MSF move for international probe into Kunduz strike

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CHARITY Medécins Sans Frontières (MSF) hopes to launch an independent fact-finding mission under the Geneva Conventions into the US air strike on its hospital in Afghanistan in which at least 22 people were killed.

The medical aid group said its call would mark the first time such a fact-finding mission would be commissioned under the Conventions. The group's international president Joanne Liu said that the weekend strike “was not just an attack on our hospital, it was an attack on the Geneva Conventions. This cannot be tolerated.”

Ms Liu said MSF was “working on the assumption of a possible war crime” but said its real goal is to establish facts about the incident and the chain of command, and clear up the rules of operation for humanitarian agencies that operate in conflict zones.

The group is in essence dusting off an idle international agreement to try to better ensure that international humanitarian law is respected.

“The US attack on the MSF hospital in Kunduz was the biggest loss of life for our organization in an air strike,” Ms Liu said. “Tens of thousands of people in Kunduz can no longer receive medical care now when they need it most. Today we say: enough. Even war has rules.”

The group said it is awaiting responses to letters it sent on Tuesday to 76 countries that have signed Article 90 of the additional protocol to the Geneva Conventions, seeking to mobilise a commission of independent experts that was set up in 1991. The United States and Afghanistan – which are not signatories – must also give their consent to such a mission.

MSF said it has had no response yet from the US or any other countries.

MSF legal director Françoise Saulnier acknowledged that it was “difficult to activate politically something that puts countries face-to-face” and the such a measure would require the “goodwill” of countries.

Last night, US president Barack Obama apologised to MSF for the attack, saying it was a mistake and that the Taliban had been the intended target.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest added: "If it is necessary to hold individuals accountable, that will be done."

Meanwhile, Afghan troops have reportedly regained ­control of the main square in Kunduz.

A spokesman for the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, said some “scattered elements of the enemy” remain in residential areas of Kunduz as operations continue to clear the Taleban from the city.

Deputy spokesman Zafar Hashemi said: “This could at times slow down the speed of our military operations as we put the utmost effort into not harming civilians.”

The Geneva Conventions, which date to 1864,set out rules on armed conflict notably over protecting non-combatants. – including civilians, aid workers, medics and prisoners.