Amnesty International reports that the Syrian Government has been using hospitals as part of its repression and coercion campaign, subjecting patients to torture and ill-treatment.
The Amnesty report is far from being idle conjecture. The 39 pages entitled 'Health Crisis: Syrian Government Targets the Wounded and Health Workers" lays out the full details and evidence pointing the finger at four government run hospitals that use torture and ill-treatment. It also condemns medical staff for being party to and participants in the abusive treatment.
In a further twist hospital workers that are suspected of giving good treatment to protesters and others injured in anti government unrest, have themselves been arrested and tortured.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa researcher, Cilina Nasser said:
"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 ... 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."
Amnesty also cites cases where patients have been removed from hospitals, for example on 7 September, security forces looking for an alleged armed field commander opposed to the government, raided al-Birr wa al-Khadamat Hospital in Homs. Unable to find him instead they arrested 18 wounded people and intimidated hospital staff.
A member of the hospital staff present during the raid told Amnesty International he saw at least one unconscious patient having his ventilator removed as he was taken away.
Another problem has arisen from this. On street level, the news has obviously spread quickly amongst government opposition and people are now so afraid of seeking treatment in the major government hospitals, that they rather go to clinics and private hospitals many of which are poorly equipped or simply makeshift field hospitals.
Amnesty International was able to back this statement up by gathering information from doctors at the National Hospital in Homs. They stated that the number of admissions for firearm wounds have dropped significantly since May, which is an inverse ratio to the spiraling toll of deaths and injuries on the streets outside.
Private hospitals problems are not only limited to lack of facilities. Blood supplies in Syria can only be obtained from the Central Blood Bank, which is conveniently controlled by the Defense Ministry. A medic who had worked a private hospital in Homs told Amnesty International:
"We faced a dilemma every time we received a patient with a firearm injury and an urgent need of blood: if we send a request to the Central Blood Bank, the security would know about him and we would be putting him at risk or arrest and torture, and possibly death in custody."
It must be a horrible situation to be in, knowing that treatment is available, but it will also bring government scrutiny that might result in the patient's arrest or death. Medical workers have themselves been targeted by security forces, some for treating injured people, others on suspicion of attending demonstrations or filming protesters.
In another example, Amnesty gives an account of events on 7th August, when about 20 soldiers and security forces raided a government hospital in Homs governorate, arresting seven hospital workers.
Cilina Nasser who was present and later interviewed said that :
"(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."
She continues that :
"Syrian medical workers are being placed in an impossible situation - forced to choose between treating wounded people and preserving their own safety. The Syrian authorities must see sense and urgently act to ensure that all patients are treated equally, without discrimination based on their suspected political loyalties or activities."
The list of appalling atrocities continues with a list of hospitals where medical staff have been assaulted including: National Hospitals in Banias, Homs and Tell Kalakh and the military hospital in Homs. In the Homs Military Hospital there are eye witness accounts of at least four doctors and more than twenty nurses routinely abusing patients seen as enemies of the state.
Amnesty International has demanded that the Syrian authorities start giving strict and clear instructions to all hospitals to accept and treat all wounded patients without delay, and to prioritize the interests of the patients over any all else concerns.
Clina Nasser said:
"Anyone, whether a health worker or a member of the security forces, who is suspected of delaying, obstructing or interfering in the work of health workers providing treatment to the wounded must be held to account."This Saturday (29 October) hundreds of people, mainly from the Syrian community, will assemble at Paddington Green (12pm) to march towards the Syrian Embassy in London. The demo has been facilitated by Amnesty International UK in coordination with Syrians in the UK. The route will take in Edgware Road and Park Lane. The rally at the Embassy is due to start at 2.45pm and end at 4pm. Speeches include Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK Director and Tamadur Abdullah, a Syrian medical doctor.
Written by Rupert Shepherd