For Immediate Release
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) expresses grave concern over reports of intimidation of Syrian medics who are carrying out crucial medical treatment and of investigators who are conducting forensic investigations near the site of an April 7 strike on Douma. The attack, which bore the signs of a chemical weapons attack, left at least 70 people dead and scores more injured. Now, teams of Syrian medics, who are working tirelessly to treat survivors, are reportedly being subjected to extreme intimidation, including being forced to abandon patients and being coerced into not speaking about the attack. Reports have also emerged of Syrian officials seizing biological samples from the attack scene and threatening that Syrian doctors and their families will be targeted if they speak out about what they witnessed in the hours after the attack.
Susannah Sirkin, director of international policy and partnerships at PHR, warns that this intimidation poses serious threats to health care and to justice. “Not only do these intimidation tactics prevent survivors from getting the urgent medical care that they need, they also threaten the crucial work of collecting forensic evidence and eye-witness accounts – both of which are critical in being able to ascertain exactly what happened on April 7th and, ultimately, who is to blame. Without these elements, it becomes increasingly difficult to paint an accurate picture of what happened and to ensure accountability for those who committed this atrocity,” Sirkin said.
Professor of Environmental Toxicology at the University of Leeds and PHR expert Alastair Hay, who has worked on chemical weapons issues for nearly 40 years, says the importance of collecting biomedical samples quickly and of thoroughly speaking to doctors and survivors to hear their accounts of what happened are all crucial to an investigation of this nature. “Syrian medical personnel and international investigation teams such as the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons should be allowed to carry out their work unhindered and without fear of intimidation or threat. With every day that passes, the job of investigators is made more difficult.”
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.