PHR: Systematic targeting of health facilities by Assad regime cannot be ignored

Orient Net 2019-09-17 10:41:00

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The United Nations Secretary-General’s newly-formed Board of Inquiry (BOI) to investigate attacks on UN-supported facilities in northwest Syria will not provide an adequate degree of desperately needed protection for civilians in that area, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) said in a press release issued on Monday (September 16). 

PHR which has rigorously researched and documented attacks on Syria’s health care system since the beginning of the conflict. The BOI lacks the power to uphold international humanitarian law requiring special protection of health facilities, personnel, patients, and civilian infrastructure during armed conflict.

Physicians for Human Rights’ director of policy, Susannah Sirkin, addressed the UN Security Council on July 30, demanding that the Secretary-General launch an immediate investigation into recent attacks on health care facilities in Idlib and northwestern Syria. These attacks have occurred in violation of the UN deconfliction mechanism, which was designed a year ago to protect health care and other humanitarian facilities whose locations were shared with parties to the conflict.

Sirkin released the following statement in response to the announcement of the Board of Inquiry’s establishment:

For more than eight years, Assad regime militias and their allies have systematically targeted health facilities as a strategy of war to punish civilians residing in opposition-held territories, destroy their ability to survive, and draw them into government-held areas or drive them out of the country. Assad regime and Russia are responsible for over 91 percent of the attacks on health care facilities that have become a disgraceful component of the conflict in Syria in gross violation of humanitarian norms.

Though Secretary-General António Guterres’ Board of Inquiry is tasked with investigating only certain recent attacks on health facilities  in the so-called ‘demilitarized’ area in the northwest of Syria, it is critical that the United Nations and its member states investigate and assure accountability for the hundreds of attacks on Syrian medical facilities since March 2011, when the conflict started.

This limited, current inquiry being launched by the Secretary-General is focused on the failure of the UN-brokered deconfliction mechanism, which was a desperate measure following relentless, targeted attacks on health facilities. Through this inquiry process, responsible parties should be identified, and the Board’s findings should be made public. Failure to do so will be an insult to the patients, health care workers, and staff of humanitarian organizations who have died or suffered in the wake of these attacks.

More importantly, the focus on the UN Board of Inquiry should not distract from the urgent need to immediately stop the atrocious assault on civilians in northwest Syria, so many of whom are trapped with nowhere to flee, and the imperative to hold perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity accountable. Given the failure of the UN Security Council to refer the case of Syria to the International Criminal Court as a result of Russia’s veto, national courts must step up efforts to prosecute the crimes, and UN member states must re-invest in the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) for Syria. Only through international accountability will a sustainable peace built on the foundations of justice be accomplished in Syria.

The Russian government’s continued unconditional support for the murderous Assad regime, and spread of misinformation attempting to minimize the crimes of Assad’s militias and its allies, including Russia, must be called out for the deception it seeks to create and denial of incontrovertible fact. The Russian government has unconscionable quantities of Syrian civilian blood on its hands due to years of financially supporting, arming, and equipping Assad’s war machine and for conducting military operations targeting civilians that may constitute war crimes. The Russian government should be using its leverage with Assad to stem this slaughter, PHR concluded.