The merciless killing of a baby in a hospital in Zemio, Central African Republic (CAR), where Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) runs a project, points to the extreme brutality against civilians in the escalating conflict, as the number of safe spaces dwindles.
On Tuesday 11 July, two armed men arrived at Zemio hospital where around 7,000 internally displaced people had sought refuge in the past two weeks following an escalation of fighting in the southeastern region of CAR.
The men threatened a family, one member of which had been a patient two weeks earlier but had been unable to leave the premises due to ongoing violence. As three members of the family – including a woman holding her baby – attempted to seek cover, the armed men shot at them, striking the child in the head and killing her instantly. An MSF staff member witnessed the entire incident.
“We are shocked and saddened by the killing of a young child in the hospital where we work in Zemio. Our condolences go to the family of the child. Our thoughts are with them, and all those who witnessed her brutal death,” said Mia Hejdenberg, MSF's head of mission in CAR.
“This child was shot in her mother’s arms, and in a medical facility: the two places where a child should be safest. Now her family is in mourning for the future she will never have.
“The callousness of this attack highlights both the indiscriminate nature and disturbing escalation in violence in CAR against civilians.
“It demonstrates a complete lack of respect by armed groups in the area for medical care, and civilians, and signals the diminishing space for aid organisations in CAR, as the security situation deteriorates.
“It has also forced the withdrawal of MSF’s staff from Zemio leaving thousands without adequate access to healthcare in the region,” Mia Hejdenberg added.
More than 20,000 people have been displaced in Zemio,with many wounded and unable to reach medical care following recent clashes.
MSF manages 12 projects in CAR and has worked in Zemio since 2010. It is currently running an HIV/AIDS community-based care project. MSF’s HIV/AIDS project is the only one of its kind in the whole southeastern region of CAR and provides free treatment to more than 1,600 patients who come to Zemio from as far away as 250 kilometres to seek treatment.