For Immediate Release
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today condemned the deadly overnight attack on a humanitarian aid convoy in Syria. The attack killed approximately 20 people, including aid workers and truck drivers, and destroyed 18 trucks loaded with vital food, medical, and other humanitarian supplies meant for tens of thousands of Syrians in opposition-held areas west of Aleppo city. PHR has reviewed witness statements, photographs, and video of the attack, and taken together, the organization’s analysts say it was likely carried out by Syrian or Russian government aircraft.
“This brazen attack is not only a grave breach of international law, it is a body blow to the thousands of humanitarians who put their own lives at risk every day to alleviate the suffering of others,” said PHR’s director of international policy and partnerships, Susannah Sirkin. “It is a war crime to intentionally attack humanitarian aid workers and convoys. This is yet another example of how those who the world assigns to help the most vulnerable in warfare have become targets themselves. The perpetrators of this shameful act have made the Red Crescent into a bullseye.”
PHR today said that the Syrian conflict has been characterized by repeated violations of the laws of war. Since 2011, PHR has documented 382 attacks against 269 medical facilities – 90 percent of those attacks were carried out by Syrian government forces or their Russian allies. PHR emphasized that the norms of warfare are being profoundly eroded in Syria and elsewhere.
“The depths of impunity in Syria have reached new lows, as no one is being held accountable for these monstrous war crimes,” said PHR’s Sirkin. “It’s particularly galling that this attack on humanitarians took place just as world leaders are meeting in New York for the UN General Assembly to discuss the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Syria. How many more sickening attacks on humanitarians do we have to see before the international community acts?”
The strike on the aid convoy comes as a delicate cessation of hostilities in Syria appeared to be collapsing. Part of the U.S.-Russia-brokered deal included demands for allowing safe, unimpeded passage of humanitarian aid across the country. PHR said today the Syrian government was mainly responsible for preventing those aid convoys from reaching their intended recipients, and that last night’s strike would only deepen Syria’s dire humanitarian crisis.
“Millions of Syrians across the country are desperate for food and medical aid after suffering through more than five years of a brutal war. And time and again, the government of Bashar al-Assad has prevented the delivery of this aid or stripped convoys of vital supplies,” said PHR’s Sirkin. “This latest attack will now deprive tens of thousands of people of lifesaving aid. The perpetrators of this awful strike are not only responsible for the deaths of humanitarians, but also for those who now may succumb to malnutrition, starvation, and other treatable illnesses.”
Earlier this year, PHR and the Syrian American Medical Society documented dozens of deaths by starvation in the besieged Syrian town of Madaya, highlighting the ongoing deprivation Syria’s civilians have endured throughout the five-year conflict. PHR today said that the overnight attack was a challenge to the international community to hold war criminals responsible.
“It is time for an end to this awful conflict, an end to the suffering, an end to the cavalier notion that attacks like these will go unpunished or excused on the international stage,” said PHR’s Sirkin. “Those who target doctors, humanitarians, hospitals, and aid convoys are war criminals. And, at some point, they will – and must – be held to account for their actions.”
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.