In January 2011, peaceful protesters in Syria took to the streets, demanding basic human rights and dignity. They were met with a fierce crackdown by the Syrian government. That violence has since spiraled into a brutal civil war, devastating the country. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been killed in the conflict, and millions have been displaced. Health professionals and other civilians have been relentlessly and unlawfully targeted, and international laws and treaties blatantly disregarded. Despite multiple peace talks and numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions, the fighting and suffering continue unabated.
PHR has documented attacks on health care facilities and the killing of medical personnel since the start of the conflict as part of an effort to call attention to these crimes and secure evidence to hold perpetrators accountable. Our online, interactive map of Syria provides location information and details on attacks which PHR was able to independently corroborate – 90 percent of which have been committed by the Syrian government and its Russian allies. The map also provides comprehensive quantitative and qualitative data, including photographs and videos from inside Syria. Because PHR can only independently verify the authenticity of a small percentage of the total number of attacks reported, our numbers are expected to be lower than the actual amount of attacks taking place on a daily basis. Our visual mapping of the scale and frequency of attacks on health care serves as a daily reminder of the importance of seeking justice and accountability.
PHR’s 2021 report The Survivors, the Dead, and the Disappeared found that health care workers were significantly more likely to be detained, die in detention facilities, or be forcibly disappeared if they had provided medical care to injured protesters compared to health care workers arrested for political reasons. Based on a new data set compiling information on 1,685 detentions of 1,644 health care workers from 2011 to 2012, the report analyzes patterns in the Syrian government’s detention, enforced disappearance, and abuse of health care workers during the early years of the Syrian uprising. The findings underscore a government strategy to target health care workers from the earliest months of the conflict, when peaceful demonstrators calling for rights and democracy in Syria were met with brutal violence and cruelty.
In 2019, PHR released the findings of its groundbreaking investigation into the arrest, detention, and torture of health workers in Syria. The report, “My Only Crime Was That I Was a Doctor”: How the Syrian Government Targets Health Workers for Arrest, Detention, and Torture , calls upon parties to the conflict to immediately and unconditionally release all arbitrarily or unlawfully detained individuals. It also called for the United Nations member states, regional bodies, and the international community to hold the Syrian government accountable for its human rights and international humanitarian law violations.
For years, PHR engaged in an extensive and multi-disciplinary training program for Syrian doctors, psychologists, and lawyers on documenting human rights abuses that have taken place during the conflict. Evidence collected by PHR-trained Syrian professionals has been submitted to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria for use in future national or international justice processes. PHR has also provided expertise on the health effects of chemical weapons used in the conflict and how best to treat those who have been exposed to such toxic substances.
Read our case studies on attacks on medical facilities in Syria:
- “No Place Is Safe for Health Care”: The Attack on Syria’s al-Atareb Hospital
- Kafr Nabl Hospital: In the Crosshairs of a Murderous Barrage of Attacks
- The Destruction of Hospitals: A Strategic Component in Regime Military Offensives
- Repeated Attacks on Underground Medical Facility Demonstrate Deliberate Targeting