A Year Has Passed Since the Outbreak of COVID-19 in Syria, with Thousands of Medical Personnel Among the Forcibly Disappeared
(Link below to download full report)
paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) reveals in a report released today that at least 3,364 health care personnel are still arrested/ forcibly disappeared, 98% by the Syrian regime, adding that thousands of medical personnel are still among the forcibly disappeared despite a year having passed since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Syria.
The 26-page report notes that the targeting of medical facilities and personnel has been one of the most horrific atrocities practiced during the Syrian conflict. These attacks have not been limited to the indiscriminate or deliberate bombing of medical facilities, and the resulting death and injury of medical personnel, but have also extended to deliberate persecution of health care personnel, who contributed in one way or another to alleviating the suffering of the participants in the popular uprising, as well as to treating the injured protesters and opponents of the Syrian regime.
The report also focuses in greater detail on three specific issues – arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, and torture – which form an interconnected trio, noting that the arrest, disappearance and torture of medical personnel have formed a deliberate tactic used to increase the suffering of society. The report adds that despite nearly a year after the first appearance of the COVID-19 pandemic in Syria, and the many subsequent calls for the urgent immediate release of all medical personnel due to Syrian society’s desperate need of their expertise, they remain detained or forcibly disappeared.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Chairman of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, says:
“The presence of this huge number of medical personnel outside detention centers would have effectively contributed to alleviating the suffering of Syrian society from the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Syrian regime, the main cause of crushing Syrian society, does not care about inflicting more pain and suffering, and there is no judicial, legislative, or media authority to criticize and hold it accountable, as the security services are the ultimate authority, and the regime will not release the medical personnel. The international community, including the Security Council, and negotiation processes have failed to make any effort to secure their release or even to simply reveal their fate.”
The report provides a detailed record of arbitrary arrest/ enforced disappearance and torture of health care personnel at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria between March 2011 and February 2021. The report includes data analysis based on the SNHR’s database of detainees, forcibly disappeared persons, and torture, with this evidence amassed as a result of the daily monitoring and documentation carried out continuously since 2011 up to the current moment. In addition, the report reveals that the Syrian regime is responsible for 98% of the arrests and enforced disappearances compared to the other parties to the conflict. This indicates the Syrian regime’s intention to persecute, arrest/ detain and disappearing workers in this sector, who participated in providing medical aid services to the injured, in a planned and deliberate manner. The Syrian regime is also responsible for 96% of the death toll due to torture among health care sector personnel, compared to the other parties to the conflict.
The report documents that at least 3,364 health care sector personnel arrested in Syria since March 2011 are still under arrest/ detained or forcibly disappeared in Syria, as of February 2021, with Syrian regime forces responsible for 3,329 of these cases, including 282 women; another five cases, including two women, took place at the hands of ISIS; eight at the hands of Hay’at Tahrir al Sham; eight at the hands of the Armed Opposition/ Syrian National Army; and 14 at the hands of Syrian Democratic Forces.
The report provides charts showing the distribution of the record of those arrested/ detained or forcibly disappeared among the health care sector personnel at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, by years of the conflict, across the Syrian governorates, according to their field of specialty, and the nature of the location where the initial arrest took place as well. The chart analysis showed that:
• 2012 was the worst year in terms of targeting health care personnel for arrest – all the arrests that we recorded were at the hands of Syrian regime forces – followed by 2013, 2011 and 2014.
• The highest number of cases of arbitrary arrest/ detention was in Damascus governorate, followed by Damascus Suburbs, Homs, and Aleppo.
• The highest number of victims of arrests or enforced disappearance according to category was among civilian trainees, nurses, doctors, technicians, then paramedics.
• The highest number of arrests/detentions of health care personnel took place while they were working in medical facilities, constituting about a quarter of the total, followed by those arrested/ detained while passing through checkpoints, then during raids of homes and in areas where they were living or were located.
As the report documents, at least 87 health care sector personnel have been killed due to torture at the hands of the parties to the conflict and the controlling forces in Syria, between March 2011 and February 2021, of whom Syrian regime forces killed 84, the Armed Opposition/ Syrian National Army killed two, and Syrian Democratic Forces killed one.
