Syria

The Most Notable Challenges for Medical Personnel, IDPs, Detainees and the Needy in Syria Amid the Spread of the COVID-19

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The Syrian Regime Has Killed 83 Medical Personnel in Detention Centers, and Is Still Detaining 3,327 of Them Since March 2011 Up to May 2020

The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) has issued a new report outlining the most notable challenges of medical personnel, internally displaced persons (IDPs), detainees and the needy in Syria amid the spread of the COVID-19, in which it reveals that the Syrian regime has killed 83 medical personnel in its detention centers since March 2011 and, up to May 2020 is still detaining 3,327 others.

The 21-page report notes that since the beginning of the global COVID pandemic outbreak, the Syrian regime has dealt with it with callous, total and extreme disregard and total negligence, continuing to deny the existence of any infections in Syria until March 22, despite the fact that several countries had announced the arrival of infected individuals from Syria before that date.

The report summarizes the major material and human losses incurred by the medical sector, documenting the deaths of 855 medical personnel, including 86 who died due to torture, at the hands of the main perpetrator parties in Syria between March 2011 and May 2020. Of these fatalities, Syrian Regime forces killed 669, including 83 who died due to torture, while Russian forces killed 68, ISIS killed 40, and factions of the Armed Opposition killed 30, including two who died due to torture. It further notes that the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces killed eight medical personnel, one of whom died due to torture, the US-led coalition forces killed 13 medical personnel, while Hay’at Tahrir al Sham killed another six, and an additional 21 medical personnel were killed by other parties.

The report also provides a breakdown of the death toll of medical personnel by year, with 2012 being the year in which the largest number of victims was documented.

The report notes that at least 3,353 medical personnel are still detained or forcibly disappeared at the hands of the main perpetrator parties in Syria, 3,327 of them by the Syrian regime and four by Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, while a further four medical personnel are still detained or forcibly disappeared by factions of the Armed Opposition, and 13 others by Syrian Democratic Forces. According to the report, five medical personnel had been arrested by ISIS and are still under enforced disappearance. The report reveals that the largest percentage of arrests targeting medical personnel to date occurred in 2012 and 2013.

The report documents at least 860 attacks on medical facilities by the main perpetrator parties in Syria between March 2011 and May 2020, 87 percent of which were committed by the Syrian-Russian alliance forces. The report notes that during the recent military escalation alone, carried out by the Syrian-Russian alliance forces in the Idlib region in northwest Syria between April 26, 2019 and May 2020, at least 73 medical facilities were subjected to nearly 95 attacks.

The report also notes that the Syrian regime and its Russian ally are responsible for the largest percentage of violations (more than 90%), and that the targeting of medical personnel for killing, arrest and torture has forced hundreds of them to flee outside Syria, stressing that Syria has not only lost those who were killed or forcibly disappeared, but also huge numbers of medical personnel who have been forced to migrate fearing for their own lives and safety.

The report addresses basic factors which play a role in people’s ability to resist the virus, noting that all the regions of Syria that have witnessed bombings, destruction and forced displacement are suffering from further challenges; at the forefront of these challenges comes the nearly 1.1 million Syrian citizens displaced between mid-December 2019 and the beginning of March 2020, as a result of the Syrian regime’s attacks on and around Idlib; the report categorizes these IDPs as being in most desperate need of help, especially women and children who are more vulnerable than others to infection with COVID-19. The report asserts that exceptional humanitarian aid efforts need to be focused particularly on these people in the areas they were displaced to.

The report adds that approximately 147,000 detainees are at risk of infection with the COVID-19, with 129,000 of these prisoners detained by the Syrian regime, noting that detainees and individuals forcibly disappeared by all parties to the conflict in Syria are subjected to exceptionally brutal methods of torture. The report further notes that the methods of torture practiced in the Syrian regime’s detention centers and military hospitals make detainees a very vulnerable group, further increasing their susceptibility to the spread of the COVID-19. The reasons for this include the regime’s detention and imprisonment of detainees in detention centers which lack even the bare minimum of hygiene or sanitation, and the cells’ lack of ventilation and of the most basic standards of sanitation and cleanliness, in addition to beatings, and physical and psychological torture, relentless interrogations, and often inedible, stale or rotten food provided to the detainees, as well as other harsh conditions of detention which increase in severity according to the rising and falling temperatures in summer and winter, and the deliberate negligence towards medical care, which is almost completely withheld from detainees. The report notes that more than 85% of the detainees imprisoned were arrested on political grounds as a result of their opposition to the Syrian regime or other authorities. Consequently, neglecting their fate in light of the spread of the Coronavirus is, for the regime, a favorable opportunity to get rid of as many dissidents as possible.

In this context, the report notes that poverty and regime mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis are two additional challenges facing Syrians at present, stressing that the poverty and displacement of Syrians largely prevents them from being able to commit fully to observing the social distancing and other cultural and protective measures involved in ‘Staying at Home’ because the vast majority of them do not have enough material savings to support them and to remain at home without daily work. The report also provides examples of mismanagement of the Coronavirus crisis in areas under the control of the Syrian regime and Armed Opposition factions.

The report calls on the UN Security Council to issue a binding resolution forcing all parties in Syria to observe a cease-fire, to give permission to reopen the al Ya’rubiya border crossing with Iraq, and to demand that the Syrian regime immediately release prisoners of conscience, including medical personnel. The report also recommends that the UN Security Council should do everything possible, starting from imposing sanctions up to utilizing a military threat, in order to allow international organizations to enter the Syrian regime’s detention centers and to reveal the fate of tens of thousands of detainees, primarily medical personnel.

The report urges the World Health Organization to provide the requirements for the detection of the COVID-19 virus and provide treatment for it in all Syrian regions, regardless of the identity of the controlling parties in each, and to immediately deal with local organizations in and around Idlib, as they have far greater experience, transparency and efficiency than the Syrian regime and its affiliated organizations, which are dominated by the regime’s security services.

The report also issues a set of recommendations to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and to the Russian and Syrian regimes, as well as to all other dominant powers controlling areas in Syria.