Patients and medical staff in peril in Libya, warns UN
Tripoli, May 22 : Libya's ongoing conflict is putting patients' lives at risk and even causing their deaths as hospitals and clinics are bombed, shelled and looted in possible war crimes, the United Nations said Tuesday, warning that the violence is having a "devastating" effect on health care in the country.
"These attacks are a major violation of international law and a tragic disregard of our common humanity. All too often, there is no respect for the sick and no sanctity for those who provide care. This must end," said Ghassan Salame, UN special envoy to Libya and head of UNSMIL.
There are numerous instances of patients being denied prompt life-saving care or attacked while getting treatment, according to a paper published on Tuesday by the UN Human Rights Office and UNSMIL.
Between May 1, 2017 and May 1, 2018, the UN recorded 36 attacks on medical facilities, personnel or patients, although the actual number is likely to be significantly higher, UNSMIL said.
In an especially harrowing incident, on February 18, a woman in labour and her unborn child died when armed men delayed their passage at a checkpoint as they were trying to enter the besieged eastern city of Derna, UNSMIL said.
In further horror, the Sabha Medical Centre in southern Libya was shelled or hit by stray bullets 15 times between February and May and in November last year, the Jalaa Hospital in Benghazi saw people shooting in the corridors with AK-47 automatic rifles, UNSMIL reported.
Armed groups, including those formally integrated into Libya's ministries, have assaulted, threatened and even unlawfully detained healthcare workers. In one case, a militant reportedly held a gun to a doctor's head, forcing the doctor to resuscitate his mother, UNSMIL said.
"Threatening doctors at gunpoint, attacking medical facilities, preventing sick and wounded people from receiving timely treatment - this is utterly shameful behaviour, affecting some of the most vulnerable people in Libya, and the healthcare workers who have the power to help them," said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad al-Hussein.
"Intentionally directing attacks against medical facilities and personnel, willful killing or harming of sick or wounded people may constitute war crimes," he added.
Fighters in Libya seeking preferential treatment for injured members of their armed groups and their relatives are also violating international humanitarian law by insulting, intimidating and physically assaulting doctors and other hospital staff members, UNSMIL said.
UN Human Rights Office and UNSMIL urged the warring sides in Libya to do their utmost to prevent, or at least minimize, the impact of hostilities on medical facilities and workers.
The paper also called on Libya's UN-backed unity government to take steps to prevent violence, attacks and threats against healthcare providers and punish these crimes by bringing perpetrators to justice.