34th Human Rights Council - Armed conflict and health care

During the 34th session of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations, several meetings were organized by permanent missions, intergovernmental organizations, specialized agencies, OHCHR and the department of public information. On Thursday 8th March, the Permanent Mission of Belgium made a conference about the issue of the attacks on health care facilities during an armed conflict.


The speakers focused on the issue of the attack on health care during a war and how people are deprived of elementary health care.

 Firstly, it is reminded that attacking hospital or schools when it is not a military target, is a violation of international humanitarian law. In fact, the international law already bestowed clear protection of civilians during an armed conflict. Resolutions of the Security Council of the United Nations, the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I) are some clear examples that civilians are protect by international law.

Secondly, the speakers wants to point out some number of attacks on health care in 2016:

- Afghanistan : 186 accidents targeting health facilities

- Syria: 81 attacks on medical facilities

- Yemen: 16 attacks on hospital

 Those numbers are verified by the UN but it is however extremely hard to determine the exact number of attacks that occurred in a country. Furthermore, Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen are the most emblematic cases, but attacks on health care happen in a lot in other conflicts in the world. In fact:

- Libya, Pakistan, Nigeria : health care workers are under attacks

- South Sudan, Central Africa : patients are under attacks

- Myanmar: the right to health is under attack

In total, between 2014 and 2016, 896 attacks occurred in 25 countries during humanitarian emergencies and 1.331 health care workers died.

The speaker remind the terrible consequences of attacking health care in an armed conflict. Indeed, beyond the fact that patients and workers die because of the attacks and that the conditions are extremely precarious and there is no minimum provided in some hospitals, it also has effect on long term. It is very difficult to rebuild a hospital in a context of after-war, the workers are going away and don’t come back, the global public health is highly destabilized …

It is therefore, one of the biggest challenge for the international community and the UN, to end the impunity, put pressure on the parties of the conflict to respect international humanitarian law and not attack health care facilities.  It is an emergency to be able to give access to health care for people in an armed conflict, to reinforce domestic law on access to health care facilities and minimize disruption to essential health service.


Charlotte Verrier - Assistante de recherche au CIPADH