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Red Cross: Rise in violence against medics in warzones

GCC troops guard an entrance to Salmaniya Hospital in Manama, 18 March
Image caption Bahrain has arrested doctors who spoke to news agencies about the crackdown on protests in the Gulf kingdom

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has warned of an alarming rise in attacks on medical facilities and personnel in conflict zones.

The ICRC report, Healthcare in Danger, lists 600 attacks worldwide on doctors, nurses, ambulances and hospitals from mid-2008 to the end of 2010.

It covers 16 nations, including Libya, Afghanistan, Somalia and Colombia.

The report notes that while some attacks are accidental, many deliberately target healthcare workers.

The right of those wounded in war to receive medical treatment - and the right of medical workers to move freely - are enshrined in the first Geneva Convention.

But, almost 150 years after the convention was adopted, it is being violated on a regular basis, says the ICRC's director-general Yves Daccord.

"Clearly there is a trend in terms of no respect of healthcare… and more importantly for us, nobody seems to care about it," he told the BBC.

"A few years ago, when an ambulance was shelled, or a hospital was taken by armed people, or doctors were arrested, there was an outcry. But now nobody - people, governments, armed groups - seems to be interested anymore."

'Millions affected'

The Red Cross describes violence which prevents healthcare as an overlooked humanitarian tragedy.

Bombed hospitals, ambulances delayed at checkpoints, doctors threatened, kidnapped or even killed, or nurses intimidated into abandoning vaccination programmes - all add up, the Red Cross says - to a denial of healthcare, affecting millions of people worldwide.

The publication of the report marks the start of a four-year campaign by the ICRC to remind warring parties of their obligation to allow the wounded to be treated, and to allow medical staff to work unhindered.

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