House Resolution Condemning Attacks on Syrian Hospitals and Medical Personnel Re-Introduced
On May 22nd, 2019, Congressman Brenden F. Boyle (PA-02) and Congressman Adam Kinzinger (IL-16) introduced Resolution 395 to the U.S. House of Representatives “condemning the senseless attacks on hospitals and medical personnel in Syria, among other purposes.” Congressman Boyle, Congressman Kinzinger and 32 other Members of Congress also wrote a letter to President Trump urging him to take immediate action to preserve the cease-fire in Northwestern Syria. The resolution itself details how medical facilities continue to be systematically targeted and attacked by the Government forces of Syrian and the Russian Federation.
Resolution 395 calls on all parties involved in the Syrian conflict to cease the attacks, and asks that the U.S. Secretary of State to work with the international community to investigate the regime’s violations of international law. The resolution also requests that the Office of U.S. of Foreign Disaster Assistance to conduct a feasibility study on the construction of fortified facilities for the protection of medical personnel and civilians.
“Time and again, we have watched as the Assad regime targets innocent civilians in their quest for control. Assad and his cronies in Russia and Iran have committed a horrific genocide in Syria, and while they’ve been warned, the attacks on hospitals, markets, school, and homes continue, and as such, the death toll in Syria continues to rise,” said Congressman Kinzinger. “The current situation in Idlib is dire, and the offensive underway must be stopped. Our letter today urges the President to act before it’s too late—for our own national interests and for the humanitarian crisis in Syria.”
Medical Personnel Targeted in Syria
Since the conflict in Syria began in 2011, there have been 550 attacks on medical facilities and 890 on medical personnel, including 250 volunteers from the Syrian Civil Defense, known as the White Helmets. Physicians for Human Rights reports that 90% of these attacks have been carried out by regime forces with the deliberate goal of maximizing civilian casualties.
As recently as this past May, the president of the Syrian American Medical Society, Dr. Ahmad Tarakji, said that five out of the twelve hospitals under the organization’s watch had been attacked in the span of two weeks. Dr. Tarakji called the attacks, “alarming,” particularly because the locations of the health centers had been given to the U.N. and Russian forces in an effort to protect these no-conflict zones.
The locations of health centers are given to the United National Security Council, which passes the coordinates onto the Assad regime or Russian forces as part of the controversial “notification system.” Adopted in 2018, the system requires NGOs and aid groups to provide the locations of health centers and other areas that are densely populated with civilians to the Assad regime, in an effort to lessen the civilian casualties in Syria. However, more than a year after its inception, many on the ground fear that the notification system has hurt more than helped.
Mohamad Katoub, an official with the Syrian American Medical Society, says that while these kinds of attacks on civilians are a trademark of the Russian-backed Assad regime, the notification system has exacerbated the deadliness of the attacks. For example, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there have been at least ten 10 schools and 12 health facilities hit by airstrikes since April 29th of this year, which is a staggeringly high number even in Syria.
International Humanitrian Law
Under international humanitarian law, there is an obligation to respect and protect medical and humanitarian personal, including medical facilities in situations of armed conflict. There is also an obligation to distinguish between civilians and combatants, and the prohibition of indiscriminate attacks on civilians.
On May 3rd, 2016, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2286 in response to the Assad regime, demanding that all parties fully comply with their obligations under international law to protect all medical personnel. Any deliberate attacks on Syrian civilians and medical facilities are a direct violation of the Assad regime and his Russian ally’s obligations under international law.