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Killings of Syrian Health Workers Underscore Assad’s Contempt for International Law: PHR

Deaths of Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) Personnel Highlight Barbarity of Air Campaign

August 14, 2019

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is profoundly dismayed by credible reports that airstrikes by Syrian or Russian forces killed two Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) health workers and one civil defense first-responder today in Syria’s besieged Idlib province.

According to the organization, a SAMS paramedic and ambulance driver, as well as the first-responder, were killed in airstrikes on a SAMS-supported ambulance center in the town of Ma’aret Hurmeh, in the southern part of Idlib province. SAMS is a non-profit, non-political medical organization that provides humanitarian relief in Syria, often at the frontlines of the crisis.

SAMS reported that one of six consecutive airstrikes that occurred in the area destroyed the ambulance center. A follow-up “double tap” attack occurred shortly after and killed the first-responder as he tried to rescue the SAMS personnel from the rubble.

Susannah Sirkin, director of policy at PHR, issued the following statement:

“We are absolutely heartbroken to learn of the fatal attacks on our medical colleagues and friends at SAMS. This kind of butchery has defined the Syrian conflict since 2011, but each and every death is a profound loss.

“This horrible attack comes just two weeks after the UN Secretary-General launched a Board of Inquiry (BoI) investigation into attacks on UN-supported health facilities. Clearly, Syria and its Russian allies are hellbent on continuing their deliberate, inhumane, illegal strategy of war – even in the face of newfound global scrutiny.

“PHR’s rigorous research since the conflict began reveals that Syrian government and/or Russian government forces have committed approximately 91 percent of the attacks on health facilities in Syria.

“Health workers have a moral and professional obligation to deliver care to those in need. The fact that these courageous professionals in Idlib were killed while merely doing their jobs should compel the United Nations and all parties to act now to stop the relentless bombing of civilians and the terrible loss of life.

“UN Secretary-General António Guterres must conduct a rapid, public, and transparent investigation into attacks on health in the face of the deconfliction agreements the UN has brokered in Syria. The UN Security Council and individual governments must ensure that those responsible for these unthinkable crimes are held accountable.”

On April 29, the Syrian government and Russian forces started their military escalation targeting Idlib and northern Hama province. Since then, PHR has received reports of 46 attacks on health care facilities. PHR has so far confirmed 16 of the attacks and is still counting.

PHR has meticulously researched, documented, and mapped attacks on health care in Syria since the start of the conflict in March 2011. From March 2011 through July 2019, PHR has confirmed that there were at least 578 attacks on 350 separate facilities, as well as at least 910 medical personnel killed.

On July 30, Sirkin addressed the UN Security Council, demanding that the Secretary-General launch an immediate investigation into recent attacks on health care in Idlib and northwestern Syria in violation of protection agreements.

PHR has developed and maintains the following resources documenting the impact of the Syrian conflict on the country’s health care infrastructure:

  • Interactive Map: Illegal Attacks on Health Care in Syria
  • Facts and data: Medical Personnel Targeted in Syria
  • Factsheet: The Syrian Conflict: Eight Years of Devastation and Destruction of the Health System
  • Case Studies: Specific incidents of attacks on health care facilities and personnel in Syria
  • Recent PHR blog posts (blog archive concerning Syria):
    • Blog: Under-Secretary-General Mark Lowcock and Attacks on Health in Syria
    • Blog: The Appalling Rise in Attacks on Health Care in Conflict in 2018
    • Blog: Destroying Hospitals to Win the War

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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