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Medicine Under Siege In The Former Yugoslavia

  • Lisa McAdams



Prague, June 20 (RFE/RL) - A leading international humanitarian organization, Physicians For Human Rights (PHR), today condemned Bosnia's former warring parties of denying health care as a "weapon of war" and demanded accountability.

In a 200-page report released in Sarajevo, PHR compiles a record of assaults on hospitals, health workers, patients and medical care. The report, entitled Medicine Under Siege in the Former Yugoslavia, also calls for accountability for these acts as an essential part of the peace process in the Balkans.

The report is based on four years of in-country research by PHR and other leading rights groups. It details what it calls deliberate and often repeated attacks on hospitals and clinics in Sarajevo, Gorazde, Vukovar, Mostar and Zagreb, among others.

It also outlines incidents in which ambulances and other medical vehicles were targeted for attack by mortar and sniper fire as well as those in which patients and medical staff were shot, tortured or summarily executed.

The report says one of the most flagrant military attacks on a medical facility took place in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, on May 26-27, 1992. It says Bosnian Serb forces, at close range, repeatedly shelled the Children's Clinic -- the central referring hospital for pediatrics in Bosnia - and the adjoining Obstetrical and Gynecological Hospital.

According to the report, the chief pediatrician and staff evacuated 17 newborns and 33 older sick children to a nearby basement, amid a hail of bullet and mortar fire. Five minutes later, it says a grenade fell on the neo-natal unit, destroying every incubator and incinerating the unit.

Nine babies were reported to have died from lack of heat and oxygen.

PHR also details the repeated obstruction of the delivery of essential food, medicine and medical supplies that, it says, led hundreds of people to die from untreated illnesses.

Medicine Under Siege says these and other examples of violations of the Geneva Conventions devastated the provision of health care in parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina and severely damaged the physical and psychological health of the region's people.

In the words of PHR Executive Director Leonard Rubenstein,"The suffering of the people of the former Yugoslavia did not end with the Dayton Accords." Rubenstein says the international community must do its part to ameliorate the damage and that the victims must have access to care that addresses the physical and psychological impact of the atrocities of war.

The report also describes in detail how respect for international humanitarian law was flouted repeatedly throughout four years of war by all parties and insists on the arrest and prosecution of those responsible for violations.

Medicine Under Siege contends that peace and the construction of new political institutions in the Balkans will be impossible without accountability.

In Rubenstein's words,"we can not tolerate that the perpetrators of these violations are free and exercising political authority while the suffering they brought about continues."

The report specifically calls on IFOR to arrest Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. Both have been charged with crimes against humanity and genocide by the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague, but have yet to be detained to stand trial.

The report also urges the tribunal to include violations of medical neutrality as offenses in their own right and it asks the United Nations to take measures to safeguard medical neutrality in its protection and peacekeeping mandates.

Physicans For Human Rights has issued similar condemnations and recommendations with regard to conflicts in Chechnya, Israel and the Occupied Territories, Burundi and Kashmir.
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