In a new joint submission to the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry into Ukraine (IICIU), four independent NGOs are calling on the commission to investigate ongoing attacks on hospitals and health workers in Ukraine by Russian forces, which constitute flagrant violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.
The four organizations – Ukrainian Healthcare Center (UHC), Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), eyeWitness to Atrocities and Insecurity Insight – highlight seven healthcare facilities in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy that have faced particularly egregious and well-documented attacks in the first month of the full-scale invasion. Since February 24, 2022, the World Health Organization has reported more than 500 attacks on healthcare facilities, staff and transport, killing more than 200 people. During the period March 1-21, UHC reported that five to six healthcare facilities were attacked each day.
The organizations write:
“The apparent pattern of violence against health care will continue to have a serious negative impact on the safety, health and rights of Ukrainians for many years to come. We call on the Independent International Commission of Inquiry into Ukraine to investigate these violations and ensure that attacks on hospitals and healthcare facilities form an important part of the Commission’s analysis of the events that took place between late February and March 2022 in the above regions of Ukraine became.”
On March 4, 2022, the UN Human Rights Council formed the Independent International Commission of Inquiry into Ukraine, which is composed of three human rights experts working for an initial period of one year. The IICIU’s mandate is to “investigate all alleged violations and abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law, and related crimes, in connection with the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine, and establish the facts, circumstances and causes of such violations and abuses” and “to make recommendations, in particular on accountability measures, all with a view to ending impunity and ensuring accountability, including where appropriate criminal liability of individuals and access to justice for victims”, among other actions.
All attacks on healthcare warrant investigation and accountability. In the joint filing, the four organizations highlight seven specific facilities that have been violently attacked as a result of the large-scale invasion of Russia:
Primary Care Clinic Makariv (Kyiv Oblast)
- The clinic was destroyed after being attacked, reportedly by mortar fire, on March 28 after Russian troops advanced from the north.
Adonis Medical Center (Makariv, Kyiv Oblast)
- The pattern of attacks on Adonis Hospital and the surrounding area suggests that they were damaged in a series of airstrikes that were part of a series of broad, indiscriminate attacks from the north.
The Regional Center for Psychiatric Care in Vorzel (Kyiv Oblast)
- The facility was occupied by Russian forces for 35 days and reportedly faced indiscriminate shelling. As Russian troops withdrew from the city, the facility was riddled with mines, its medical equipment, medicines, and medical equipment were looted, and all nine staff cars were damaged.
Chernihiv District Children’s Hospital (Chernihiv Oblast)
- The hospital was shelled by Russian forces on March 17. Apparently cluster munitions were used. The attack reportedly killed 14 civilians and injured 21 others.
Primary Care Centers Kyinka (Chernihiv Oblast)
- The two facilities were repeatedly shelled during the Siege of Chernihiv. The nature of the damage sustained suggests that the shells were random, unrelated to any specific identifiable military targets, and involved the frequent use of cluster bombs.
Central City Hospital Izyum (Kharkiv region)
- On March 6, the facility was attacked in what appeared to be a full-scale carpet bombing campaign. The hospital team had also reportedly marked the hospital with a large red cross that was visible from the air.
Trostianets City Hospital (Sumy region)
- The hospital has faced numerous attacks over the weeks, including an alleged targeted attack on March 18, non-stop shelling over the following days, a stolen ambulance and Russian tank attacks on the facility.
For more details and context on each attack, see the full filing. The filing is based on information gathered from a variety of sources, including open source materials, on-site visits by UHC, local witness testimonies, remote interviews with Ukrainian civil society colleagues, and photo and video footage shared by UHC with the EyeWitness to Atrocities app.
The organizations also call on the Commission to examine the gender impact of health attacks, as the destruction of health facilities leads to reduced access to reproductive care, forced pregnancy, mental health problems and barriers to preventive care and specialized services for women and women may girls, including for survivors of sexual or gender-based violence.
Russia’s widespread and systematic attack on Ukraine’s healthcare system is an extension of the strategy it has employed to devastating effect in Syria and Chechnya. So far, there has been no accountability for these wanton violations of international law. Through their new joint filing, the four organizations call on the IICIU to include attacks on healthcare in its ongoing investigations and recommendations into broader human rights abuses in Ukraine, and to prioritize such cases in law enforcement. The IICIU is expected to publish its first summary report on the human rights situation in Ukraine on Friday 23 September. Each of the above incidents are covered in detail in the new UHC report “Massive, Brutal, Premeditated: Attacks on Hospitals in the Russia-Ukraine War During the First Phase of the Invasion”, which provides further documentation and analysis of these and other attacks on hospitals and clinics. Individual incidents can also be viewed on Insecurity Insight’s interactive healthcare attack map.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy group that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and gross human rights abuses. Learn more here.
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