Neve Gordon and Nicola Perugini – Ukraine, international law and the history of hospital bombings

Mar 26, 2022
Damage to Mariupole maternity hospital
Today, people might be more critical of the shielding excuses voiced by warring parties. Image: Flickr

From the war in Afghanistan and the US-backed Saudi intervention in Yemen to the Israeli campaigns in Gaza and the Syrian civil war, in recent years hospitals have constantly been bombed by military forces under the guise of counterterrorism.

The post-9/11 Middle East is the key contemporary laboratory where the “hospital shielding” argument has been deployed to justify counter terrorism. In our book on the global history of human shielding we show how Western liberal democracies have been complicit with the destruction of medical units and the killing of brown civilians.

But now, with the attack on Ukraine and the killing of “European people with blue eyes and blond hair,” a different racialized sensibility towards civilian casualties than the one we have been witnessing during the last two decades is emerging. Western commentators seem much less inclined to accept the same legal arguments that had been used to excuse the destruction of civilian sites in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, or Palestine.

The speed by which the International Criminal Court decided to open an investigation into possible war crimes carried out in Ukraine is an indication of this trend and is difficult to explain without taking into account the “color line”—to say it with W.E.B Du Bois. Indeed, the Western response to the Russian aggression on Ukraine further reveals how our sense of humanity is intricately tied to race and has never overcome its colonial imprint.

But now that the hospital shielding argument has “returned” to Europe after many decades, people might be more critical of the shielding excuses voiced by warring parties as they try to legitimize the violence they deploy against civilian populations. The time has come to advocate, without distinctions of color, for a total ban on bombing hospitals.

See the full article here.

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