Intentional and direct attacks on hospitals are war crimes, and denying people access to essential health care is a serious violation of international humanitarian law – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, 3 May 20161
According to a study by the World Health Organisation, between January 2014 and December 2015, there were 594 attacks on health care in 19 countries with emergencies, and sixty-two per cent of the attacks were reported to have intentionally targeted health care. Half were against health care facilities, and a quarter were against health care workers.2 The same study found that most attacks on health care have been in Syria, with the West Bank and Gaza Strip coming second.3
Often health workers are targeted because of their professional duty to provide non-discriminatory care to all. In Syria, Assad’s security forces are incarcerating, torturing and killing doctors and other health workers for treating people who are are may be part of, or associated with, rebel groups.4 5
Since March 2011, at least 738 Syrian doctors, nurses, and medical aides have died in more than 360 attacks on medical facilities, according to Physicians for Human Rights (PHR).6 The independent human rights group holds the Syrian government and its ally, Russia, responsible for upwards of 90 percent of these attacks. The attacks on health workers and health care have resulted in much of the health system going underground.7
Many human rights and medical organisations are working on developing stronger international protection over health care facilities and health workers, and accountability for those responsible for targeting them. Medact is developing a project focusing on mobilising grassroots support in the UK health community for these international initiatives, supporting the efforts of Medecins Sans Frontier.
- WHO, http://www.who.int/hac/techguidance/attacks_on_health_care/en/