October 25, 2011
The Syrian government has turned hospitals into instruments of repression in its efforts to crush opposition, Amnesty International said in a new report.
The report, Health Crisis: Syrian Government Targets the Wounded and Health Workers, documents how wounded patients in at least four government-run hospitals have been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, including by medical workers. Hospital workers suspected of treating protesters and others injured in unrest-related incidents have themselves faced arrest and torture.
“It is deeply alarming that the Syrian authorities seem to have given the security forces a free rein in hospitals, and that in many cases hospital staff appear to have taken part in torture and ill treatment of the very people they are supposed to care for,” said Cilina Nasser, Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa researcher. “Given the scale and seriousness of the injuries being sustained by people across the country, it is disturbing to find that many consider it safer to risk not having major wounds treated rather than going to proper medical facilities.”
Medical workers have themselves been targeted by security forces, some for treating injured people, others on suspicion of attending demonstrations or filming protesters. On 7 August, around 20 soldiers and security forces raided a government hospital in Homs governorate, arresting seven hospital workers. One of the group told Amnesty International about his interrogation, during which some of his colleagues were badly beaten: “[The interrogator] asked: ‘do you want to be tortured or do you want to talk?’ … He accused me and my colleagues of treating the wounded without reporting them to the authorities, and asked me for the names of the wounded.”
Health workers complicity
Amnesty International found that patients have been assaulted by medical staff, health workers and security personnel in at least the National Hospitals in Banias, Homs and Tell Kalakh and the military hospital in Homs. For instance, one doctor at Homs military hospital told Amnesty International he had seen four doctors and more than 20 nurses abusing patients. Patients have also been removed from hospitals. Afraid of the consequences of going to a government hospital, many people have chosen to seek treatment either at private hospitals or at poorly equipped makeshift field hospitals. Doctors at the National Hospital in Homs told Amnesty International that the number of admissions for firearms wounds has dropped significantly since May.
Call for action
Amnesty International calls on the Syrian authorities to give strict and clear instructions to all hospitals to accept and treat all wounded patients without delay, and to prioritise the interests of the patients over any other priorities. The organisation also calls upon all health workers to send a letter to the Syrian authorities before the end of November, and express their concerns regarding reports of serious human rights violations against people wounded in the popular protests, as well as against health professionals perceived to be government opponents.