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For Immediate Release

Leading Medical Organizations Call on Dr. Assad to Stop Attacking Sick and Wounded

Cambridge, Mass. - 05/30/2012

Following the horrific massacre of more than 100 civilians—including 34 women and 49 children—in the village of Houla, Physicians for Human Rights and leading medical organizations today published an open letter to Dr. Bashar al-Assad to stop attacking the sick and wounded. Dr. Assad, the president of Syria, has led an attack on the country’s citizens killing more than 10,000 people. As part of his violent campaign, he also engineered a systematic assault on the country’s medical community and its patients.

“I am appalled by the attacks engineered by President Assad on his own citizens, from the thousands that have suffered and died over the last year, to the innocent children that were massacred in Houla. However, as a doctor, I have to speak out on one particularly egregious type of attack that has been unleashed on the most vulnerable Syrians—the sick and the wounded,” said Dr. Robert Lawrence, Chairman of PHR’s Board. “Doctors are first and foremost healers and are ethically and morally bound by our duty to provide treatment and care to those in need. The brave medical personnel that have risked their lives to care for those caught up in the violence have not forgotten their promise to heal—not harm—the people they treat.”

Over the past year, Dr. Assad has commanded government forces that have:

  • Denied wounded civilians impartial medical treatment;
  • Invaded, attacked, and misused hospitals;
  • Attacked and impeded medical transport; and
  • Detained and tortured doctors for treating wounded civilians.

PHR calls on Dr. Assad to end assaults on Syria’s hospitals, doctors, and patients, which are a clear violation of the universally recognized principles of medical neutrality. Medical neutrality requires noninterference with medical services in times of armed conflict and nondiscriminatory treatment of the sick and wounded.

Both sides of the conflict must immediately abide by all relevant international laws; they must cease all attacks on civilians, and take immediate steps to abide by the terms of the ceasefire agreement. The sick and wounded must be provided the help they need, and medical professionals must be free to do their job without interferences.

Syria’s government must allow the UN-appointed Commission of Inquiry to investigate the May 25, 2012 killing of at least 108 Houla residents. And finally, once the fighting has stopped and the hospitals are once again places of healing, the UN Security Council must refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) so that the guilty parties can face justice.

“As a member of the medical community, Dr. Assad must honor his obligation to do no harm and order the military to cease all attacks on civilians,” said Donna McKay, Executive Director of PHR. “All parties to the current conflict must respect the principles of medical neutrality and commit to providing emergency medical treatment to all citizens without discrimination.”

Physicians for Human Rights has investigated and produced a report on the Syrian government’s assault on the country’s medical community and civilian populations, including the denial of medical treatment for patients, the arrest and torture of doctors and patients, and the attacks and misuse of medical facilities.

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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