The Lancet – On Sept 22, 2017, during the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly, experts and representatives from international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and UN member states convened for Protecting Health Care in Armed Conflict. The high-level side event was a collaboration between the Permanent Missions of Canada, the Netherlands, Spain, and UK, and The Lancet–American University of Beirut Commission and the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition.
The event was a sombre acknowledgment that al-though the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2286 in May, 2016, calling for the end of attacks on civilian health-care infrastructure and health workers in conflict situations, the rate of attacks has continued apace. In the days prior, reports of more attacks on health facilities and personnel in Idlib and Hama, Syria, surfaced, prompting a strongly worded condemnation by WHO.
Central to the discussion was the disconnect between the international rebukes of the attacks and the lack of appropriate recourse. Although there is general agreement that the weaponisation of health workers and humanitarian abuses have become an unacceptable new normal, the international response, in particular the course taken by the Security Council, has been wholly inadequate. Several speakers pointed out the seeming paralysis in stemming the atrocities, but were quick to offer concrete steps to translate attention to action, including greater emphasis on documentation and reporting, regular country-specific briefings to the Security Council, and establishing a tribunal for prosecuting war crimes.
The civil war, in its seventh year, continues to devastate the people of Syria. Where there has been admonishment, there must now be accountability. Member states must enforce the resolution, local operators and NGOs responsible for accurate reporting on attacks must be supported, and the perpetrators must be punished. Unpre-cedented as the situation in Syria has been, the unabated attacks on health workers are a profound erosion of international humanitarian law. Without accountability in Syria, there is no accountability anywhere.