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Russian attacks on Ukrainian hospitals and medical staff may amount to war crimes, a human rights lawyer told Fox News.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed since Russian forces started bombing populated areas across Ukraine, according to numerous reports. At least one cluster munition strike hit a hospital, killing four and injuring 10.
“There were two children, I believe, who were killed and two others and six injured because of the explosive force of the bomb,” said Leonard Rubenstein, the director of Johns Hopkins University’s Program on Human Rights, Health and Conflict.
“The law is very simple and clear and goes back 150 years that it’s illegal to attack a hospital, a patient, medical staff,” he told Fox News. “In fact, they’re war crimes.”
The first Geneva Convention in 1864 outlawed assaults on medical personnel on the battlefield. Since then, Russia has avoided punishment despite repeatedly violating these terms, according to Rubenstein.
A view of damaged building after the shelling is said by Russian forces in Ukraine’s second-biggest city of Kharkiv on March 3, 2022. (Photo by SERGEY BOBOK/AFP via Getty Images)
“Russia has a long history of attacking hospitals,” the human rights lawyer told Fox News. “They did it in Chechnya, attacked multiple hospitals in the capital during the war in there 20 years ago.”
“More recently, in Syria, they targeted hospitals in Idlib, in the northwest, in Aleppo and destroyed many hospitals,” Rubenstein added.
The United Nations found that “pro-government” forces in Syria carried out aerial and ground attacks in 2020 on civilian markets, refugee camps, and most notably hospitals. The attacks on civilian populations included the use of cluster munitions, similar to the Russian use of cluster munitions on Ukrainian civilian areas, according to the report.
Cluster munitions are explosives that contain smaller bombs. They can strike wide areas and raze entire civilian neighborhoods.
This image released by the Syrian Presidency shows Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, in Damascus, Syria on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020. (Syrian Presidency via AP)
“The pattern of indiscriminate attacks amounts to a war crime just as a deliberate attack is,” Rubenstein said. “So if these are confirmed after investigation – and of course, we don’t have those investigations yet – they could be war crimes.”
When hospitals are attacked, the people who suffer most are the patients, Rubenstein told Fox News.
“As long as the fighting goes on in the cities, they will not be able to get staff to come to work, patients won’t be able to get there, supplies won’t be able to get there,” he said.
Some of the most commonly forgotten war casualties are those with chronic diseases who cannot receive treatment, he said.
Children patients whose treatments are underway hold papers with the words “no war” written in them, at the hallways of the basement floor of Okhmadet Children’s Hospital, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine February 28, 2022. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
“People in need of care don’t come,” Rubenstein said. “Their condition gets worse, and they may even die just for fear of coming to a hospital that can be attacked.”
Still, Rubenstein pointed to a silver lining.
“In Ukraine, there’s actually an opportunity, because unlike in other cases, this case could go to the International Criminal Court without going through the Security Council, where Russia has a veto,” he told Fox News.
Russia has vetoed more votes on the U.N. Security Council than any other member, according to a watchdog report. Recently, Russia has blocked investigations into war crimes committed in the Syrian civil war.
“Here, the criminal court has already started an investigation because it has the power to do so and these attacks on hospitals have to be included in that investigation,” Rubenstein said.