ResourcesPress Release

New Reports of Chemical Attacks in Syria Require Investigation, says Physicians for Human Rights

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is alarmed by new reports of chemical barrel bomb attacks in the Syrian village of Sarmin and calls on the United Nations Security Council to conduct an inquiry and implement its own resolutions to stop indiscriminate attacks.

“The use of indiscriminate weapons in civilian areas is a war crime. If those weapons also use chemical agents, it compounds the unlawfulness of the attacks,” said Donna McKay, PHR’s executive director. “Syrians are dying because the U.N. Security Council is failing to enforce its own pledge calling for an end to attacks on civilians – it must act now.”

Staff affiliated with the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) at a field hospital in Sarmin (northwestern Syria) reported that on Monday, March 16, two barrel bombs were dropped on buildings by government helicopters and a chemical agent quickly spread because of the wind. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in Britain, reports that six civilians were killed as a result of the attacks, while dozens were reportedly wounded. The Syrian Civil Defense, a group of unarmed civilians that carry out rescues, reports 70 cases involving choking symptoms. PHR has also seen detailed reports from field doctors describing the situation.

Following a chemical attack in 2013, the Syrian government agreed to dispose its chemical weapons. Independent experts have confirmed that at least twice since then, chlorine or a similar toxic agent has been deployed in the country. Monday’s attack in Sarmin further suggests that such agents are being used illegally. Chemical weapons cause widespread death and permanent injury. Once released, these difficult-to-control poisons kill indiscriminately, recognizing neither uniform nor flag. Infants, the elderly, and the chronically ill are particularly vulnerable. While further detail on the origin of the latest attacks is necessary, it is clear that consistent impunity for attacks against civilians only allows further atrocities.

On March 11, PHR released a report detailing four years of deliberate and indiscriminate attacks that have decimated the ranks of health professionals and devastated the medical infrastructure in Syria – exacerbating an acute humanitarian crisis. PHR found that the Syrian government has committed the vast majority of these attacks, and – in violation of human rights and humanitarian law – has systematically targeted health care services since the start of the conflict in 2011. PHR has previously called on the Security Council to refer the Syrian crisis to the International Criminal Court so that perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity would be held accountable.

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.