If there was a universal law of war, I suspect it would be that young men with guns and with inadequate structure end up looting and killing, whether they are fighting for freedom or a dictator. Case in point: late last week Human Rights Watch reported that health facilities in four towns had been looted by Libyan rebels:
“In Rayayinah, one resident who stayed said that rebels had looted medical equipment from the polyclinic after taking the town. Human Rights Watch visited the facility on July 2 and saw vandalized rooms, broken windows and doors, and evidence of missing medical equipment, including an x-ray machine and possibly an electrocardiogram machine.
The hospital in al-Awaniya, inspected by Human Rights Watch on July 3, was in a similar condition, with missing equipment, broken windows, and damaged furniture.
A medic sympathetic to the rebels told Human Rights Watch that he had participated in the looting of the al-Awaniya hospital after rebels took the town:
[The al-Awaniya Hospital] was very well-equipped, and we basically took everything. It was well equipped for Gaddafi troops. [Rebels] said that Zintan would be the central hospital for the region…. I heard that the equipment from [the] Rayayinah [polyclinic] went to Zintan too.
Human Rights Watch visited the Zawiyat al-Bagul medical clinic on July 3. It had also been attacked and looted by vandals.”
By my recollection (and I keep a reasonable close eye on these things), these are the first documented cases of looting and/or purposely damaging medical equipment by rebel fighters since the civil war began. Until now, the Libyan rebels have had a solid record of protecting hospitals and behaving kindly towards health workers. It is worrying to see that things might be changing.
Christopher R. Albon is a political science Ph.D. specializing in armed conflict, public health, human security, and health diplomacy.