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The Kunduz Hospital Attack: The Existence of a Fact-Finding Commission

Published on October 15, 2015        Author: 
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Editors Note: Following the attack earlier this month in Kunduz on a hospital run by Médecins Sans Frontières, we  are  today posting two articles on the potential role of the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission (IHFFC) in any investigation. The two posts, the first by Ove Bring (Professor Emeritus of International Law at Stockholm University & Swedish National Defence University, and former member of the IHFFC) and the second by Catherine Harwood (Ph.D. Researcher at the Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies at Leiden University), present different views on the debate regarding the IHFFC’s role.

The accidental bombing of the hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, on 3 October 2015, epitomizes the need for fact-finding with regard to possible violations of the international humanitarian law of armed conflict (IHL). President Obama has ordered a national investigation, but from the perspective of IHL an international process of fact-finding would be a more credible and impartial option. Since 1992, the 1977 First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 (the Protocol) has established an International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission (IHFFC, Commission). The Commission has been contacted by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, Doctors Without Borders) in the Kunduz matter (see news reports here). The Secretariat of the Commission, seated in Berne, Switzerland, has reported on the Commission website that it has taken appropriate steps and is in contact with MSF, but cannot give any further information at the present stage.

The Protocol aims at increasing the protection of civilians in international armed conflicts and improving the implementation of IHL. Article 90 of the Protocol lays down the competence and procedure for the IHFFC, which became operational following acceptance of its competence by 20 States Parties to the Protocol. This group of states, parties to the Commission, has since, at five-year intervals, elected the prescribed 15 members of the Commission. Such members should be of “high moral standing and acknowledged impartiality”. They serve in their personal capacity for five-year terms. A list of the current members is available on the IHFFC website.

So far, 76 states have accepted the Commission´s competence and thus become parties to it. The number includes several major military powers and several states that have been involved in armed conflicts. They are from all parts of the world. Read the rest of this entry…