“The deliberate targeting of hospitals, medical personnel and transports, the denial of access to medical care, and ill-treatment of the sick and wounded, has been one of the most alarming features of the Syrian conflict,” the UN Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic said in a report on its findings published on Friday.
The report is based on the investigation by a team of human rights experts that was set up in August 2011 and is headed by Brazilian Paulo Pinheiro.
The group was not granted access to Syria: it based its inquiry on interviews with over 2,400 victims and witnesses. Investigators talked to Syrian refugees and defectors in neighboring countries and conducted telephone or Skype interviews with those in Syria. Experts also reviewed photos, satellite images, videos, forensic and medical records, as well as reports from governments and non-governmental sources.
The investigative team described a number of cases when forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad assaulted medical care facilities during the conflict.
Rebel groups have also been involved in atrocities such as attacking hospitals, but – according to examples provided in the document – on a smaller scale. In the cases presented in the report, the rebel forces were described as only trying to push the government troops out of the medical facilities that were “occupied” and turned into “military bases.”
“Victims relay harrowing accounts of the wounded and sick languishing at checkpoints unable to reach medical treatment, coming under renewed attack in hospital and doctors providing impartial aid being arrested and targeted,” the document reads.
When violence in Syria escalated in early 2012, pro-government troops “bombed and shelled opposition-operated field hospitals providing treatment to the wounded,” the reports says.
According to the UN experts, “the pattern of attacks” indicates that they “deliberately targeted hospitals and medical units to gain military advantage by depriving anti-government armed groups and their perceived supporters of medical assistance.” These attacks, the document says, continue to date.
Hospitals in Homs, Bab Amr, Al Qusayr, Tal Rifat and other placed have repeatedly been targeted by the government forces, the authors claim.
“Intentionally directing attacks against hospitals and places containing the sick and the wounded and against medical units using the Red Cross or Red Crescent emblem is a war crime in non-international armed conflict.”
Speaking about recent attacks by rebel groups, the document mentioned an incident in late May when armed groups attacked the National Hospital in Dara’a and caused it considerable damage.
A member of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) brigade that carried out the attack said that “his group believed that there were approximately 50 patients in the hospital, and that all were affiliated with the Government,” UN investigators cited. “When orders were given to attack the hospital, none of the fighters involved protested that it was a protected object and no warnings were given prior to the attack.”
According to the experts, there are “increasing indications that certain anti-Government armed groups also fail to respect medical personnel.”
The UN group of investigators concluded that the actions “of the Syrian Government from 2011 to date have been a cynical betrayal” of the principle that stands for the protection of the sick and wounded and those who help them.
They also said that anti-Government armed group attacks against hospitals “are of grave concern, as they demonstrate a disregard for the specially protected status of healthcare facilities and a failure to take precautions to avoid civilian casualties and protected the sick and wounded.”
The allegations made in the report will be discussed on Monday in Geneva at a debate at the UN Human Rights Council, Reuters reports. So far, neither the Syrian government nor the opposition representatives have commented on the matter.