Syrian Government Continues to Destroy Domestic Health Care Infrastructure with Banned Bombs


On 1 July 2015, government forces bombed medical facilities in the south of Syria, closing down four field hospitals. The strikes killed one medical worker, along with three rebels. This attack comes after both sides targeted 10 hospitals and medical workers over the course of June, including a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital. The month before, the government and opposition groups attacked 15 separate medical facilities, killing 10 health workers. This graphic, created and updated by the NGO Physicians for Human Rights, illustrates the violence committed against health workers and hospitals – they count 271 attacks on medical facilities since 2011, attacks which killed 633 aid workers. The government perpetrated the vast majority of these human rights violations.

Most of the government’s air strikes on hospitals have been carried out using barrel bombs, which are improvised explosive devices. The bombs are created using a mixture of TNT, gasoline, nails, and other explosives packed into a barrel that explodes on impact. Syrian security forces drop the bombs out of helicopters high above their targets; as a result, these inaccurate bombings kill and maim civilians.

The United Nations Security Council voted in Resolution 2139 to ban barrel bombs because of their danger to civilians. The use of the weapons, including against health infrastructure targets, is “becoming one of the prime causes of death in Syria,” as reported in a concept note released ahead of a Security Council meeting to Newsweek. In fact, of the 1,331 civilian mortalities since May, government airstrikes account for 74% of the fatalities.

The civil war has destroyed 60% of Syrian hospitals, the production of drugs has fallen by 70%, and half the doctors have fled the country. Preventable children’s diseases like measles and polio could resurface. Right at the moment when Syrians still in the country need medical facilities and professional staff, al-Assad’s armed forces are systematically dismantling what little healthcare infrastructure remains.

The continued attacks and disruption of medical services by the government constitute grave violations of international human rights, on both the Syrian people and international aid workers who are risking their lives to treat Syrians on both sides of the conflict. Indeed, both warring factions have violated the Principle of Noninterference by targeting medical facilities during the conflict, and the international community must hold them responsible for their actions.

This article was originally published on the Defenders for Medical Impartiality website at