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Humanitarian Norms Ignored as Syria’s Civilian Health Deliberately Targeted

PHR condemns escalation of attacks as conflict enters eighth year

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) released an issue brief today highlighting a pattern of targeted attacks on health care throughout war-torn Syria, taking place with impunity and with staggering consequences.

Released to coincide with the seventh anniversary of the start of the fighting, “Beyond Imagination: Seven Years of Conflict in Syria,” documents the recent dramatic increase in attacks on civilian health, particularly in so-called de-escalation zones, from bombing and shelling of hospitals and other health facilities, to the killing of medical personnel, the recurring blockades of humanitarian aid, and the ongoing besiegement of civilian populations.

“Despite multiple attempts by the international community to impose a ceasefire in Syria and to bring about peace talks and a political solution to this catastrophic seven-year conflict, there is no peace in sight,” said PHR’s director of programs, Homer Venters. “The gruesome toll of this brutal war is being further exacerbated by the inability of besieged civilians to receive urgently-needed medical assistance.”

PHR’s researchers have corroborated 492 attacks on health care sites, including 79 hospitals that were struck more than once, from the start of the conflict through the end of 2017. At least 847 medical personnel have been killed in this time period. These attacks are in direct violation of international humanitarian law.

“The Syrian government is deliberately and illegally blockading humanitarian aid and repeatedly bombing and shelling health facilities and medical personnel with impunity. UN member states have a humanitarian obligation and a moral responsibility to put an end to these war crimes without further delay,” Homer said.

The brief calls for immediate action on seven key points, including:

  • halting attacks on civilians, hospitals, and other unlawful targets;
  • ending all sieges of civilian populations;
  • lifting any restrictions on humanitarian aid;
  • and UN Security Council reform restricting the use of the veto in situations designated by the UN Secretary-General as war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

The full PHR issue brief, “Beyond Imagination: Seven Years of Conflict in Syria,” can be downloaded here. Additional multimedia content and in-person interviews and analysis are available upon request.

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.