ResourcesPress Release

Die-In to #DefendDoctors in Syria Commemorated in New York

Hundreds of health professionals staged demonstration drawing attention to health workers killed in Syria

For Immediate Release

Hundreds of health professionals and volunteers participated in a “die-in” near the United Nations today to represent the almost 700 medical personnel killed during the Syrian conflict and highlight war crimes being committed through deliberate attacks on Syria’s health care system.

The demonstrators wore white coats during a gathering at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza to represent the hundreds of medical personnel killed since the conflict started in March 2011. In addition to the deaths of nearly 700 health workers, there have been 313 attacks on health facilities through the end of September. More than 90 percent of these attacks have been committed by Syrian government forces. In recent weeks, Russian war planes have also struck several hospitals.

Photos will be available here.

Representatives from Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) discussed attacks on health care facilities and medical personnel in Syria, which constitute war crimes and have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis.

Dr. Holly Atkinson, past president of Physicians for Human Rights and director of the Human Rights Program at Mount Sinai Hospital, said:

“In Syria and other conflict zones around the world, being a doctor or a nurse makes you a target. Imagine a world in which hospitals and clinics are routinely bombed. Imagine a world where to seek medical attention is to risk death. Imagine the world watching this happen and doing nothing. And finally, imagine a world without doctors, nurses, paramedics, and ambulance drivers, because if the Syrian and Russian forces prevail, that could become the reality for millions of people trying to survive in opposition held and besieged areas of Syria.”

Dr. Ahmad Tarakji, president of the Syrian American Medical Society and a cardiovascular surgeon, said:

“Syria is the most dangerous place in the world to be a doctor. Healthcare personnel and medical facilities are deliberately and routinely targeted as a tool of war. Healthcare has been denied to Syrians through lack of access, prevention of aid delivery, and widespread attacks on medical facilities and health workers. The consequences of this strategy are devastating to the lives and health of civilians who remain in Syria, including the health workers struggling to save them. We need to stand together to demand action from the international community and the United Nations to enforce its own resolutions and end all attacks on healthcare. Today, we remember those we have lost and call for protection for those who remain.”

Dr. Majed, a Syrian dentist from East Ghouta and coordinator for United Medical Office of East Ghouta outside of Damascus, said: (*please note, we are using a pseudonym to protect his identity):

“We cannot bring the doctors or the civilians who died back to life. But we can advocate to help the doctors who are in prison because they tried to help people and provide health services, and to protect the hundreds of doctors risking their lives to save others.”

Dr. Deane Marchbein, president of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières USA, said:

“Much of my experience has been in war zones, but it wasn’t until Syria that I saw medical colleagues specifically targeted because of their work — work that is protected by international humanitarian law. For nearly five years, we have seen hospitals destroyed and colleagues killed by bombs and snipers, with the clear intent to deprive whole communities of access to health care. Since late September, these attacks have escalated. Twelve medical facilities in Aleppo, Idlib and Hama governorates, including six supported by MSF, have been bombed. We are here today to honor the heroic efforts — and to mourn the loss — of our Syrian colleagues. Doctors Without Borders stands in solidarity with those who continue to provide medical care at incredible personal risk. Even wars have rules.”

Other speakers included Dr. Zaher Sahloul, past president of the Syrian American Medical Society, and Dr. Conrad Fischer, the residency program director in internal medicine at Brookdale University Hospital in Brooklyn, as well as an ordained interfaith minister who studies religiously motivated violence at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

Full versions of speakers’ prepared remarks are available upon request.

PHR has created an interactive map documenting attacks on health care in Syria. The map displays the total number of attacks on healthcare facilities and the number of medical personnel killed as well as detailed information behind the attacks, including causes of deaths, types of attacks, and links to photos and videos. The map can be found here.

The map can also be embedded online by inserting the following code into the body of HTML:
<iframe src=”//s3.amazonaws.com/PHR_syria_map/web/index.html” width=”960″ height=”600″ frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no”></iframe>
The width and height can be adjusted, but a minimum size of 960 x 600 is recommended.

For more information:

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.

Media Contact

Kevin Short

Media Relations Manager1.917.679.0110