Assault on medical care in Syria (A/HRC/24/CRP.2)
Human Rights Council Twenty-fourth session Agenda item 4 Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention
1 . The deliberate targeting of hospitals, medical personnel and transports, the denial of access to medical care, and ill-treatment of the sick and wounded, has been one of the most alarming features of the Syrian conflict. According to multiple accounts collected by the Commission of Inquiry, Government forces and affiliated militias interfere with and instrumentalise medical care to further strategic and military aims. Evidence collected by the Commission leads to an overwhelming conclusion: Government forces deny medical care to those from opposition-controlled and affiliated areas as a matter of policy. The policy is implemented through attacks on medical units, by endangering hospitals, targeting medical personnel, and interfering with patients receiving treatment. Victims relay harrowing accounts of the wounded and sick languishing at checkpoints unable to reach medical treatment, coming under renewed attack in hospital and doctors providing impartial aid being arrested and targeted. There is also evidence that some anti-Government armed groups have attacked hospitals in certain areas.
2 . Article 3, common to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, binding all parties to the non-international armed conflict in Syria, requires the wounded and sick be collected and cared for. Customary international humanitarian law also affords special protection to hospitals, medical units and healthcare personnel. Under Syria’s constitution, adopted in 2012, the Government must “protect citizen’s health and provide means of prevention, treatment and medication.” International Human Rights Law prohibits the arbitrary deprivation of life. The right to health, enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Syria is party, contains a non-derogable core obligation to ensure the right of access to health facilities, goods and services on a non-discriminatory basis, especially for vulnerable or marginalized groups, as set out in General Comment No. 14. Intentionally directing attacks against hospitals and places containing the sick and the wounded and against medical units using the Red Cross or Red Crescent emblem is a war crime in non-international armed conflict.
3 . The Commission is presenting this thematic conference room paper to the 24th session of the Human Rights Council to highlight an enduring and underreported trend in the ongoing conflict. The findings that follow are emblematic examples documented by the Commission working within its methodological limitations and within the constraints on access imposed by the Government. The incidents described are indicative of wider patterns. The denial of medical care as a weapon of war is a distinct and chilling reality of the war in Syria. By rejecting the irrefutable and universally accepted principle that those wounded in hostilities must be treated, the parties to the conflict in Syria are setting a dangerous precedent.