• Press Release

Security Council must address crimes against humanity in Idlib, Syria

May 17, 2019

Syrian health sector workers hold banners during a rally in the village of Atmeh in the northern Idlib province, demanding that hospitals be protected in the case of an upcoming offensive, on September 16, 2018. - The Syrian regime and its Russian ally are threatening an offensive to retake the northwestern province of Idlib, Syria's last rebel bastion. (Photo by OMAR HAJ KADOUR / AFP) (Photo credit should read OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP/Getty Images)

The Syrian government, supported by Russia, is carrying out a deliberate and systematic assault on hospitals and other medical facilities in Idlib and Hama, Amnesty International said today, as it shared harrowing new testimony from shattered medical workers in the region.

With the UN Security Council (UNSC) set to discuss northwest Syria today Amnesty International urged action, calling for Russia to be pressured over the deliberate targeting of 15 hospitals in Idlib and Hama over the last three weeks.

“Bombing hospitals carrying out their medical functions is a war crime. These latest attacks have eliminated vital lifelines for civilians in desperate need of medical care. This is part of a well-established pattern targeting medical facilities to systematically attack the civilian population and it constitutes crimes against humanity,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Director of Research.

“The international community has so far utterly failed to protect civilians in Syria from the horrors of this conflict. We are urging Security Council members meeting today to do everything in their power to end the onslaught against civilians in Idlib and hold the perpetrators of these appalling crimes to account.”

Staff from four hospitals in Idlib and Hama told Amnesty International that they had been targeted despite sharing their coordinates with the Syrian and Russian governments.

According to the UN and Syrian medical organizations, at least 15 hospitals have been reported to be damaged or destroyed in Idlib and Hama since the beginning of May. The escalation in attacks has also led to the displacement of 180,000 people. At least 16 humanitarian organizations have suspended some operations in Idlib due to the attacks, exacerbating an already dire situation where at least 1.5 million people need urgent humanitarian assistance.

Amnesty International interviewed 13 people about recent attacks on four hospitals and verified videos that corroborate the testimonies.

They said that between May 5 and 11, the Syrian government had carried out multiple air strikes on the Pulse of Life hospital in Hass; Cave Hospital in Kaferzita; and Surgical Hospital and Al-Sham Hospital in Kafranbel. All these facilities, which together serve at least 300,000 in southern Idlib and northern and western Hama countryside, are now out of service.

Kafranbel Surgical Hospital

On May 5, 2019, at around 5pm, Syrian government warplanes carried out multiple air raids on Kafranbel Surgical Hospital, destroying the first floor where a pharmacy, offices and storage and electricity room are located. The basement was severely damaged. The attack killed one patient and injured his brother.

A nurse who was inside the hospital at the time of the attack described how multiple air strikes led to chaos.

“We transferred the injured to the basement. A second air raid happened as we were trying to stop the bleeding, cutting the electricity… Then a third and fourth air raid happened… We only heard sounds of explosion and basement shaking… We turned on the oxygen because there was no more air.”

Videos reviewed by Amnesty International show damage to the hospital consistent with air strikes.

Nabad al-Hayat Hospital 

Two staff at the Nabad al-Hayat [Pulse of Life] hospital in Hass told Amnesty International that the hospital had been evacuated as a precaution after the intensification of attacks that began at the end of April. Two days after the evacuation, on May 5, the Syrian government carried out multiple raids in the morning and afternoon, destroying the hospital. There were no injuries because the hospital had already been emptied.

The director of the hospital’s surgical department told Amnesty International how last year, the hospital had been relocated to a remote area on the outskirts of Hass village. The attack on May 5 was the third since the hospital’s relocation in March 2018.

He said: “Three days ago, Kafranbel town was shelled with rockets. Some of the injured were transferred to the homes of doctors and nurses so that we can at least provide them with emergency relief, so they can survive the transfer to another hospital.”

Amnesty International verified that the video showing an air strike hitting a structure the location of which is consistent with that of the Nabad al-Hayat Hospital.

Kaferzita Cave Hospital

Two medical workers at Kaferzita Cave Hospital told Amnesty International that the Syrian government had carried out at least four bombing raids on May 5, 2019, at around 12pm, causing severe damage to the hospital and putting it out of service

A nurse who was present inside the hospital at the time of the attack with other medical workers and an injured patient described four successive strikes which began around 11 am. He said:

“We were very afraid the Syrian army would invade the town and enter the hospital… We relied on God and exited the hospital. After we evacuated, the fourth strike happened.”

Al-Sham Hospital

A member of staff and a medical worker at Al-Sham Hospital in Kafranbel told Amnesty International how two air raids on May 11, 2019 had put al-Sham Hospital out of service. The director of the hospital described how the hospital had been targeted and repaired multiple times since 2018, and said they would wait for the strikes to stop before beginning repair again.

Attacks on hospitals and medical facilities in opposition-controlled areas have become a familiar feature of the Syrian war. Hospitals in Aleppo, Daraa and the Damascus countryside were also targeted during Syrian government operations to reclaim the areas. In many cases hospitals and humanitarian organizations said they had shared their coordinates with the Syrian government to try and prevent attacks.

A humanitarian disaster

Deliberate attacks on civilians and on civilian objects, including hospitals and other medical facilities, violate international humanitarian law and amount to war crimes.

“As the assault on Idlib intensifies, at least 300,000 people have been left without accessible hospitals. This is a humanitarian disaster, caused by the ruthlessness of the Syrian government which, with Russian support, continues to trample over international law,” said Lynn Maalouf.

“Members of the Security Council have a duty to prioritize the protection of Syria’s beleaguered civilians over their narrow interests and great power rivalries. Russia, in particular, must use it influence to  ensure that Syria immediately halts attacks on civilians and hospitals, and establishes conditions whereby humanitarian organizations can safely access civilians in need.”