Médecins Sans Frontières Searches for Answers in Hospital Bombings

The global medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières has called for a full investigation of a recent bombing of a Yemen hospital that killed six people and injured seven others.

Médecins Sans Frontières, also known as Doctors Without Borders, said in a statement Monday that it has requested an investigation from the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, an independent body created by the Geneva Convention in 1991 to handle alleged breaches of international humanitarian law.

The Shiara Hospital, located in the city of Razeh in the Saada province in northern Yemen, was struck by a “projectile” on the morning of January 10, destroying buildings and forcing the hospital to close for several hours.

MSF could not confirm the origin of the attack. The province, which is near the Yemeni border with Saudi Arabia, has been the site of many airstrikes from a Saudi-led coalition of Arab states targeting Iranian-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen.

“The war in Yemen is being fought with total disregard for the rules of war,” MSF said in a statement on its website.

The international commission recognized MSF’s request in a statement on its website, saying it “stands ready to provide its services in this context.”

The attack was the third such bombing of a medical facility run or supported by MSF in Yemen in as many months. In October, an airstrike destroyed a hospital in the Haydan district of the Saada province and slightly injured one person. In December, a mobile clinic in the city of Taiz was hit by airstrikes, leaving one person dead and eight injured. Last week, an MSF ambulance was hit and its driver killed in an airstrike in the town of Dahyan.

In October, a U.S. airstrike destroyed a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing 30 people in what American officials described as an accidental hit. The group pulled its staff from Kunduz following the strike.

“Increasingly, we are seeing attacks on medical facilities being minimized, being labeled ‘mistakes’ or ‘errors,’” Raquel Ayora, MSF’s director of operations, said Monday.

MSF previously called on the humanitarian commission to investigate the Kunduz attack. The commission requires consent by the U.S. government before it can carry out such investigations. MSF says the commission has not received approval.

MSF currently runs 11 hospitals and health centers and supports 18 more in Yemen. The group says it has treated more than 20,000 people in the country.

Japan Schools the East Coast on Dealing With Snow

While the Northeastern United States endures its crippling snowfall, and all the transportation shutdowns, shelter-in-place orders, and travel cancellations that come with it, it’s instructive to look further east, where all these events happened several days ago—in Tokyo.

On Monday and Tuesday, Japan was hit by heavy snow that caused injuries, road closures, delayed trains, and cancelled flights. Tokyo—where snow is rare—was brought to a standstill by just two inches. But many other places in the country have adapted to much greater accumulation, of the kind that appeared this week, for example, in Hokkaido and Hokuriku (three feet); Tohuku and Tokai (around two feet); and in Chogoku, Kanto, and Koshin (around a foot and a half).

Chilly Winter Scenes From Europe and Asia


In much of Japan, that kind of snow—the kind that is currently producing headlines on the East Coast—is not uncommon. Japan has the most ski resorts outside of the United States, festivals for building ice sculptures and snow shrines, and a website dedicated to the art of shoveling snow. (“[Snow removal] is not a labor, it is an exercise!”) Snow even gives an entire region—known as “snow country”—its nickname. In these hilly, mountainous areas, visitors can see Japanese macaques, or “snow monkeys,” bathing in hot springs, and traverse alpine corridors that are carved out in the winter to make them passable: On the Tateyama Kurobe route, the walls can reach up to 65 feet.

People in “snow country” have developed snow-management techniques that would be the envy of the Eastern Seaboard. A 2006 New York Times article about Tsunan, in Niigata, described some of them, leading off with the story of a woman exiting her house through a “second-story window.”

The snow has buried cars and houses and trifled with Japan’s famed bullet trains. It has flanked plowed streets with 10-foot-high walls of snow and transformed towns into white labyrinths inside which human beings scurry as if they were mice. … The snow country, or this corner of it at least, began conquering the snow in the late 1960’s. Sprinklers were installed in the middle of streets, the first one here in 1972; electrical pumps nowadays send mild underground water to melt the snow all over Tsunan. Some streets, especially those near the train station, are heated. Snowplows clear the roads for the town’s 12,000 residents, thanks to the $1 million the town spends on snow removal from its annual $50 million budget.

The “sprinklers installed in the middle of the street” are shosetsu (snow-melting) pipes, which eject warm groundwater onto the surface of the street. More recently developed methods involve heating roads by circulating hot water below the pavement with the help of solar power that is stored in the summer. Another snow-management system is the ryusetsuko, a channel of river water that runs alongside roads and carries chunks of snow away. Houses in snowy areas have steep roofs to make snow slide down them—although sometimes, according to Snow Engineering: Recent Advances, “deep snow accumulated on the ground reaches the snow on the roof, interfering with the sliding of snow off the roof.” (Japanese use old-fashioned snow-clearing—josetsu—techniques as well, meaning hands and heavy machinery.)

Japan’s innovations seem a wise response to the quirks of the country’s geography. In an introduction to the English translation of the novel Snow Country, by the Nobel Prize-winning Japanese author Yasunari Kawabata, the Japanese literature scholar Edward Seidensticker explains the phenomenon: “In the winter, cold winds blow down from Siberia, pick up moisture over the Japan Sea, and drop it as snow when they strike the mountains of Japan.”

The result is “anomalous” amounts of snow on Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, and on the western coast of Honshu, Japan’s largest, where the moist air mass runs into the Japanese Alps in the middle of the island. (This process is similar to what creates “lake-effect snow” in the United States.) Because of those mountains, the Pacific-facing side of Honshu, where it rarely snows, stays dry, like the front of a person lying on her back in fresh powder. Per Seidensticker: “The west coast of the main island of Japan is probably for its latitude … the snowiest region in the world.”