Chart analysis presented in the report in this context revealed that:
• 2011 was the worst year in terms of the death toll due to torture among health care sector personnel, again showing the Syrian regime’s deliberate killing and torture of medical personnel who participated in treating the injured at the peak of the peaceful popular uprising, followed by 2012 then 2014.
• The highest death toll due to torture among health care sector personnel was in the governorates of Homs and Aleppo, followed by Damascus Suburbs, Daraa then Damascus.
• The highest death toll among victims killed due to torture in the category of health care sector personnel is for doctors, then nurses, health students, paramedics, and Red Crescent volunteers.
As the report further reveals, at least nine of the health care personnel forcibly disappeared in the Syrian regime’s detention centers have been registered as dead at civil registry departments, while at least five of the detained health care sector personnel were identified through the photos leaked by ‘Caesar’, with these photos of the victims’ bodies taken in the Syrian regime’s detention centers.
The report additionally notes that the repeated targeting of medical facilities and personnel over ten years exhausting the health sector’s ability to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that the Syrian regime and its allies bear the primary responsibility for the vast majority of these violations, referring to the blatant indifference in dealing with the pandemic. The report further stresses that the Syrian regime’s government has taken no real and serious measures to limit the overcrowding of citizens forced to queue to obtain basic materials, in a flagrant violation of the most fundamental precautionary measures instituted worldwide to prevent the disease.
The report adds that the Syrian regime has never considered releasing any of the 3,329 medical personnel imprisoned or forcibly disappeared in its detention centers, despite its being a year since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in Syria, with new strains emerging since then, underlining Syrian society’s need for their efforts, with the report further revealing the arrest of more citizens by the Syrian regime in this period, meaning additional overcrowding in the already congested detention centers.
The report concludes by noting that, by targeting medical facilities and arbitrarily arresting and forcibly disappearing thousands of Syrian medical personnel, the Syrian regime has violated Article 3, common to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, as well as violated the second provision of Article 22 of Syria’s constitution, adopted in 2012, stipulates that “The state shall protect the health of citizens and provide them with the means of prevention, treatment and medication.” The Syrian regime has also violated International Human Rights Law that prohibits the arbitrary deprivation of life, and the right to health, enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Syria is party, contains a non-derogable core obligation to ensure the right of access to health facilities, goods and services on a non-discriminatory basis.
The Syrian regime and the other parties to the conflict have flagrantly violated a number of fundamental principles of international human rights law, such as the right to life, non-enforced disappearance, non-torture, the right to health, and a large number of rules of customary humanitarian law and Common Article 3 of the four Geneva Conventions of 1949.
The report further notes that enforced disappearances and torture practiced by the Syrian regime against medical personnel in the various Syrian governorates, and against the background of their participation in the popular uprising against the regime, constitute a pattern of widespread attack and amount to crimes against humanity under Article 7 of the Rome Statute.
As the report makes clear, the widespread violations affecting the medical sector in Syria have affected the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the Syrian regime and its allies being responsible for nearly 85% of all violations. The incidents that are recorded on the SNHR database, a few of which are included in this report, constitute a violation of UN Security Council Resolution No. 2286, which stipulates the cessation of violations and abuses committed in armed conflicts against medical personnel and humanitarian aid workers who perform specifically medical duties, as well as against their means of transport and equipment, and against hospitals and other medical facilities.
The report calls on the UN Security Council, based on its resolutions, primarily Resolutions No. 2139 and 2254, to take immediate steps to reveal the fate of thousands of forcibly disappeared medical personnel, to refer the Syrian issue to the International Criminal Court, and to hold all those involved in perpetrating crimes against medical personnel accountable.
The report further asserts that in light of the split within the Security Council and its utter inability to take any effective action, action should be taken at the national and regional levels to form alliances to support the Syrian people by protecting them from arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances and torture, as well as increasing support for relief efforts. Additionally, the principle of universal jurisdiction should be enacted in local courts regarding these crimes in order to ensure that fair trials are held for all those who were involved.
The report recommends that the European Union and the United States of America should provide support to the families of the forcibly disappeared, to national organizations working in this field, and to Syrian human rights organizations.
The report also provides additional recommendations to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI), the European Union and the United States of America, and to the Syrian regime.