In 2017, parties to the conflict in Syria were responsible for 243 attacks on medical, civil defense and Red Crescent facilities, killing 112 personnel. According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, the Syrian government and its Russian ally targeted 84 medical facilities, 34 ambulances, four Red Crescent facilities and 87 civil defense centers. It is estimated that 44 medical workers, 30 civil defense and two Red Crescent personnel died in these attacks. The US-led coalition launched attacks on seven medical facilities resulting in the death of eight personnel. Additionally, armed opposition groups launched attacks on a medical facility, an ambulance, and a Red Crescent facility.

The targeting of health care personnel, infrastructure and transport have become the new normal in Syria. According to Physicians for Human Rights, 485 health facilities were attacked and 841 health staff were killed since the beginning of the conflict in Syria.

Attacking hospitals and vital facilities are a violation of the laws of war and a breach of the principle of noninterference of medical impartiality, whereby medical facilities, personnel and services shall be protected in times of conflict and civil unrest. By targeting medical facilities, personnel and services, parties to the conflict are impeding civilians’ right to access health care. Such actions may amount to war crimes.

In December 2016, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 71/248 establishing the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIM) for Syria. The purpose of the mechanism is to gather information and evidence to prepare case studies for national, regional or international courts and tribunals that will have jurisdiction over these cases in the future. Defenders for Medical Impartiality calls on UN member states to support the mechanism’s annual operating needs, estimated at $13 million.