Attacks against medical facilities and schools in conflict zones: the FDFA calls for strict compliance with international humanitarian law

Press release, 16.08.2016

The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) is appalled by the growing number of attacks against hospitals and schools in a large proportion of armed conflicts and reiterates that all parties to a conflict have an obligation to take the measures required by international humanitarian law to protect the civilian population and persons hors de combat and to mitigate the impact of conflicts on civilians.

The FDFA has taken note of the reports concerning the attacks carried out against a school and a hospital in Yemen between 13 and 15 August 2016.

The FDFA is appalled by the growing number of attacks against hospitals and schools in a large proportion of armed conflicts and reiterates that all parties to a conflict have an obligation to take the measures required by international humanitarian law to protect the civilian population and persons hors de combat and to mitigate the impact of conflicts on civilians. These attacks are becoming increasingly systematic and, barring exceptional circumstances, constitute a serious violation of international humanitarian law. Furthermore, the placement of weapons or military personnel near or in protected facilities in order to avoid attacks is prohibited by international humanitarian law. Such acts seriously impede the provision of the emergency medical assistance needed by the victims of armed conflicts.

The FDFA points out in particular that medical missions must be respected and protected at all times. The protection afforded to medical missions can only be discontinued in exceptional cases where such missions are used, outside their humanitarian function, to commit hostile acts and only after a reasonable time-limit after a warning has remained unheeded. The presence of members of armed forces or other fighters in hospitals, medical units or medical transports cannot be considered to be a hostile act. Any attack carried out in the exceptional event that a medical mission has lost its protection must comply with the principles of proportionality and precaution with respect to the conduct of hostilities, even after a warning has been given.

The FDFA considers that similar protection should be afforded to schools, which enjoy by default the protection given to civilian objects.

The FDFA further reminds all parties to an armed conflict that it is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs and drinking water.

Switzerland will support any full, prompt and independent investigations with a view  to reinforcing preventive measures, ensuring accountability and addressing the the grievances of victims'.


Address for enquiries:

Information FDFA
Bundeshaus West
CH-3003 Bern
Tel.: +41 58 462 31 53
Fax: +41 58 464 90 47
E-Mail: info@eda.admin.ch


Publisher:

Federal Department of Foreign Affairs