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On Eighth Anniversary of Syria Conflict, PHR Renews Call for Accountability, Cessation of Attacks on Health Care Infrastructure

Syrian government has systematically targeted health care facilities, personnel since 2011

Eight years into the Syrian conflict and Physicians for Human Rights’ (PHR) documentation of attacks on the country’s medical infrastructure, PHR is emphasizing the Syrian government’s ongoing assault on hospitals and medical workers as a key tactic in the conflict, in gross violation of humanitarian norms and the Geneva Conventions. PHR is calling for the immediate cessation of these attacks, as well as criminal accountability for those responsible.

PHR has researched, documented, and mapped attacks on medical infrastructure in Syria since March 2011. From March 2011 through December 2018, PHR confirmed 553 attacks on at least 348 separate facilities, in 12 out of Syria’s 14 governorates.

As PHR’s newest resource compiling data on attacks on doctors and health care workers shows, at least 890 medical professionals have been killed in Syria in the past eight years. PHR’s data show that 90 percent of these crimes were committed by the Syrian government and its allies.

“The Syrian government’s assault on health care facilities and personnel has been a defining factor of this horrific conflict, denying Syrian men, women, and children critical medical care in blatant violation of international humanitarian and human rights law,” said Phelim Kine, deputy director of programs and director of research and investigations at Physicians for Human Rights. “As the crisis in Syria enters its ninth year, and the focus turns toward refugee returns and reconstruction, it is more important than ever that Syrian medical personnel are able to fulfill their obligation to treat the sick and wounded without discrimination, that perpetrators of past and ongoing crimes are prosecuted, and that the Syrian people benefit from an international commitment to accountability.”

As part of PHR’s efforts to bolster accountability for human rights abuses perpetrated during the Syrian conflict, PHR is compiling case studies of specific attacks the organization has documented. These case studies are designed to provide snapshots of the horror and tragedy of the intentional targeting of health care facilities and workers as well as detail how those attacks have effectively eviscerated health care provision in many parts of Syria. In late 2015, for instance, local physicians established an underground hospital in the northern Hama town of Kfar Zeita in an attempt to provide a safe space for medical staff and their patients. The “Cave Hospital,” as it became known, was founded after the nearby Kfar Zeita Specialty Hospital suffered several targeted attacks – 13 of which were verified by PHR. Not long after the Cave Hospital went into service, the Syrian government and its allies began targeting the facility from the air. Between 2016 and 2018, the hospital was subjected to dozens of direct attacks, six of which were verified and mapped by PHR. The bombing persisted even after the facility was listed as a “de-conflicted humanitarian site,” further highlighting the intentional nature of the attacks.

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: International Justice Closes in on Syria’s State-backed Killers
    • Blog: Syria’s War on Health Workers and Facilities Puts Children at Risk
    • Blog: A Brewing Humanitarian Catastrophe as the Battle for Idlib Looms
    • Blog: Combating Impunity: How We Risk Normalizing Chemical Weapons Attacks and Other War Crimes in Syria

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.