The Bern-based International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission (IHFFC) believes the bombing of a Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Afghanistan by United States war planes is an ideal case for it to take on.
On Wednesday, MSF called on IHFFC to examine Saturday’s tragedy in Kunduz, which claimed the lives of at least 22 people, MSF said it could not rely on military investigations by the US, Afghanistan or NATO to get to the truth.
“In my opinion, and that of our lawyers, this would be a typical case of alleged humanitarian law violation in which my commission could intervene,” IHFFC President Gisela Perren-Klingler told swissinfo.ch.
“We are an independent commission of experts that is not in the service of any state or other organisation. This makes us even more independent than any United Nations investigatory commission. We are not controllable.”
But despite MSF specifically requesting the involvement of IHFFC, there is no guarantee that it will be mandated. This would require an invitation from the US, Afghanistan and NATO.
“This would require us to lead a fact-finding mission in an area where they don’t really want us,” said Perren-Klingler. This might explain why IHFFC has never been called upon to investigate a war crime in its 25-year history.
Perren-Klingler believes the best chance of being awarded the mandate is for member states to pressure NATO into giving the green light. “I’m an optimist. I think the Commission is a good invention and that sooner or later we will get a commission,” the Swiss national said.
Who to trust?
IHFFC was set up “in order to secure the guarantees afforded to the victims of armed conflicts, Article 90 of the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions of 1949”, according to its website. Its statutes say that the organisation would not make any of its findings public, but would give them to the involved states (US and Afghanistan) to aid their legal processes into the incident.
“We are working towards the re-introduction of respect for international humanitarian law,” said Perren-Klingler.
The US military, which carried out the air strike, has already vowed a “thorough, objective and transparent” investigation.
But this has failed to convince MSF, whose head, Joanne Liu, told reporters in Geneva on Wednesday that: "we cannot rely on internal military investigations by the US, NATO and Afghan forces".