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PHR Releases Accounts of Violence in Syria

Violations of medical neutrality and attacks on civilians described by Syrian citizens

For Immediate Release

Sincemid-March, Syrian government forces have sought to crush citizen uprisings; morethan 1,700 people have been killed and at least 10,000 are reported to be incustody or missing. In addition to the widely reported atrocities committed bythe government, PHR has received reports of serious violations of medicalneutrality in Syria. PHR calls on the Government of Syria to cease itscampaign of targeting medical facilities, health workers and their patients,and to safeguard doctors’ obligation to provide neutral and ethical care forcivilians.

Accordingto PHR sources in the country, government security forces control access to thehospitals, and many injured civilians in need of critical care are foregoingtreatment because they fear being detained and tortured if they seek care atgovernment-controlled medical facilities. Representatives Jim McDermott (D-WA)and Walter Jones (R-NC) recently introduced the Medical Neutrality Protection Act of 2011(H.R. 2643) (pdf), which reflects increased US focus on the importance of protecting medicalneutrality. PHR calls on members of Congress to support this bill so that theU.S. can promptly and effectively respond to violations of medical neutrality,such as the ones documented in Syria.

“Whileit’s well known that Syria has been attacking its own citizens,” said Directorof Policy Hans Hogrefe, “their targeted attacks on doctors and hospitals havegone largely unnoticed. All attacks on civilians are severe violations of humanrights and we condemn them. But attacks on hospitals and caregivers areparticularly devastating. When you attack a doctor, you’re attacking all thepatients who depend on that doctor.”

PHRinterviewed one doctor from the besieged city of Hama who reported, “Shabihaand government security forces are situated near and on the roof of hospitalsto prevent injured from reaching hospitals. Because of the shooting, it isdifficult for anyone to move, and many injured have died due to hemorrhage. Thehospitals suffer from a lack of blood supply.” According to an officialdocument PHR obtained from the health department of the city of Homes, datedApril 12, all hospitals have been ordered to “send all the injured due to theevents (unrest) by ambulance, with security escort, to the military hospital inHomes.” In addition, the government has detained or disappeared 134 doctors,according to a group of Syrian physicians.

PHRsources report other violations of medical neutrality:

“At the beginning of the protest, the securityforces (Shabbiha) shot in the air to disperse the protesters. When they failedto disband the protest, they started to shoot at them with live ammunition. Onthe fifth Friday of the protest, the security forces killed 30 and injureddozens of the protesters. A friend of mine, Osama, was shot by a sniper. He got a bullet in his neck. We did not take the injured to the main government hospital because they were afraid that they would be tortured or arrested or killed there. The private hospitals haverefused to receive any injuries based on orders from the government. The onlytwo clinics receiving injuries were charity hospitals. These clinics weresimple and had no blood to save the bleeding. One of them has only two doctorsto treat dozens of injuries. Many of the injured died because of lack ofmedical treatment.” A 27-year-old shop owner from Homes

“Atthe beginning of June, the Syrian army attacked our town Jisr alshagour. Therewere many killed and injured. I took some of the injured to the hospital in thetown. I found nobody there; the hospital was empty. On that day, June 4th,45 people were killed, we put some of the autopsies in the fruit cooling truckbecause the fridge of the hospital has capacity of only four. I took some medical supplies from thehospital and put two injured in an ambulance car, which was left, and thencrossed the Turkish border. A helicopter shot at the ambulance; however, wesucceeded to transfer the injured.” A 35-year-old manager from Jisr alshagour

“My brother, 43 years old,died after being tortured by the Syrian secret police. My brother was apeaceful, well-educated, secular physician who was respected by his peersinternationally. He was recently in Miami,attending a medical conference. Apparently, they did not like the fact that hewent to the USto attend a medical conference. They wanted to interrogate him about his USvisit, and he died during the interrogation. Reportedly, he had broken bonesand injuries from trying to defend himself from the blows. He died fromstrangulation. In the morgue, the secret police, the Mukhabarat, told hisfamily that they had never had Sakher in their custody, but instead that theyhad found him dead in the street.” A 50-year-old oncology researcher

Thereports from Syria reflect aworrisome trend in the Middle East regardinggovernment attacks on the medical profession. PHR has documented abuses againstdoctors and hospitals in Bahrain and Libya, and condemns continued violationsin these countries. PHR calls on the government of Syria to immediately cease allattacks on civilians, including violations of medical neutrality.

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.