Syrian and Russian war planes were responsible for attacks on two hospitals in Syria, an investigation by Medicines Sans Frontieres has revealed.
On 15 February 2016, an airstrike hit the MSF-supported Maarat Al Numan hospital killing 25 people including one MSF staff member and injuring 11. After the airstrike, Dr Mego Terzian, president of MSF’s French section, publicly accused Russia and the Syrian regime for the attack.
It caused a variety of reactions from the governments of Russia and Syria, ranging from denials to accusations of spying, as well as a much heated debate within MSF.
Faced with stiff resistance from relevant bodies against carrying out an investigation as well as Russian and Syrian denials, MSF asked research agency Forensic Architecture to look into the airstrike on the Ma’arat Al Numan hospital.
Forensic Architecture uses cartography, image analysis and legal and architectural expertise to collect and analyse images of crimes committed by states to establish the facts and ascertain responsibility.
The Forensic Architecture team has completed its investigation, based on video footage and photographs taken by medical staff, activists and ordinary citizens, which have been authenticated and analysed to reconstruct the bombing.
The investigation confirms MSF’s conviction that Syrian and Russian forces were responsible for the bombing of Ma’arat Al Numan hospital, even if it cannot provide irrefutable proof. Russian and Syrian planes are seen taking off from their respective bases correspond to the time and location of the strikes.
“What Forensic Architecture has found is not 100 per cent proof,” says Mégo Terzian, president of MSF France, “but it is better than nothing. We want to find out the truth. I have no illusions that it will be difficult to obtain justice, but this work makes it possible to denounce the perpetrators of these criminal acts.”
MSF has already completed its own assessment of the facts. A ballistic analysis and the collection of local testimonies ascertained that it was an air attack, using missiles rather than barrels of explosives.
“Our investigation, like the work of Forensic Architecture, is a collection of different clues and pointers rather than formal evidence,” says Francoise Bouchet-Saulnier, MSF’s legal director. “We continue to press for an independent investigation, specifically through the UN Security Council. Only this can shed a light on what really happened.”