Protecting Doctors in Syria
The political upheaval of the recent Arab Spring has taken center stage in the Middle East and North Africa. Yet an alarming trend — the systematic attacks on medical professionals, facilities and patients — represents one of the most overlooked humanitarian issues and tactical threats facing people living in armed conflict and civil unrest.
As public servants, we have sworn to defend and protect the universal values enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. As medical doctors, we took an oath to use our medical skills for the betterment of all human beings and to prevent harm to them. At no time in history has endorsing these values been more important for global security than it is now. The relentless mass slaughter of civilians continues in Syria before the eyes of an indecisive international community. Our medical and moral obligations compel us to speak out against the war crimes committed by Syrian President Bashar Assad and his operatives.
Since last March, Assad — a fellow physician who would have been taught to do no harm — has governed over the loss of 9,000 lives and the displacement of more than 500,000 Syrians. He continues to block urgent humanitarian assistance from reaching millions of Syrians in need and ignore a United Nations and Arab League-supported cease-fire and peace plan that went into effect on April 12.
A recently released internal report from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) detailed the Assad government’s use of force to block humanitarian assistance and medical aid from reaching the wounded. According to U.N. and other international observers, Syrian Arab Republic Government (SARG) troops still maintain heavy weapons in urban centers, hindering mobility of medical units that have been deployed there. The USAID report accounts an incident on April 24 in which government forces attacked a Syrian Arab Red Crescent vehicle that was evacuating wounded civilians near Damascus, killing one aid volunteer and injuring three. USAID contractors have since suspended the deployment of mobile medical units in the vicinity of Damascus.