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Assault On Medical Neutrality In Syria

A girl wounded by shelling is treated at a makeshift hospital in Houla near Homs July 17, 2012.

“The denial of medical care as a weapon of war is a distinct and chilling reality."

Despite the recent breakthrough in Syria, which allows United Nations and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical weapons experts to monitor and verify the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons program, the carnage continues in Syria, as government forces target the civilian population with bombs, shells and bullets.

“It is beyond urgent to take additional steps to relieve suffering both inside Syria and among the more than 2 million Syrians who have sought refuge in neighboring countries,” said U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Samantha Power at a United Nations Security Council open debate on the Middle East.

Government forces have engaged in agonizing cruelty against the sick and wounded."
One of the most alarming and time-sensitive issues that warrants close attention from the global community is the daily assault on medical neutrality.

Under the principle of medical neutrality, warring parties may not interfere with medical personnel who are caring for the sick and wounded, and all in need must receive care regardless of their political affiliations. Medical facilities, transport, and personnel may not be attacked or misused for belligerent activity. Violations of medical neutrality constitute crimes outlined in the Geneva Conventions.

Nonetheless, according to a recent report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, “The denial of medical care as a weapon of war is a distinct and chilling reality of the war ... government forces have engaged in agonizing cruelty against the sick and wounded,” said Ambassador Power.

“The Syrian healthcare system is shattered. The World Health Organization reports that as of June, in Raqqa, Deir el-Zour and Homs, more than 70 percent of health centers have been damaged or are out of service. Nearly 40 percent of the 1,724 primary health care centers across the country are either badly damaged or completely closed,” she said.

“The [Syrian] regime must immediately lift any bureaucratic blocks on the delivery of urgently needed medical aid and cease targeting medical workers. Non-state actors too must respect medical neutrality and facilitate access,” said Ambassador Power. “The United States will continue to urge opposition groups to facilitate medical access in areas under their control.

“For the sake of the Syrian people, and the sake of the sanctity of medical neutrality everywhere, we have to do more to address this problem.”