Conflicts & War

UN condemns violence against health staff, facilities in Afghanistan

Kabul, Jun 21 (efe-epa).- The United Nations on Sunday expressed its concern over continued violent attacks against medical workers and facilities during the Covid-19 health crisis in Afghanistan.

Between 11 March, when the World Health Organization declared the Covid-19 outbreak a pandemic, to 23 May, when a ceasefire between the Afghan government and the Taliban came into effect, there were at least 15 attacks on health staff or facilities, the report from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) found.

“At a time when an urgent humanitarian response was required to protect every life in Afghanistan, both the Taliban and Afghan national security forces carried out deliberate acts of violence that undermined healthcare operations,” said Deborah Lyons, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA.

“There is no excuse for such actions; the safety and well-being of the civilian population must be a priority.”

Of the 15 attacks, 12 were deliberate and the rest caused harm incidentally, the report added.

Fiona Frazer, UNAMA Chief of Human Rights, said: “Perpetrating targeted attacks on healthcare during the Covid-19 pandemic, a time when health resources are already stretched and of critical importance to the civilian population, is particularly reprehensible.

The Taliban were responsible for eight of the attacks documented by the report, including an attack on a pharmacy and the kidnapping of 23 health workers in seven separate incidents.

On 22 March, the Taliban abducted five workers from a healthcare NGO hostage in the northeastern Kunar province. They were released three days later following negotiations with tribal leaders.

According to UNAMA, government forces carried out at least three attacks, including an aerial attack against a Taliban-run health center in Kunduz province.

“The Afghan national security forces carried out deliberate acts of violence and intimidation affecting a healthcare facility, workers and the delivery of medical supplies,” the report added.

The UNAMA report also made special mention of the deadly attack on a Kabul maternity ward run by international NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on 12 May. The assault killed 16 women and two children, according to MSF, and the allegiance of the perpetrators remains unknown.

The Afghan government attributed the attack to the Taliban but the United States suggested it was the work of the Islamic State terror organization.

The attack on the hospital took place on the same day as a suicide bombing, which target a funeral, killing 60. This attack was claimed by the IS.

MSF on 15 June announced it was ceasing its activities at the maternity hospital, saying it was unable to guarantee the safety of its personnel and patients.

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