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For Immediate Release

PHR Calls for Unfettered Access for Humanitarian Assistance in Syria

U.S. Government Must Enter Into Immediate Negotiations with Russia to Create a Humanitarian Aid Framework

Media Contact

Vesna Jaksic Lowe, MS

Media Relations Manager, New York
Tel: 917-679-0110

New York, NY - 11/26/2013

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is calling on the U.S. government to immediately enter into high-level negotiations with the Russian government to ensure unfettered access in Syria for the International Committee of the Red Cross and other U.N. and humanitarian organizations that urgently need to provide vital services and supplies.

With millions of people displaced, a destroyed infrastructure, and a health care system in ruins, Syria is experiencing a sharp rise in malnutrition, as well as infectious diseases, including polio, typhoid, tuberculosis, hepatitis A, dysentery, measles, and leishmaniasis. Even the most basic supplies and resources – such as drinking water, fuel, bread, blood, sutures, saline solution, antibiotics, syringes, gauze, and vaccinations – are beyond the reach of those affected by the conflict.

“The U.S. and Russian governments should negotiate a framework for humanitarian access with the same urgency and leadership shown during talks about the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons,” said Hans Hogrefe, PHR’s chief policy officer and Washington director. “Ensuring that these agencies can do their work on the ground will help alleviate a public health crisis that worsens with each day.”

More than 100,000 people have been killed, and almost nine million have been driven from their homes during the civil war in Syria. The government and opposition parties have both committed war crimes, including the use of chemical weapons, executions of individuals, acts of torture and sexual violence, as well as deliberate attacks on medical facilities and staff. All of these crimes violate international humanitarian law and require the international community to act in order to bring perpetrators to justice.

Both sides have continuously engaged in attacking Syria’s health system, and government forces have repeatedly shelled hospitals and detained, harassed, and attacked doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, and medical volunteers, according to a recent U.N. report. As of September, nearly 40 percent of Syria’s hospitals have reportedly been destroyed, and 20 percent have been severely damaged. Many doctors have fled the country; in Aleppo, only 36 doctors reportedly remain, compared to over 5,000 before the war.

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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