, there is a severe shortage of water and power in many parts of the city.

“We all are conscious and concerned about the overall humanitarian situation. People have been without food. Today some shops opened but the cost of food escalated dramatically. We know that since the attack on the hospital, there is very limited access to any health facilities and in one place where medical assistance is offered, there is only one medic. [There is] no food and they have run out of medicines,” he told UN Radio.

He went on to say the situation improved marginally today with security forces gaining more control of Kunduz. “The current situation has improved. The security forces seem to be in control of the large parts of the city now. There is still sporadic fighting on the outskirts,” he explained.

Mr. Haysom noted that Afghanistan is more firmly fixed on what is happening throughout the northeast than merely the awful attack on the Kunduz hospital. However, he added that there are certainly groups which are focusing attention on the hospital air strikes in particular, as it was a breach of international humanitarian law.

A statement issued Saturday by the UN human rights office noted that according to MSF, pro-Government forces had been informed of the precise location of the medical facilities. While it has yet to be established whether or not the hospital or immediate surroundings were the target of the attack, or were recklessly endangered by it, airstrikes reportedly continued to hit the area for a further 30 minutes after pro-Government forces were informed they were endangering a medical facility.

According to the Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR), a United States spokesperson has reportedly been quoted saying US planes were carrying out airstrikes at around the time the hospital was hit.

The UN human rights chief said it was essential to ensure any inquiry was independent, impartial, transparent and effective. “This deeply shocking event should be promptly, thoroughly and independently investigated and the results should be made public," he said.

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