Syrian and Russian military attacks on hospitals in recent weeks during the government air campaign in the Aleppo region are causing deaths and injuries and shutting down medical facilities. The United Nations Security Council should ask the secretary-general to conduct an independent inquiry into the attacks.
Human Rights Watch documented six airstrikes by Syrian government or Russian planes on health facilities in Idlib and Aleppo over the past two weeks, all of which forced the medical facilities to temporarily shut down. The airstrikes also killed 17 civilians and wounded at least six people. According to the Syrian American Medical Society, which operates clinics and field hospitals in opposition-controlled areas, there were 43 such attacks in July, the worst month for attacks on medical facilities since the conflict in Syria began.
On July 23, 2016, airstrikes struck four clinics – al-Hakim Children’s Hospital, al-Daqaq Hospital, al-Zahra’ Hospital and al-Bayan hospital – and the Central Blood Bank in Aleppo’s al-Sha`ar densely populated neighborhood. All are clearly marked as hospitals. There was no claim of responsibility from either the Syrian or Russian government.
“The rocket fell right on top of the building,” said Abu al-Motassim, head of al-Zahra’ hospital, a 24-hour medical facility for gynecological and maternity needs in Aleppo. “I can’t describe the feeling when it hit – I thought the whole building was going to collapse on our heads. It was chaos.”
The World Health Organization had said that there was only one hospital in East Aleppo still offering obstetric services, with two gynecologists handling a caseload of 30–35 deliveries per day.
According to Physicians for Human Rights, 750 medical personnel have been killed in Syria since the beginning of the conflict, 698 of them by Syrian government forces or the Russian military. According to the organization, there were 373 attacks on 265 medical facilities between March 22, 2011 and May, 2016. They said that the majority of the attacks deliberately targeted the medical facilities.
On May 3, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2286, condemning “abuses committed against medical personnel and humanitarian personnel exclusively engaged in medical duties, their means of transport and equipment, as well as hospitals and other medical facilities in armed conflict.” The Security Council urged member countries to protect “the wounded and sick, medical personnel and humanitarian personnel exclusively engaged in medical duties, their means of transport and equipment, as well as hospitals and other medical facilities in armed conflict, and, where appropriate, take action against those responsible in accordance with domestic and international law, with a view to reinforcing preventive measures, ensuring accountability and addressing the grievances of victims.”
Security Council Resolution 2254, adopted on December 18, 2015, called on all parties to the conflict in Syria to “immediately cease any attacks against civilians and civilian objects as such, including attacks against medical facilities and personnel, and any indiscriminate use of weapons, including through shelling and aerial bombardment.”
In December 2014, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution that urges countries to take specific actions to prevent attacks on health services.
“For the doctors and nurses in Syria as well as to the sick and wounded, the words of the Security Council are empty promises,” Houry said. “The world powers may not be able to agree on a solution to the Syrian conflict, but surely they must be able to agree on steps to ensure that those who attack hospitals will one day face justice.”