Op-Ed

Healthcare in danger for millions of Afghans. Urgent action is needed!

Healthcare is under attack and directly targeted in Afghanistan and in other warzones. When NATO member states and allies meet in Warsaw on July 8th – 9th the respect of Law of war have to be highly committed.

Law of war or International Humanitarian Law is not respected by either armed opposition groups, government forces nor international forces in Afghanistan. It is not only a question about life or death, it is a question if long term development in Afghanistan is possible to be accomplish at all.

As an independent impartial aid agency which has been engaged in service delivery and supporting partner organizations in Afghanistan for more than 30 years, Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA) has grave concerns about the protection of healthcare workers, safety of the health facilities and protection and access of patients.

In February this year, Afghan Special Forces, with air and logistic support from foreign Resolute Support troops raided one of SCA’s clinics in Tangi Saidan, Wardak province. The Afghan forces  assaulted the SCA staff and took two patients and one accompanying boy (a minor) out of the clinic and executed them 20 minutes later.

During the operation, the head of the clinic and one other member of the clinic staff were physically abused by the Afghan military police The head of the clinic was, after the intrusion of the clinic, held by and forced to conduct search of nearby buildings at the threat to his own life. Finally, he was left with his hands tied.

The Resolute Support Mission has conducted an investigation of the event which has been finalized, but we have been told that the information is classified. This is unacceptable. We find it preposterous that Resolute Support Mission investigates its own actions, and demand that an independent investigation be undertaken.

Throughout Afghanistan, a prevalence of similar attacks has become the norm. In Kunduz province, on October 3rd 2015, a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders was hit by a US air strike with huge casualties. According to United Nation Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) there is a notably increase in number of incidents affecting access to health care with 125 incidents reported in 2015 compared to 59 2014 and 33 in 2013.

This tragic development is hurting the ones that need support the most the poor, women and children. When health facilities are at risk of being attacked, civilians are weary and do not seek the healthcare they are entitled to. They don’t get access to the resources and services that they need.

SCA urge the warring parties of the conflict in Afghanistan to respect Law of war: All sides fighting in Afghanistan need to exert extra caution during military operations in order to spare innocent civilian lives.

Responsible actors must be held accountable! The impunity must end. In order for this to happen, this issue must get a higher priority than it has today. There are laws, agreements and resolutions, but time and time again clinics, hospitals, patients and health staff are being targeted. This must end!

NATO and the Afghan government have to highlight Law of war, follow them and develop mechanisms for more transparent investigations. NATO have to commit to better training of both foreign and Afghan military personnel – and send a clear message that this is not acceptable when violations are being made.

The armed opposition groups also have to stop their intrusions and harassments.

With the NATO heads meeting up in Warsaw on July 8th-9th, protection of healthcare must be on the agenda and commitment needed by all NATO members. While the healthcare system has seen many improvements in past years, the Afghan healthcare system is still fragile. Doctors and medical staff show an incredible dedication and trust and access has increased among the population. The continued military intrusions and attacks on the Afghan healthcare system are already jeopardizing these advances.