Otaru under snow on the island of Hokkaido, Japan (Peter Enyeart / Flickr)

So how much snow does that entail? According to the Japanese Meteorological Association, enough to break records: On February 14, 1927, 1,182 centimeters of snow—nearly 39 feet—were recorded on Mount Ibuki. On January 23, 2016, the JMA recorded almost eight feet in Sankeyu, Aomori Prefecture, in northern Honshu. The highest-recorded snowfall there is 18 and a half feet, in February 2013. (The measurements have only been made since 1979.) The same year, Eric Hansen, reporting for Outside from Niseko, Hokkaido, a popular skiing destination, described a “month-long, uninterrupted storm” that left almost 15 feet in January.

The Japanese government monitors snow depth in certain regions and designates them either “heavy snowfall areas” or “special heavy snowfall areas,” which are more extreme. In all, they make up about 50 percent of Japan, and their population has been steadily decreasing. Kyu-Shirataki, Hokkaido, where Japan Railways keeps a train station open to serve a single passenger, shows one example of such depopulation. When it snows—Kyu-Shirataki is in a special heavy snowfall area—the local government must decide whether to spend money on removing snow in the most remote areas for a dwindling and often elderly population.

It’s clear that despite Japan’s advances, it remains difficult to live in a place where several feet of snow is normal: According to the author of the Snow Engineering study, “Various types of labor peculiar to snow country and unrelated to productivity … are needed. When I consider these alone, living in snow country can be said to be disadvantageous, as compared to living outside snow country.”

But snow country has pulled off at least one miracle.

“Over the 50 years this airport has been open, a failure to clear snow has never resulted in a flight cancellation.” Masato Kanazawa, the director of the airport in Aomori prefecture—where there’s now eight feet of snow on the ground in some places—said that in 2014. His team of snow-clearers is called the White Impulse.

The First World War: In Color

In his preface to The First World War: Unseen Glass Plate Photographs of the Western Front, Geoff Dyer writes: “The shock is not the shock of the new so much as the shock of the old made new—and the new made suddenly old.” The book, a curation by Carl De Keyzer and David Van Reybrouck, features high-resolution, expertly-restored photographs from the Western Front. Dyer’s dichotomy is at play in the below image of four Senegalese soldiers. Taken by Paul Castelnau, who himself served in the war, the image gives viewers a visceral sense of the subjects’ unique personalities—they are not generic soldiers from sepia-soaked history.

Hints: Skip to the next and previous photo by typing j/k or ←/→.

The Doctor Who Kills Doctors

Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.

And if thy brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the LORD thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him. And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee: therefore I command thee this thing today.

— Deuteronomy 15: 12–15

Besides the crime which consists in violating the law, and varying from the right rule of reason, whereby a man so far becomes degenerate, and declares himself to quit the principles of human nature, and to be a noxious creature, there is commonly injury done to some person or other, and some other man receives damage by his transgression: in which case he who hath received any damage, has, besides the right of punishment common to him with other men, a particular right to seek reparation.

The Moment Russia Went Fully Rogue

In many ways it all began with the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko.

Not that Vladimir Putin’s Russia was exactly a model global citizen before the November 2006 killing of the former KGB spy who defected to Great Britain. But when Litvinenko was lethally poisoned after drinking tea laced with polonium in a London hotel in November 2006, it heralded Russia’s transformation from being a mere international pain to being a full-blown outlaw state.

An official British investigation into the incident has now concluded that former KGB bodyguard Andrei Lugovoi and his accomplice Dmitry Kovtun killed Litvinenko, most likely with Putin’s approval. (Both men have denied the charges.) And that was the moment when Russia fully went rogue. It was the point where the Kremlin stopped even pretending to play by international rules. It was the point where Moscow’s gangster state truly went international.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty


In fact, at the time he was killed, Litvinenko was preparing to testify in a Spanish investigation into ties between Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and Russian organized-crime groups operating in Europe. And after Putin’s agents allegedly whacked a British citizen on British soil and got away with it, Russia started breaking bad.

Months later, in April 2007, came Russia’s cyber attacks on Estonia that hit that country’s parliament, banks, and government ministries. And the following year, in August 2008, came the invasion of Georgia.

Litvinenko’s killing was also a prologue to the more recent litany of bad behavior and law-breaking: the little green men and the annexation of Crimea, the hybrid war in the Donbas, and the downing of Flight MH17 by Moscow-backed separatists.

It was a harbinger of Moscow’s new fondness for hostage-taking, a wave that has seen Estonian law-enforcement officer Eston Kohver, Ukrainian Air Force pilot Nadia Savchenko, and Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov kidnapped from their home countries and hauled before show trials in Russia to face ridiculous charges.

It was a prelude to the recent wave of cyberattacks on targets including a French television network, a German steelmaker, the Warsaw stock exchange, The New York Times, the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. State Department, and the White House.

The British investigation, which concluded that Litvinenko was “probably” killed on Putin’s personal order, is important because it provides by far the most damning confirmation of a link between the assassination and the Kremlin’s inner sanctum. It gives an official imprimatur to what has long been widely suspected. It reminds us of the utter outrageousness of what happened nearly a decade ago.

described by a lawyer for the London police as “a nuclear attack on the streets of London”—crossed a line.

Nine years and two months ago, Putin learned that he could get away with murder—even of foreign citizens on foreign soil. And we’ve been living with the consequences ever since.


This post appears courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.