HRC33 Side Event Summary: “Doctors under Attack: Systematic Violations of Medical Impartiality in Yemen, Syria, and Egypt”


27 September 2016, Geneva, Switzerland – Defenders for Medical Impartiality organized a panel event entitled “Doctors under Attack: Systematic Violations of Medical Impartiality in Yemen, Syria, and Egypt.” The event was held in parallel to the 33rd Session of the Human Rights Council (HRC).

Moderating the panel was Diam Abou Diab, Senior Advocacy Associate for the European Centre for Democracy & Human Rights, who kicked off the discussion by summarizing violations of the concept of medical impartiality in Syria, Yemen, and Egypt. Since the escalation of the conflict in Yemen in March 2015, more than 13 health workers have been killed and 23 injured. In addition, 102 health facilities have been partially or totally damaged. Since the start of the conflict in Syria, 373 attacks hit 265 medical facilities. Around 750 medical personnel have been killed. In July alone, there were 43 attacks on healthcare facilities in the country – more than one attack every day. In Egypt, doctors are being arbitrarily arrested and detained. Around 319 doctors were arrested between June 30 and October 6, 2013.

Mohamad Katoub, Advocacy Manager at Syrian American Medical Society, gave his account of the medical crisis in Syria. He described a desperate situation becoming increasingly dire, as his friends and colleagues continued to be attacked for providing medical services indiscriminately. “In October, a medical facility was attacked every two days,” Katoub stated. “But now, the rate of attacks on health facilities in Syria is one attack every 17 hours.” According to Physicians for Human Rights, 90% of health workers died as a result of Syrian government attacks and 98 doctors were tortured to death in Syrian government prisons. “Every three days, a health worker is killed in Syria. Just three days ago, we lost five colleagues to an air strike. But there has been no action,” Katoub bemoaned. He described the latest U.N. Security Council Resolution as not being capable of providing protection for health facilities and workers. “The resolution requires the Syrian government to investigate its own crimes” exclaimed Katoub, expressing skepticism that such an investigation would not be accurate. He finished by calling the U.N. for more aid. “We call on U.N. agencies to aid in the provisions of hospitals, and on the U.N. security council to provide mechanisms for accountability.”

Hani Hodaib, member of the Egyptian Medical Syndicate and Doctors Without Rights, provided information on attacks on health workers in Egypt. According to Hani, at least 319 doctors are unlawfully detained in his country. He described 85 acts of violence by security forces and police thugs on hospitals and hospital workers just this year. “Zayed hospital is a major hospital in Giza, which was attacked just last week. The attack was carried out by law enforcement.” The situation has gotten so bad, he described, that the Doctors’ Union have provided the government with recommendations for easing the violence, including posting cameras in hospitals, and posting guards to hospitals. But violations continue, as he described doctors being “beaten” by security forces in hospitals. Hani closed by asking the U.N. to pressure Egypt to release unlawfully detained doctors and medical professionals.

Mohammad al-Wazir, Director of Legal Affairs at the Arabian Rights Watch Association, picked up the conversation by speaking about the healthcare situation in Yemen. He stated that international law requires that “no person shall interfere with the provision of care in times of conflict or civil unrest.” Yet warring parties, chiefly including the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, continue to do just that. “Coalition airstrikes affect the entry of medical supplies into Yemen, while the destruction of power and water facilities has crippled health care facilities.” He continued by alleging that the Coalition has specifically targeted medical facilities. “Over 200 medical facilities were struck in the first few months of the war,” stated al-Wazir. Because of the airstrikes, “Médecins Sans Frontières has evacuated its staff from Yemen,” leaving the country in even more need of medical practitioners. At this point, al-Wazir showed a video of Coalition airstrikes apparently specifically targeting ambulances and medical facilities in Yemen. A few minutes after the initial strike, another attack appeared to be aimed at the first responders – a double-tap strike in violation of international law, al-Wazir explained, and “just one of several double- and triple-tap strikes employed by the Saudi coalition to target first-responders.” He closed by stating that, “to alleviate the suffering, the war must end, and an independent investigation is in order.” He remarked that there are two competing resolutions at the Human Rights Council, one tabled by Sudan and Qatar, the other by European countries, and he exhorted the Council to adopt the latter.

The event was co-sponsored by the European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights and the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition.

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