Stop the Bombs

To Secretary John Kerry and President Obama,

The repeated targeting of healthcare workers and hospitals by the Russian and Syrian governments are war crimes. We call on you to give Syria’s heroic healthcare workers and the communities they serve a zone free from bombing to ensure their protection. The international community has agreed the bombs need to stop. The resolutions are in place. They simply need to be enforced.

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Risking lives to save lives

When the bombs fall, the wounded and dying are rushed to makeshift hospitals in caves, basements and even living rooms. In these unlikely beacons of hope, doctors operating by the light of cellphones, using rudimentary equipment and insufficient medicine, manage to save lives everyday. Against all odds.

More than three-quarters of Syrian doctors have fled since 2011. Those that remain have chosen to stay to serve, believing it their duty to save lives, even though it means risking theirs as hospitals are targets of daily airstrikes. Many of those that remain do not have the training they need. Dentists are performing surgeries, vets are treating cases of malnutrition and young volunteers are trained as anesthesiologists.

Doctors and medical workers work around the clock often not sleeping for days. Many live in the hospitals, sleeping in storage rooms, side by side with colleagues. Only seeing their families after weeks of work.

In Syria, and in the history of the modern history, we are seeing an unprecedented attack on hospitals, health workers, and the principle of medical neutrality. Syria’s heroic doctors and medical workers are doing all they can to save Syrians, but unless the world protects them from being targeted, there is a very real chance that soon there will be no doctors or medical workers left.

We Fear the Sun

We Fear the Sun

And yet the helicopters come. The chop-chop-chop of their blades causes panic every time. And the barrel bombs continue to rain down, on our homes, on our schools and on our hospitals, often at a rate as high as 50 per day.

Why do I stay? Because it would be strange not to: This is my city. People are being killed every day. It is my duty.

Dr Abdel, Aleppo

Under bombs
and under fire

We are in an emergency. In July 2016 a medical facility was attacked on average every 17 hours. Many facilities have been attacked multiple times, often changing location for safety. When they started building a hospital in one northern Syrian town, local residents begged them to move -- knowing the hospital would be targeted.

Since Syria’s peaceful uprising was met with brutal force doctors have been systematically targeted by the Syrian government and its allies. For the Syrian government anyone treating people on ‘the other side’ is a valid target, and their elimination part of a deliberate strategy to force people back into areas under its control.

Of the 750 medical workers killed since the beginning of the conflict, all but 52 have been killed by Syrian or Russian government attacks - this is just what has been documented, the real number is likely much higher.

Despite being in clear contravention of international humanitarian law, medics have been executed and tortured. One doctor who was interrogated said “the most important thing was not to reveal my medical work,” since it is common knowledge that doctors are tortured worse than other prisoners.

However, the biggest killer of medical workers in Syria is neither torture nor execution. The greatest threat comes from the air - the Syrian government and Russian bombing. At least 750 medical workers have been killed and over 400 hospital attacks have been destroyed by these indiscriminate weapons.

These attacks are not just killing physicians and damaging hospitals, but destroying entire communities. When you kill a doctor in Syria, you are ensuring that hundreds, if not thousands, of people will die.

When you destroy a medical facility, you push people out of their communities to seek desperately needed services. In addition to routine aerial attacks targeting hospitals, health workers face a chronic lack of supplies and specialists. This is particularly dire in besieged areas, where treatable diseases and injuries can be a death sentence.

The UN's broken promise

On May 3, 2016, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2286, strongly condemning attacks against medical facilities and medical personnel in conflict. This Resolution demanded an end to impunity for those responsible for attacks against hospitals and respect for international humanitarian and human rights law on the part of all warring parties. After the Resolution’s adoption, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, "Even wars have rules."

Since then, there have been over 73 attacks on hospitals in Syria.

This comes after numerous resolutions calling for an end to indiscriminate attacks and violations of medical neutrality in Syria. On February 22, 2014, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2139, unanimously demanding an end to the use of indiscriminate weapons in civilian areas, referring specifically to barrel bombs. The Council also expressed "its intent to take further steps in the case of non-compliance with this resolution." A year after the Security Council made its demand, thousands more barrel bombs have been dropped -- killing thousands of civilians, including nearly two thousand children.

On March 6, 2015, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution explicitly banning the use of chlorine as a chemical weapon in Syria, referring to an earlier resolution, 2118, which demanded that the Syrian government destroy its stockpile of chemical weapons and stop using them in the conflict. Only ten days later, a hospital in Idlib supported by the Syrian American Medical Society and Medecins Sans Frontieres treated casualties from a barrel bomb attack that was carrying chlorine gas. Since then, there have been over 60 chlorine attacks in Syria. The Syrian government continues to disregard these UN Security Council resolutions designed to protect civilians and medics.

The international community has agreed the bombs need to stop. The resolutions are in place. They simply need to be enforced.

What is most heartbreaking is when we have to choose which patients to save because there aren’t enough doctors to treat everyone. Our hospitals, though they are the targets of bombs, still overflow with the sick and injured.

Dr. Abo El Ezz, Aleppo

Life as a
medical worker

No day is the same in a makeshift war hospital. Medical staff often work around the clock for days with little sleep. They deal with horrific injuries from barrel bombs, cluster bombs, napalm, heat-seeking missiles, chemical weapons, vacuum bombs, and more - weapons that are designed to inflict maximum damage to humans and infrastructure. With few supplies, they must deal with limb amputations and large pieces of shrapnel penetrating internal organs.

In March 2016, the town of Zabadani lost their last physician to sniper fire. At the beginning of April, the last cardiologist in the Hama governorate, who ran a hospital in a cave and oversaw Hama’s healthcare, was killed in a targeted airstrike on his vehicle. Only a few weeks later, eastern Aleppo City lost one of their last pediatricians in an attack that destroyed one of Aleppo’s remaining hospitals. Syria is facing a countdown as the last remaining physicians are targeted and killed.

There are hundreds of these stories yet these medical workers continue risking their own lives under fire to save others. Their heroic actions have saved thousands of civilians. Read the full report by the by the Syrian American Medical Society and the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Who's killing medical workers in syria?

97.4% by syrian government

  • 1% by opposition
  • 1% by unknown
  • 0.6% by ISIS

**Statistics from Physicians for Human Rights Report, 11 March 2015