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PHR Urges U.S. and International Community to Address War Crimes in Syria Negotiations

New UN Report Finds Government Forces Mostly Responsible for Assault on Medical Care in Syria

For Immediate Release

Government forces have deliberately attacked medical facilities across Syria, systematically targeted doctors and other health providers with violence, arrests and killings, and repeatedly denied medical care to the sick and wounded in violation of international humanitarian laws, according to a new U.N. report.

Anti-government forces have also targeted medical personnel, which reinforces the urgent need for both sides to respect international laws that protect medical staff and facilities. The eight-page paper, issued today by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, called the attacks “one of the most alarming features of the Syrian conflict,” and said the denial of medical care has been used as a weapon of war. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) pointed out the need for any U.S. – Russia brokered agreement to address these war crimes, and the severe human rights violations committed during the ongoing conflict.

“The U.N. report gives distressing evidence of medical care under attack, which entails committing a series of grave war crimes,” said Dr. Vincent Iacopino, PHR’s senior medical advisor. “Just as the use of chemical weapons was deemed a crime against humanity by President Obama, these violations cross the line set by the Geneva Conventions, and have resulted in enormous human suffering. When caregivers tending to the wounded are attacked, hospitals are deliberately bombed, and the injured and vulnerable cannot get medical help, mortality among the sick and wounded increases exponentially. Any deliberations over responding to the use of chemical weapons in Syria must include a solution to this ongoing humanitarian crisis on the ground.”

PHR has long worked to prevent attacks on medical staff, facilities and supplies, and to help uphold the principle of medical neutrality. Today’s report shows that even before the use of chemical agents, the Syrian government has waged a deliberate assault on medical personnel and care, committing clear violations of the Geneva Conventions, international humanitarian laws and international human rights laws.

“Both sides of the conflict must stop this insidious violence against those who are most vulnerable, and ensure the sick and wounded are taken care of without discrimination,” Iacopino added. “Even in a war, there are certain lines that must never be crossed. In Syria, government forces have shelled maternity wards, tortured patients instead of treating them, and arrested doctors for doing their courageous work. In a conflict where more than 100,000 lives have already been lost, attacking the health care system cannot be tolerated from either side.”

The report, “Assault on medical care in Syria,” outlines many instances of government forces intentionally shelling hospitals, which has led to destruction of a number of the facilities, and injuries and deaths among medical staff and patients, including at least 20 Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers. Government authorities have conducted these attacks to gain military advantage, used hospitals as military bases, denied treatment to sick and wounded persons based on sectarian and political grounds, tortured patients, and detained, arrested and attacked ambulance drivers, nurses, doctors and medical volunteers. The report calls the targeting of healthcare personnel “one of the most insidious trends of the armed violence 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.

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