Doctors Without Borders is calling for an independent fact-finding mission under rules of the Geneva Conventions into a U.S. air strike on a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, that killed at least 22 people.
The medical aid group, known by its French language acronym MSF, said its call would mark the first time such a fact-finding mission would be commissioned under the Conventions.
"We are calling on President Obama to consent on the fact-finding mission in order to send a strong message that the U.S. is committed to upholding the Geneva Convention,” MSF Executive Director Jason Cone said.
Speaking at a news conference Wednesday, Cone also revealed on September 29 MSF officials shared the hospital's coordinates with U.S. officials because of area-fighting, adding that it is protocol to share these coordinates.
"Today we say enough. Even war has rules," Cone said.
His comments echoed the group's international president, Joanne Liu, who told reporters Wednesday that the weekend strike "was not just an attack on our hospital, it was an attack on the Geneva Conventions. This cannot be tolerated."
“In Kunduz, our patients burned in their bends, our doctors, nurses and other staff were killed as they worked,” Cone said. “Our colleagues had to operate on each other.”
Liu said MSF is "working on the assumption of a possible war crime," but said the group's real goal is to establish facts about the incident and the chain of command, and clear up the rules of operation for all humanitarian organizations that operate in conflict zones.
According to Cone, the organization is also calling for an independent investigation because of "inconsistencies" between reports from U.S. and Afghan officials.
"We cannot rely on only internal military investigations by the U.S., NATO and Afghan forces," she said.
The group is in essence dusting off an idle international agreement to try to better ensure that international humanitarian law is respected. MSF says the measure is a first step, aimed to establish facts about the incident and the chain of command that led to the strike. It says the importance of the call is to ensure that humanitarian law is respected, and clear up rules of operation for all humanitarian organizations that operate in conflict zones.
"The U.S. attack on the MSF hospital in Kunduz was the biggest loss of life for our organization in an airstrike," Liu said. "Tens of thousands of people in Kunduz can no longer receive medical care now when they need it most."
The group said it is awaiting responses to letters it sent Tuesday to 76 countries that have signed Article 90 of the additional protocol to the Geneva Conventions, seeking to mobilize a 15-member commission of independent experts that was set up in 1991. In this case, the United States and Afghanistan — which are not signatories — must also give their consent to such a mission.
It says it has had no response yet from the United States or any other countries.
MSF legal director Francoise Saulnier acknowledged that such a measure would require the "good will" of countries.