News / Middle East

Syrian Doctors Accuse Government of War Crimes

The crisis in Syria worsens.  The United Nations says violence surrounding anti-government uprisings there left at least 5,400 people dead last year, and the death toll is rising. A group of Syrian physicians now in the United States accuses the government of interfering with the medical care of protestors. 

Bomb blasts and attacks rock Syrian cities.  Thousands are dead.  Thousands more are wounded.

Amateur video posted on YouTube shows patients getting treated. But not at a regular Syrian hospital -- at makeshift trauma centers like these, secretly and hastily arranged in houses, even in alleys.

These Syrian physicians, meeting in Washington, say medical treatment for anti-government protesters has gone underground because the regular hospitals are unsafe.

"We lost last week two people carrying medicine.  They killed them.  Just carrying medicine inside,” Yazji said.

The doctors are all practicing in the United States.

They say Syrian hospitals, ambulances and medical personnel are under government surveillance.  

Dr. Mohammad Kousha says he had planned to treat protesters in Latakia, until government forces detained him -- and a colleague -- for four days.

"They arrested us.  Took us into jail, and we stayed there.  We were assaulted, and we were tortured and due to lack of evidence fortunately, we were released,” Kousha said.  

These doctors say there is no way to separate politics from medical relief, as long as Syrian security forces threaten their work.  They say the attacks are a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

“They are war crimes committed in Syria, by the Syrian regime,” said. Dr. Zaher Sahloul with the Syrian American Medical Society.

"What we’re asking now is an immediate cease-fire and allowing convoys of medical personnel and equipment to enter, especially in Homs," said. Dr. Hisham Naji, a Syrian physician.

Witnesses say for nearly two weeks the Syrian government has shelled Homs -- a rebel stronghold.  The Syrian Embassy in Washington did not respond to VOA's request for an interview or comment.

The Syrian government blames armed terrorists for 11 months of violence against President Bashar al-Assad's autocratic rule.

Protocol added to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 relating to the protection of victims of international armed conflicts says:-

. All wounded and sick shall be respected and protected.
. They shall be treated humanely and receive medical care and attention required by their condition.
. The physical or mental health and integrity of persons interned, detained or otherwise deprived of liberty by any party shall not be endangered by any unjustified act or omission.
. Medical units shall be respected and protected at all times and shall not be the object of attack.

Carolyn Presutti

Carolyn Presutti is an Emmy and Silver World Medal award winning television correspondent who works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters.   She has also won numerous Associated Press awards and a Clarion for her coverage of The Syrian Medical Crisis, Haiti, The Boston Marathon Bombing, Presidential Politics, The Southern Economy, and The 9/11 Bombing Anniversary.  In 2013, Carolyn aired exclusive stories on the Asiana plane crash and was named VOA’s chief reporter with Google Glass.

You can follow Carolyn on Twitter at CarolynVOA, on Google Plus and Facebook.

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