US Kunduz inquiry lacks transparency, no deterrent against similar potential attacks – MSF to RT

Disciplinary measures against select individuals, whom the US army’s own probe held responsible for the deadly airstrike on MSF hospital in Kunduz, serve as little reassurance such blunders won’t happen again, the NGO’s UK Executive Director Vickie Hawkins told RT.

On Friday Army General Joseph L. Votel, commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM) published the results of an investigation into the bombing of an MSF facility that took place in October. The probe stated that 16 people had been guilty for the strike. Twelve of those individuals were punished with administrative measures taken by the General including “letters of reprimand and admonishment,” who said this kind of punishment was “appropriate”.

RT: What is your immediate reaction to the results of this US inquiry?

Vickie Hawkins: I mean, obviously, we’ve only just been handed the report itself. It’s very long. So we’ve not really had time yet to digest its findings.

Firstly, I just want to acknowledge the fact that this investigation has happened. That’s an important thing for us. It’s not quite what we were asking for in terms of an independent investigation and we still feel that’s very important because essentially the military that conducted the attack has investigated itself. So we still feel that an independent body needs to review the circumstances of this attack.

Our very initial reactions, I would say, is that we are concerned that disciplinary measures that are announced are not proportional to the severity of the attack and we question whether this would act as a deterrent and we would avoid any future attacks as a result. And we are very concerned that the victims and their families would not seem to have the ability to pursue justice and compensation in their own rights, according to their own means. And for us that, really, adds another devastating blow to the families that have suffered a huge amount as a result of this terrible attack on our hospital.

RT: Do you think the punishment for those involved need to go further than purely administrative?

VC: Well, we are concerned, as I said that this administrative and disciplinary measure does not act as an appropriate deterrent to avoid future attacks of this nature. So yes, I think we would conclude that they don’t go far enough.

RT: Do you think there will be an independent investigation? Who do you think should lead it?

VC: So immediately after the attack in the hospital in Kunduz we tried to activate a little known body called the International Humanitarian Fact-finding Commission. They have a place in the Geneva conventions, so they are an independent body that mandated under international humanitarian law to investigate incidents exactly such as this one. So to our minds, they would’ve been an appropriate body. But they have not been activated in the over 20 year history. So, clearly, we really need to question the effectiveness of that mechanism. But for us they were at the time the only logical body that we could turn to.

RT: Would you go so far to say that an investigation into oneself lacks credibility?

VC: It lacks independence, and as a result, we would say that, yeah, it lacks transparency and it lacks the independent nature that we think such an investigation should have. What this doesn’t give us is reassurance today that we can return to Kunduz. We don’t have the feeling on the basis of what we understand so far in terms of the findings that we have all the facts and that we are, therefore, able to return to Kunduz reassured that an attack of this nature could never happen again.

RT: Is there a way to prevent these kind of attacks in the future, considering that the coordinates of the hospital were already provided in advance?

VC: We need assurances from governments that are engaged in conflicts that medical facilities can never be a target at times of war. Next week there is a very important vote coming up at the UN Security Council where member states are being asked to reaffirm their commitment to the protected nature of medical facilities. The resolution also includes a reference to accountability mechanisms and, in particular, the importance of independent investigations, as we’ve been discussing.

So, certainly, one significant step forward would be member states at the UN Security Council next week to pass that vote and reaffirm their commitment to the status of medical facilities that should never be targeted, should never come under attack, because what we’re doing is providing care for people wounded and sick at times of conflict. That’s their job and they should never be attacked for doing so.

READ MORE: 16 found to be at fault for Doctors Without Borders hospital strike in Kunduz

RT: The work your organization does is admirable. What kind of effect, what kind of negative impact does it have when something like this happens. How difficult is it for you to continue to persuade your members to go on doing what they do?

VC: I mean, obviously, it’s a devastating thing for the organization. We had given the coordinates of the hospital to all the different armed groups in the area including the Afghan military, including the US military. Everybody knew exactly where the hospital was and we had assurances that it would not be targeted in this way.

For our international staff and for our national staff it’s extremely important that they can rely on the assurances we give them that they are safe. That’s understandably questioned when you have an incident of this severity. So, it was really an enormous blow to MSF and an enormous blow for the people of Northeastern Afghanistan who lost access to the only functioning trauma center in that part of the country.