For Immediate Release
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today condemns the apparent chemical weapon attack in the opposition-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in Syria's Idlib governorate, as well as a suspected strike on the town's medical facility, which was treating victims of the chemical attack.
The following statement is attributable to Susannah Sirkin, PHR's director of international policy and partnerships:
"Today, we are seeing new depths of depravity in Syria. If confirmed, this apparent chemical strike would be the deadliest such attack in nearly four years. Having long documented the impacts of chemical agents, we know just how horrific and painful the effects can be: agents such as sarin can cause intense pain, respiratory distress, nausea and vomiting, seizures, loss of consciousness, and death. While PHR is currently unable to identify the perpetrator of today's attack, this incident fits a pattern of similar strikes carried out by the Syrian government. Syria's military and its allies have brazenly flouted international law, UN Security Council resolutions, and indeed the very underpinnings of a century-long understanding that chemical weapons have no place in modern conflict.
"Khan Sheikhoun is approximately seven miles from the frontline of the conflict, and the region has seen increased bombings since an opposition-led offensive began last month. At this stage, PHR is unable to verify an exact casualty count, but credible reports indicate that dozens – and possibly up to 100 people – have been killed in today's chemical attack. The images and video coming out of the area are particularly distressing: victims gasping for breath, children lying lifeless on the ground, hospitals overwhelmed with casualties. These are images that will and should haunt us all. As we've said repeatedly, any use of chemical weapons is an egregious violation of international law and requires an immediate response.
"PHR and our colleagues in Syria call for an immediate and independent investigation into this attack. Steps must be taken to secure evidence, including environmental and biological samples. And any credible investigation must include conclusions about suspected perpetrators. Accountability in Syria has been completely absent over these past six years. It's time for governments, international bodies, and citizens to put as much pressure as possible on all the warring parties in Syria to end the bloodshed, end the all-out assault on civilians, and end the use of chemical weapons once and for all.
"Last week, PHR documented a series of attacks on medical facilities just miles from today's reported chemical strike. With the increased bombings of medical facilities in this area, medical staff in Syria tell PHR they are concerned about the total collapse of their health care system. This is part of a pattern we've seen throughout this conflict: target civilians, destroy medical infrastructure, and watch the suffering unfold. The world's failure to halt this conflict will be a stain on our collective conscience for generations."
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.