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For Immediate Release

Both Sides in Syrian Struggle Must Respect Medical Neutrality

Cambridge, Mass. - 07/26/2012

PHR today condemned an alarming tendency by both sides of the violent conflict in Syria to seriously jeopardize the safety and neutrality of medical staff and facilities.

On July 22, Syrian rebels reportedly attacked the Tishreen Military Hospital in Damascus. Government forces responded to the assault by firing at rebels from the hospital roof. Rebel forces are also reported to have occupied and looted a charity hospital in the Sayyida Zainab neighborhood of Damascus.

These incidents followed 15 months of attacks by Syrian government forces on civilian institutions, including medical facilities and services. PHR has previously documented the Syrian government’s attack on the country’s health system since the beginning of the conflict, including instances of denying medical treatment to injured civilians, arresting and torturing doctors and patients, and attacking and misusing hospitals, forcing Syrians to seek medical care through an underground network of field hospitals.

These actions violate international humanitarian law, and people who order attacks on medical facilities or professionals acting in the line of duty, as well as those who fail to stop such acts, can be held accountable for war crimes.

“As the conflict in Syria turns into civil war, both sides are increasingly disregarding human rights, including those of doctors and other medical workers caring for the wounded,” said Donna McKay, Executive Director of Physicians for Human Rights. “All attacks on medical facilities and personnel are a violation of medical neutrality and must stop immediately.”

All Syrians have a right to health and medical care, in peacetime and during times of armed conflict alike. PHR calls on both sides to respect medical neutrality and human rights by ceasing at once their attacks on hospitals and doctors, their looting of medical supplies and equipment, and their use of hospitals to detain and torture their adversaries.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is an independent organization that uses medicine and science to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. We are supported by the expertise and passion of health professionals and concerned citizens alike.

Since 1986, PHR has conducted investigations in more than 40 countries around the world, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, the United States, the former Yugoslavia, and Zimbabwe.

  • 1986 — Led investigations of torture in Chile gaining freedom for heroic doctors there
  • 1988 — First to document the Iraqi use of chemical weapons on Kurds providing               evidence for prosecution of war criminals
  • 1996 — Exhumed mass graves in the Balkans and Rwanda to provide evidence for               International Criminal Tribunals
  • 1997 — Shared the Nobel Peace Prize for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines
  • 2003 — Warned US Policymakers on health and human rights conditions prior to and               during the invasion of Iraq
  • 2004 — Documented genocide and sexual violence in Darfur in support of international               prosecutions
  • 2010 — Investigated the epidemic of violence spread by Burma’s military junta
  • 2011 — Championed the principle of noninterference with medical services in times of               armed conflict and civil unrest during the Arab Spring
  • 2012 — Trained doctors, lawyers, police, and judges in the Democratic Republic of the               Congo, Kenya, and Syria on the proper collection of evidence in sexual               violence cases
  • 2013 — Won first prize in the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention with MediCapt, our               mobile app that documents evidence of torture and sexual violence

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