For Immediate Release
NBC News released an interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad earlier today. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has the following statement as a response, attributable to PHR Executive Director Donna McKay:
“Throughout the interview, President Assad demonstrated that he is a serial liar. He says he is permitted to use any tactics he wants to purportedly ‘fight terrorism.’ But he knows better. Kidnapping, torturing, and murdering doctors is a war crime. Dropping barrel bombs on civilians is a war crime. Gassing your own people is a war crime. Besieging civilian areas is a war crime.
“During the interview, Assad calls evidence that we and other organizations have gathered ‘propaganda’ and part of ‘media campaigns.’ He denies the use of chemical weapons, despite clear evidence that his forces gassed children to death in 2013. He claims he only targets terrorists, despite our unequivocal evidence that he and his allies have attacked hospitals – universally recognized as protected facilities – 365 times since the war began.
“But, perhaps most cruelly, Assad believes that the photos of children starving to death, wasting away in Syria’s besieged areas, are fakes – that organizations like PHR can’t prove they came from besieged areas. And yet we can. Our partners in Madaya, a town of 40,000 people under siege since last year, took those photos. They watched those children become listless, unresponsive, and slip away before their eyes.
“In the interview, Assad claims that the people in besieged areas can’t possibly be starving because they’re still alive. ‘How could they live without food?’ he asks. To that we say: Mr. Assad, you’re right. They can’t survive without food. Across Syria, people are dying slow-motion, torturous deaths with the knowledge that just outside the besieged towns – beyond the landmines and checkpoints – there is food that you are actively withholding as a weapon of war.
“In a report PHR published just this week, we have clear evidence that in the town of Madaya, 65 people succumbed to malnutrition and starvation in just seven months – including at least a dozen children. Starvation is a painful, psychologically devastating way to go. No one deserves such a cruel fate.
“Intentionally depriving children and families of basic necessities like food and medical aid is a war crime. In fact, it’s mass murder. While Assad claims he doesn’t fear a war crimes trial, we look forward to the day that the overwhelming evidence gathered by PHR and other partners globally will be used to make him pay for his atrocious deeds.”
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.