By, Dr. Deane Marchbein
Thank you for this generous introduction, and for inviting me to speak.
I come here, however, less interested in your praise, and more eager for your help.
The humanitarian community is facing a crisis: an erosion of medical humanitarian space that we cannot reclaim without strong support from governments, military and civil society.
President Eisenhower said, ‘When you put on a uniform, there are certain inhibitions that you accept’.
His respect for a military code of conduct and the rule of law has been conspicuously missing in what can only be described as an epidemic of attacks on hospitals and health care providers.
In 2015, there were 106 attacks on MSF hospitals, including the bombing of our trauma hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan by the US military.
Hospitals and clinics in Yemen, Ukraine, South Sudan, CAR and Syria were also destroyed, killing patients, staff, and denying healthcare to hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of people.
And the assaults continue, most recently with the bombing of a hospital in Aleppo, Syria. At least 50 people were killed in this latest brutal assault on a Syrian health facility, including one of the last remaining pediatrician’s in the city.
Repeated attacks on healthcare suggest a malicious and deliberate effort to inflict maximal pain, to make life intolerable for communities and to destroy all access to health care. Patients and doctors are being punished for seeking and providing healthcare.
Bombing medical facilities appears to have become the new normal in times of war. The perverse is somehow normalized. Yes, even war has rules.
At the U.N. Security Council earlier this month, MSF denounced such attacks. And it’s past time that these attacks stop.
The Russians deny responsibility and the Syrians are mum. The Saudis have tried to justify the bombing of hospitals. The world wrings its collective hands but does nothing to demand accountability.
The U.S. condemns these acts, but I believe that our government missed an opportunity to lead by example when they refused an independent investigation after the Kunduz bombing.
Why should the Syrians, Russians, Saudis or the South Sudanese authorize an independent inquiry, if the US, the putative leader with avowed respect for international humanitarian law, refuses.
The perpetrators of attacks on patients and doctors cannot also be their own investigators, judges and juries.
Until there is full accountability, until there is a political cost, as long as ‘a mistake, collateral damage or the fog of war’ is an acceptable excuse, I fear we won’t see change.
In one town in Syria, the community refused the re-opening of a hospital, fearing it would make the town a target for bombing. When there are no health facilities, mothers die in childbirth, and children die of preventable diseases.
This is where we are today. Communities in conflict zones are faced with the most impossible of choices, because healthcare has become a death sentence.
I agree with President Eisenhower’s sentiments, when he said, “War is mankind’s most tragic and stupid folly’.
As a medical humanitarian aid worker, I have seen the results and know that no individual or single organization such as MSF can mitigate the suffering without strong and outspoken support demanding that everyone obeys the rules of war. Because even something as abhorrent as war has rules. And they must be followed.
Dr. Deane Marchbein, President of Doctors Without Borders USA, accepted the Eisenhower Fellowships’ 2016 Dwight D. Eisenhower Medal for Leadership and Service. The award is presented annually to a leader of government, business, civil society or other public figure or organization advancing President Eisenhower’s vision of a world more peaceful, prosperous and just.
To download the Eisenhower Medal Citation presented to Doctors Without Borders, click here.
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