“Even wars have rules.” UN condemns attacks on medical workers in conflict situations

Attack on ambulance Attack on ambulance © 2016 Flickr / DG ECHO / Catalina-Martin Chico

In response to deteriorating conditions in many war zones, the UN Security Council strongly condemned attacks on medical personnel in conflict situations.

The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution demanding an end to impunity for those responsible and respect for international law on the part of all warring parties.
The resolution also deplores the impact of such attacks on the civilian population and healthcare systems.

2286 (2016), adopted on 3 May, communicates a strong political signal about the unacceptability of violations of international humanitarian law arising from attacks against medical and humanitarian workers exclusively engaged in medical duties in conflict situations. It seeks to reinforce existing humanitarian law on this issue, rather than to create new obligations.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated that alarming patterns of systematic destruction of health facilities had been seen in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, South Sudan and other conflict-affected countries.  “When so-called surgical strikes are hitting surgical wards, something is deeply wrong.” He described attacks on hospitals as a war crime, urging all Member States, parties to conflict and other relevant actors to uphold the Council’s demands.  All State as well as non-State parties to conflict were bound by the strict obligation to respect and protect medical personnel, facilities and vehicles, the wounded and the sick. “These obligations are at the very heart of international law,” he said.  

The Secretary-General addressed the Council jointly with the heads of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). ICRC President Peter Maurer said 2,400 targeted attacks had been carried out in the last three years against patients and health-care workers, transport and centres in 11 countries. MSF President Joanne Liu said that, in Afghanistan, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen, hospitals were routinely bombed, raided, looted or burned to the ground, and medical personnel were threatened and patients shot in their beds. Such attacks were described as mistakes, but they amounted to a massive, indiscriminate and disproportionate targeting of civilians in urban settings. While the Security Council was responsible for maintaining peace and security, four of its five permanent members had been associated with coalitions responsible for attacks on health structures over the last year, she noted.

Previous UN Security Council Documents on the Protection of Civilians:

  • Security Council Resolution S/Res/2175 - 29.8.2014

This resolution condemned violence and intimidation against those involved in humanitarian operations. It reaffirmed the obligation of all parties involved in armed conflict to comply with international humanitarian law. It also called for all such parties to allow full unimpeded access by humanitarian personnel to all people in need of assistance, and to promote the safety, security and freedom of movement of humanitarian personnel.

  • Security Council Meeting Record S/PV.7244 - 19.8.2014

This was a briefing on the protection of workers in recognition of World Humanitarian Day. The briefing spelled out the Security-Council’s role in demanding that parties to conflict uphold their legal obligations to respect and protect humanitarian workers and the civilian population.

  • Secretary-General’s Report S/2015/PV - 18.6.2015

This was the Secretary-General’s 11th report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. The Report noted that the number of people in need of international humanitarian assistance had tripled in the previous decade. The Report noted the increased brutalization of conflict as well as the deliberate targeting of humanitarian and health-care workers. It affirmed the need to strengthen compliance with international law.

  • General Assembly Document A/70/79 - 2.2.2016

In this document, entitled “one humanity: shared responsibility”, the Secretary-General introduced the Istanbul World Humanitarian Summit scheduled for May 2016. He invoked the need for political leadership to prevent and end conflicts.

  • General Assembly Document A/70/383 - 21.9.2015

This was the report of the Secretary-General on the “Safety and security of humanitarian personnel and protection of United Nations personnel”. The Report noted the rise in attacks against UN premises and the significant number of armed attacks against humanitarian workers. It reported progress made in improving security for UN personnel, as well as improved cooperation with NGOs and operational partners.


To read the full text of the Resolution, visit:

S/RES/2286 (2016)

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