In war combatants are knowingly and deliberately exposed to death through the suspension of laws that would otherwise protect them – in that sense the 'battlefield' is a space of exception' – but they are then afforded a measure of protection through international humanitarian law ('the laws of war'). Among other measures, these forbid direct and deliberate attacks on hospitals, medical workers and their patients: an exception to the exception. Yet in our century attacks on hospitals, medical workers and their patients in conflict zones have become increasingly common. Through a detailed analysis of the US air strike on the MSF Trauma Center in Kunduz (Afghanistan) and Russian and Syrian Arab Air Force strikes on hospitals and clinics in rebel-held territories in Syria this presentation probes the scale of these attacks, explores the intentions that lie behind them, and raises troubling questions about the implications for international humanitarian law.
Derek Gregory is Peter Wall Distinguished Professor at UBC, where he is based in the Department of Geography and the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies. The author of "The colonial present: Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq", he is currently completing two new books: one on the geography and genealogy of aerial violence from the First World War through to today's drone wars in the borderlands of the global South, and the other an examination of the wounded and injured body in conflict zones. He was awarded the Founder's Medal of the Royal Geographical Society in 2006, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the British Academy.