Attacks on Health Care – South Sudan

The ongoing civil war in South Sudan and the targeting of medical facilities and personnel and denial of humanitarian access by parties to the conflict has led to the near collapse of the country’s nascent health care system and widespread outbreaks of public health epidemics, including famine and cholera. Prompted by many reports of attacks and denials of access, Watchlist conducted research missions to northern Uganda in September 2017 to interview South Sudanese refugees and South Sudan in December 2017 to interview humanitarian actors and medical personnel.

Watchlist found that during the reporting period of January 2016 to December 2017, parties to the conflict carried out at least 50 attacks on medical facilities and personnel, and at least 750 denials of humanitarian access. Attacks include arson and looting; occupation of medical facilities; and threatening, intimidating, detaining, abducting, or killing medical personnel. Denials of access include denying passage at checkpoints to humanitarian convoys filled with lifesaving medicines and nutrition supplements and the imposition of a range of bureaucratic impediments, for example escalating fees for work permits required for foreign staff and demands that humanitarian organizations pay for the release of humanitarian aid. Watchlist also found that attacks on medical facilities and personnel and denials of humanitarian access have compounded challenges to children’s health, already exacerbated by years of armed conflict that has targeted civilians.

In sum, while South Sudanese children’s needs for health care and humanitarian aid have risen, their access to resources needed to treat them has dropped dramatically.

Watchlist calls upon all parties to the conflict to immediately cease attacks and denials of access. It further urges concerned member states to take concrete measures to remedy impunity for violations of international law relating to the protection of medical care and the provision of humanitarian aid in armed conflict.