Yemen: Evidence indicates US-made bomb was used in attack on MSF hospital

States – including the USA and UK – must immediately stop supplying weapons that could be used in the Yemen conflict, Amnesty International said, as it confirmed that a US-made bomb was used in the air strike on a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital on 15 August which killed 11 people and injured 19 others.

According to independent weapons experts consulted by the organization who assessed photographs of a bomb fin taken by a journalist at the site, a US-made precision-guided Paveway-series aerial bomb was used in the attack.

Remnants of a bomb fin found on the site by locals. According to independent weapons experts consulted by Amnesty International, the fin is part of a US-made precision guided Paveway-series aerial bomb. Remnants of a bomb fin found on the site by locals. According to independent weapons experts consulted by Amnesty International, the fin is part of a US-made precision guided Paveway-series aerial bomb.
Remnants of a bomb fin found at site of attack by locals. According to independent weapons experts consulted by Amnesty International, the fin is part of a US-made precision guided Paveway-series aerial bomb. ©Rawan Shaif

“Any attack on a medical facility in a war zone is an affront to humanity, yet this bombing is sadly just the latest in a grim series of attacks on hospitals and clinics by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition,” said Philip Luther, Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

“It is outrageous that states have continued to supply the Saudi Arabia-led coalition with weapons, including guided and general purpose aerial bombs and combat aircraft, despite stark evidence that those arms are being used to attack hospitals and other civilian objects and in other serious violations of international humanitarian law.

“This attack highlights, yet again, the desperate need for a comprehensive embargo on all weapons that could be used by any of the warring parties in Yemen and for an international investigation to bring those responsible for unlawful attacks to justice.”

This week the US Senate is due to vote on a draft bill that would block a new $1.15 billion arms sale by the Obama administration to Saudi Arabia, which was approved in August. The deal includes the transfer of tanks, military vehicles, and related equipment and services.  In a letter to the White House, 64 Members of Congress have already urged President Obama to postpone the arms sale so that the US Congress could properly debate the issue.

The MSF facility itself is surrounded by three schools, a mosque and a compound of pharmacies. When jets would hover above, school children would run inside the hospital to seek shelter. For them, it was a safe space, an impossible target. The MSF facility itself is surrounded by three schools, a mosque and a compound of pharmacies. When jets would hover above, school children would run inside the hospital to seek shelter. For them, it was a safe space, an impossible target.
"This was the only hospital we had...It was nothing short of the apocalypse, it was hell". A hospital guard looks out on the impact crater, less than a meter away from the wall of the emergency room at the Abs Rural Hospital © Rawan Shaif

The bombing of the Abs Rural Hospital was the fourth attack in 10 months on an MSF facility in Yemen. The attack prompted MSF to shut down its operations in northern Yemen. The hospital treated 4,611 patients since MSF began to support it in July 2015.

The closest possible military target at the time of the attack was Abs Military Camp, approximately 1km east of the hospital. According to MSF, the GPS coordinates of the hospital have repeatedly been shared with all parties in the conflict, including the Saudi Arabia-led coalition.

Sixteen-year-old ambulance driver Ayman Issa Bakri was among those killed. When his body was found, he was still holding the body of the woman he had been transferring from the ambulance.

Essa Bakri, father of Ayman Bakri 16/17 year old MSF ambulance driver who died during the airstrike on the MSF facility in Abs, Hajjah. "He was at home eating lunch with us when he was called in to transfer a patient to the hospital" When the airstrike hit, his father’s heart dropped instantly. "We looked for him everywhere" When they found Ayman, he was still carrying the female patient in his arms, burnt, like a piece of coal. Grief ridden and distraught Essa says "My life will never be the same again after they took my son away from me." Essa Bakri, father of Ayman Bakri 16/17 year old MSF ambulance driver who died during the airstrike on the MSF facility in Abs, Hajjah. "He was at home eating lunch with us when he was called in to transfer a patient to the hospital" When the airstrike hit, his father’s heart dropped instantly. "We looked for him everywhere" When they found Ayman, he was still carrying the female patient in his arms, burnt, like a piece of coal. Grief ridden and distraught Essa says "My life will never be the same again after they took my son away from me."
“When they found Ayman, he was still carrying the patient in his arms, burnt, like a piece of coal. My life will never be the same again." Essa Bakri, father of the young MSF ambulance driver who died during the attack ©Rawan Shaif

“Deliberate attacks on hospitals and medical facilities are serious violations of the laws of war and can never be justified. Hospitals, which have special protection under international humanitarian law, should be safe places of treatment and recovery,” said Philip Luther.

“States supplying weapons to the coalition, the USA and UK foremost among them, must use their influence to press coalition members to comply with their international obligations and to investigate suspected violations of international humanitarian law. They must also support the establishment of an independent, international inquiry.”

Hospital workers salvage the remains of undamaged medication and equipment left in the emergency room. In a country where access to health care is poor at best, the Abs Rural Hospital was the only facility catering to over 2000 internally displaced people locally and thousands more along the coast, from the north-western border to the outskirts of Hodeidah. Now, the closest hospital is over 3 hours away. Hospital workers salvage the remains of undamaged medication and equipment left in the emergency room. In a country where access to health care is poor at best, the Abs Rural Hospital was the only facility catering to over 2000 internally displaced people locally and thousands more along the coast, from the north-western border to the outskirts of Hodeidah. Now, the closest hospital is over 3 hours away.
Hospital workers salvage undamaged medication and equipment from the emergency room at Abs Rural Hospital. The hospital offered vital health services in a country where access to health care is minimal. © Rawan Shaif

Background

Since February 2016, Amnesty International has urged all states to ensure that no party to the conflict in Yemen is supplied – either directly or indirectly – with weapons, munitions, military equipment or technology that would be used in the conflict until they stop serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law and support independent, impartial investigations into allegations of violations by all parties.

In November 2015 the US State Department approved an arms transfer worth $1.29 billion to Saudi Arabia, which includes the transfer of general purpose bombs from the Mark / MK89 series, despite the fact that Amnesty International has documented their use in unlawful air strikes that have killed scores of civilians.