On May 3, 2016, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2286 (2016) on healthcare in armed conflict. On the occasion, the Council was briefed on the issue by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC); and Joanne Liu, President of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Expressing concern over the increasing number of attacks on hospitals and medical personnel in situations of armed conflict, the resolution strongly condemns attacks on healthcare in conflict, demands that parties to conflict fully comply with their obligations under international law, and reminds States of their responsibility to ensure perpetrators of violations are held to account. The resolution was adopted nearly one week after an airstrike destroyed an MSF and ICRC-supported hospital in Aleppo that killed one of the last remaining pediatricians in the city. Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict welcomes the adoption and calls on the Security Council to translate the resolution into action to better protect hospitals and health workers serving the needs civilians in situations of armed conflict, with a special focus on the specific needs of children caught up in armed conflict.

The resolution was drafted and negotiations spearheaded by five non-permanent Security Council Members – Egypt, Japan, New Zealand, Spain, and Uruguay – and was co-sponsored by more than eighty UN Member States. Condemning acts of violence, attacks, and threats against the wounded and sick, medical and humanitarian personnel engaged exclusively in medical duties, their means of transport and equipment, as well as hospitals and other medical facilities, the resolution reminds parties to conflict of their obligations under international law, including applicable international human rights law and international humanitarian law (IHL), particularly those obligations under the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977 and 2005.

The Security Council’s children and armed conflict (CAC) thematic framework is referenced in the resolution’s preamble, recalling Resolutions 1539 (2004) and 1612 (2005) on the establishment of a monitoring and reporting mechanism on children and armed conflict, and Resolution 1998 (2011), which expanded the triggers for listing of parties in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict to include parties to conflict responsible for attacks on schools and hospitals, and threats against protected persons in relation to schools and hospitals. Attacks on hospitals is one of the six grave violations committed against children during armed conflict identified by the Security Council, and is reported on through the framework of the UN-led Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM).

With regard to accountability and ending impunity for attacks on healthcare, the resolution emphasizes States’ responsibility to ensure perpetrators of violations of international humanitarian law are brought to justice and calls on States to conduct full, prompt, impartial and effective investigations, in an independent manner, of such violations, and take appropriate action against those responsible. It additionally calls on the UN Secretary-General to report on attacks on healthcare in his country-specific reports and other relevant thematic reports on the protection of civilians; provide recommendations to prevent incidents, ensure accountability, and enhance the protection of health workers and medical facilities; and provide the Council with a briefing every twelve months on the implementation of the resolution.

The Secretary-General currently reports on attacks on hospitals and health workers within the framework of the CAC agenda. However, data collection on this violation is not systematic, and the long-term consequences of such violations on children are not well understood. Watchlist recently identified attacks on healthcare and their impact on children in armed conflict as a new priority focus for its research, advocacy, and efforts towards improving monitoring and reporting. In this regard, it fully supports the Council’s raised attention to this matter, and encourages the Secretary-General in his reporting to the Council to include information on the specific impact on children of attacks on health facilities and health workers. Moving forward, translating the resolution into sustained action in terms of improved data collection and accountability procedures will be necessary for ensuring compliance of parties to their obligations under IHL and will contribute towards better protection of children and civilians in situations of armed conflict.