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NGOs Call on New UN Commission to Investigate Russia’s Bombardment of Ukrainian Hospitals

In a new joint submission to the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine (IICIU), four independent NGOs call on the Commission to investigate the ongoing attacks on hospitals and health workers in Ukraine perpetrated by Russian forces, which are 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 – spotlight seven health facilities across Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Sumy that were subjected to particularly egregious and well-documented attacks during the first month of the full-scale invasion. Since February 24, 2022, the World Health Organization has reported more than 500 attacks on health care facilities, personnel, and transports, killing more than 200 people. During the period from March 1 to March 21, UHC reports that five to six health facilities were attacked each day.  

The organizations write:  

“The evident pattern of violence against healthcare will continue to have severe negative implications for the safety, health and rights of Ukrainians for many years. We urge the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine to investigate these violations and ensure that attacks on hospitals and healthcare facilities comprise an important part of the Commission’s analysis into the events committed in the forementioned regions of Ukraine between late February and March 2022.” 

The UN Human Rights Council formed the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine on March 4, 2022, comprised of three human rights experts working over an initial period of one year. The IICIU’s mandate is “to investigate all alleged violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, and related crimes in the context of the aggression against Ukraine by the Russian Federation, and to establish the facts, circumstances and root causes of any such violations and abuses,” as well as “to make recommendations, in particular on accountability measures, all with a view to ending impunity and ensuring accountability, including, as appropriate, individual criminal responsibility, and access to justice for victims,” among several other actions. 

All attacks on health care warrant investigation and accountability. In the joint submission, the four organizations highlight seven specific facilities that were violently attacked as a result of Russia’s full-scale invasion:

  • Makariv Primary Care Clinic (Kyiv oblast) 
    • The clinic was razed after being attacked on March 28, following Russian troops’ advancement from the north, reportedly with mortar fire. 
  • The Adonis Medical Center (Makariv, Kyiv oblast) 
    • The pattern of the attack(s) on the Adonis hospital and the surrounding area suggests that they were damaged in a series of airstrikes, part of a series of broad indiscriminate attacks perpetrated from the north. 
  • The Regional Mental Care Center in Vorzel (Kyiv oblast) 
    • The facility was occupied by Russian forces for 35 days and reportedly suffered from indiscriminate shelling. As Russian troops retreated from the town, the facility was planted with mines, its medical equipment, drugs, and medical devices were looted, and all of the nine service cars were damaged. 
  • Chernihiv Regional Children’s Hospital (Chernihiv oblast)
    • The hospital was shelled by Russian forces on March 17. Cluster munitions appear to have been used. Fourteen civilians were reported to be killed and another 21 injured as a result of the attack. 
  • Kyinka Primary Care Centers (Chernihiv oblast)
    • The two facilities were shelled multiple times during the Chernihiv siege. The nature of the damage sustained suggests that the shellings were random, not linked to specific recognizable military targets, and involved the frequent use of cluster bombs. 
  • Izyum Central City Hospital (Kharkiv oblast)  
    • On March 6, the facility was attacked as a part of what appears to have been a large-scale carpet-bombing campaign. Reportedly, the hospital team had also marked the hospital with a big red cross that could be seen from the air. 
  • Trostyanets City Hospital (Sumy oblast)  
    • The hospital sustained numerous attacks over the weeks, including a reportedly targeted attack on March 18, continuous shelling over the ensuing days, a stolen ambulance, and Russian tanks attacking the facility.  

See the full submission for additional details and context about each attack. The submission relies on information gathered from a variety of sources, including open-source materials, site visits conducted by the UHC, local witness statements, remote interviews with Ukrainian civil society colleagues, and photo and video footage collected by the UHC with the “eyeWitness to Atrocities” app.

The organizations also call on the Commission to investigate the gendered impacts of attacks on health, as the destruction of health facilities can lead to limited access to reproductive care, forced pregnancy, mental health issues, and barriers to preventative care and specialized services for women and girls, including for survivors of sexual or gender-based violence. 

The widespread and systematic nature of Russia’s assault on the health care system of Ukraine is an extension of the strategy it deployed to devastating effect in Syria and Chechnya. To date, there has been no accountability for these wanton violations of international law. Through its new joint submission, the four organizations call on the IICIU to include attacks on health care within its ongoing investigations and recommendations into broader human rights violations in Ukraine, and that such cases be prioritized for prosecution. The IICIU is expected to publish its first short report on the human rights situation in Ukraine on Friday, September 23.  Each of the above incidents is elaborated in the new UHC report “Massive, Brutal, Deliberate: Attacks on Hospitals in the Russia-Ukraine War during the First Phase of the Invasion,” which offers further documentation and analysis of these and other attacks on hospitals and health care clinics. Individual incidents can also be viewed on Insecurity Insight’s interactive map on attacks on healthcare. 

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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