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Attacks on Health Care in Syria Continue, Defying U.N. Resolutions

March 2015 saw first documented attack on a hospital by coalition forces

For Immediate Release

Deliberate attacks on hospitals and health care professionals in Syria persist despite three United Nations resolutions aimed at protecting civilians and new hopes of relief following recent international pledges of aid to Syrians in need, according to an online map of attacks on health Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) updated today.

PHR’s interactive map tracking these violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) documents the unlawful killing of 615 medical personnel and 242 illegal attacks on 187 medical facilities throughout the country since March 2011. Of these attacks, at least 36 were carried out with barrel bombs. PHR has found that government forces are responsible for 88 percent of attacks on medical facilities – including the 36 attacks with barrel bombs – and 97 percent of medical personnel deaths – including 141 deaths by torture and execution.

“In 2014 alone, on average, a medical worker was killed every other day in Syria, and a hospital was bombed or shelled every four days,” said Erin Gallagher, PHR’s director of investigations. “Syrians remain under siege as U.N. resolutions are ignored, and thousands of Syrians have nowhere to turn for health care.”

PHR documented the first attack on a hospital by forces from the international coalition on March 6. A missile launched from a coalition airplane hit Aisha Hospital in Abu Kamal, on the border with Iraq. The missile destroyed the hospital’s generator, severely damaged the neo-natal unit, and killed at least four civilians, including a woman and two infants. Although reports indicate that the coalition forces were likely aiming at an Islamic State (IS) location next to the hospital, no precautions were made to protect the hospital and no advanced warning was given to the patients or medical staff inside, as IHL mandates.

Attacks by the Syrian government show a pattern of repetition. In March alone, four out of eight medical facilities attacked had been previously targeted, and one was attacked twice within a week. On March 1, government forces barrel bombed the ambulance center and pharmacy affiliated with a field hospital in the northern town of Kafr Zita, causing material damage. Five days later, government forces again barrel bombed the area, damaging the field hospital’s main building.

“Syria’s acute humanitarian crisis is exacerbated by the undeniable use of torture, executions, and bombings intended to weaken or eliminate the provision of health care,” said Gallagher. “The plight of Syrians is further compounded by the alarming use of barrel bombs – including alleged chemical attacks – along with a tactic of repeated hits on medical facilities, all of which has been met with disturbing indifference by the U.N. Security Council.”

Attacks on medical professionals, facilities, and supplies during armed conflict violate the Geneva Conventions. When the attacks are as widespread and systematic as they are in Syria, they constitute crimes against humanity. PHR’s map features data collected from sources inside Syria as well as open sources in English and Arabic, including U.N., government, and nongovernmental reports; news articles; satellite images; and social media.

PHR has previously called on the Security Council to refer the Syrian crisis to the International Criminal Court or an ad hoc tribunal so that perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity can be held accountable. In a welcome development, U.S. senators have recently introduced the Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act, which could contribute to the implementation of international human rights law.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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