Human rights advocates have accused federal law enforcement authorities of violating the Geneva Convention in Portland, Oregon, after they allegedly destroyed medical equipment during the ongoing protests there. On Tuesday night, a video was posted to Twitter by journalist Sergio Olmos, which showed medical supplies and protective gear covered in an orange liquid which is believed to be pepper spray.
It appears that federal officers, during dispersal, pepper sprayed the medical supplies in the tents pic.twitter.com/Y9HGqzcepB
— Sergio Olmos (@MrOlmos) July 22, 2020
Article 19 of the 1949 Geneva Convention states that:
Fixed establishments and mobile medical units of the Medical Service may in no circumstances be attacked, but shall at all times be respected and protected by the Parties to the conflict.
Furthermore, an article in the 1998 International Criminal Court Statute says:
intentionally directing attacks against ... hospitals and places where the sick and the wounded are collected, provided they are not military objectives" constitutes a war crime in both international and non-international armed conflicts.
The footage sparked outrage among human rights advocates and prompted a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU announced that they filed a lawsuit against the DHS, U.S. Marshals Service, and the city of Portland on behalf of volunteer medics who have been attending to injured protesters.
BREAKING: The @ACLU_OR is taking federal and local authorities in Portland, Oregon, to court — again.
We’re suing on behalf of volunteer street medics, who federal and local law enforcement are brutally attacking at protests.
— ACLU (@ACLU) July 22, 2020
This is not the first time that medics have complained about being targetted by law enforcement officers. In Portland, the situation is especially controversial because it is unwelcomed and often unmarked federal agents who are accused of attacking medics or medical supplies, but local police across the country have been taking similar actions since the protests began earlier this year. Last month, Human Rights Watch warned that police were intentionally targeting medics at US protests.
Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists tweeted that this was a clear war crime violation.
This is Fubar. The Geneva Convention states that destroying medical equipment is a war crime violation. Yet, here we are in Portland...Attacking medical units violates half a dozen conventions and international statutes, not only Geneva Convention but also International Criminal Court statutes. But hey, Chad Wolf, Bill Barr, and Trump say it's okay!" Feigl-Ding wrote.
5) folks arguing “but but but Geneva Convention only for armed conflict between uniformed armies”... ha, if that is the only defense of their actions, then one is entirely missing the moral emptiness & heartless callousness of the actions. Also Geneva protects non combatants too.
— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) July 23, 2020
There are loopholes that allow governments to use certain force and tactics on its own citizens that would not be allowed on the battlefield, but these loopholes are also highly debated and have come under additional scrutiny in light of the recent protests. For example, while teargas has become a ubiquitous fixture at protests all over the world, it is actually a war crime to use any type of chemical gas on the battlefield. Teargas is technically considered a chemical weapon, but governments have decided that it is acceptable because it is the only way they can get crowds to disperse.
When questioned about their actions towards medics, police maintain that the medics and everyone else in the streets would have been fine if they were to just leave and do as they were told. Protesters say that they have a right to assemble which is being violated by dispersal orders. Police and federal agents assigned to crowd control for these protests don't seem to be making any distinctions, if someone is in the streets after an order to leave, they are treated as an enemy combatant.
Even the mayor of Portland, Ted Wheeler was tear-gassed, presumably by federal agents, when he was out in the streets speaking to protesters about their concerns.
Wheeler has been demanding that the federal agents leave the city for days, but President Donald Trump and the Department of Homeland Security are doubling down on their strategy to suppress the protests, and have condemned the local leadership for what they perceive as a lack of toughness. However, the protests are showing no signs of slowing down, in fact, they have continued to grow and get bigger as federal agents crack down even harder. The protests have even spread to other cities. In Seattle, Washington, protests began in solidarity with the demonstrators in Portland, and against the intervention of federal agents. The protests were eventually declared a riot after looting and vandalism was reported.
DHS reportedly has 2,000 military officials waiting on standby for orders from Trump about which city to deploy in next. These measures are overwhelmingly opposed by most local political leaders, who are mostly Democrats. It is likely that federal agents are on their way to Seattle now, if they are not there already.