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International Community Must Find Unified Response to Crisis in Syria

Syrian protestors

PHR calls for Immediate Humanitarian Protection for Civilians

February 2012

As the bloodshed in Syria—which local organizations report has killed over 8,000 people so far—reaches new proportions daily, international actors have been unable to find an effective response to the crimes against humanity committed by the Assad regime.

In a cynical display of utter neglect for international human rights norms and standards, Russia and China blocked the UN Security Council, the highest international organ charged with the maintenance of peace and security, from addressing the brutal attacks ordered by President Assad.

These attacks include deliberate attacks on civilians, the killing of women and children, the detention and arrests of protesters and political activists, the use of human shields, and severe violations of medical neutrality that force patients to seek medical treatment in makeshift “underground hospitals” run by medical staff who are risking their own lives. Government forces have also blocked communication, electricity, and other necessities from Homs, a city besieged by Assad’s forces.

With the failure of the Arab League Monitors to mediate the bloodshed and their departure from Syria, President Assad has completely sealed off his country from any international observers and has barred the international media from documenting the brutal attack against his own people.

The UN General Assembly passed a resolution condemning the violence in Syria and backing an Arab League plan for the removal of President Assad from power. The nonbinding resolution garnered significant international support and sends a strong signal about the international community’s stance against the Assad regime, but it is insufficient to halt the ongoing violence.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) calls for stronger measures, including a UN Security Council referral of Syria to the International Criminal Court, which are essential to stem the bloodshed and hold the most serious perpetrators accountable for their crimes.

As the international community considers the next steps in its response to the mass atrocities in Syria, PHR urges the immediate adoption of the following steps to provide at least a modicum of humanitarian protection to the civilian population in Syria:

To the Government of Syria:

  • Immediately end all attacks on civilians, including killings, torture, and violations of medical neutrality.
  • Thoroughly investigate and prosecute all those responsible for human rights violations, and begin a comprehensive vetting process to remove all perpetrators from government.
  • Provide compensation and rehabilitation for all victims of violence related to the popular uprisings.

To Syria’s regional neighbors, including Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq:

  • Support a ceasefire agreement, if reached, by not actively contributing to continued conflict in Syria.
  • Open borders with Syria to humanitarian operations, including supplies and other resources, and allow humanitarian organizations to set up operations along those borders.
  • Allow the international community to establish and maintain safe zones near the Syrian border for Syrian refugees.
  • Facilitate the access of regional medical associations and humanitarian agencies to enter Syria and deliver medical care and other assistance.

To the United States:

  • Provide financial and material support for the underground health care network in Syria, including the provision of medical supplies.
  • Provide financial support to Syria’s neighbors, including Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq, for their efforts to provide safe zones for Syrians escaping violence.
  • Support the work of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the countries bordering Syria.
  • Pass the Syria Human Rights Accountability Act of 2012, introduced in the Senate by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, which would authorize increased sanctions on individual violators of human rights in Syria.

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