Confusing Syria with Libya? Fact-checking Amnesty International's "hospitals investigation"
This observer counts himself among Amnesty International's more than 3 million supporters and members in more than 150 countries and territories who also strongly endorse AI's campaigns to end grave abuses of human rights. I share AI's vision for every person to enjoy all the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards.
In Beirut, I attend their events and was honored to play a small part in assisting with last spring's AI research on the subject of disappeared Palestinians and Lebanese which resulted in AI's excellent April, 2011 publication: Never Forgotten: Lebanon's Missing Peopl e. This report documents one of the bitter legacies of the 1975-1990 civil war which is the thousands of people whose fates remain unknown.
I have crossed paths with AI researchers in the Middle East and recently during three months in Libya I followed their work which included the human rights problems of black Libyans, particularly from the Tawagha region but also in eastern and western Libya where blacks were often taken from hospitals never to be seen again. AI rightly condemned the number of massacres and extra-judicial killings perpetrated by both pro-Gadhafi and NTC partisans, many of which, like the 53 recently executed Gadhafi supporters found at the Mahari Hotel in Sirte involved the kidnapping and murder of patients in hospitals. These grisly scenes have shocked the world's conscience and all people of goodwill condemn them. They weaken substantially the moral authority of the group currently claiming power in Libya.
Despite its generally exemplary work, Amnesty International, like the rest of us, in not infallible. This is evident in its 10/25/11 released 39 page report: Health Crisis: Syrian Government Targets the Wounded and Health Workers.
AI's conclusion from its "research" in Syria, which consisted significantly of collecting Al Jazeera and Al Arabia type media accounts including the dubious reports on the same subject by CNN's Arwa Damon and sundry anonymous U-tube clips is, interestingly, virtually identical to what it concluded from its investigation in Libya on the same subject.
However, there is a great distinction between Syria and Libya, their medical professions and their current challenges.
AI claims this week, without convincing material, probative or relevant evidence that Syrian authorities, including Hospital administrators and staff, have since March 2011 turned Syrian hospital into instruments of repression in order to crush protests and demonstrations. AI's j report claims that Syrians wounded in protests or incidents related to the current unrest "have been physically assaulted in state-run hospitals by medical staff, and in some cases denied medical care , while others taken to hospital have been detained or have simply disappeared." AI offers as its proof of these claims the weakest and seemingly most competition-driven support of any Amnesty International report I have read. It reeks of yet another orientalist double standard and ignores similar claims from citizens in western countries of similar actions by their governments.
This observer recently had the opportunity to visit with administrators and medical staff at some of Syria's largest state-run Ministry of Health hospitals (Syria also has Higher Education Hospitals for university students and Ministry of Defense Hospitals, the latter being roughly equivalent to American Veterans Hospitals for the military,) which is Damascus General Hospital, established in 1952. Damascus Hospital sees approximately 800 patients daily and is one of 90 hospitals belonging to the Ministry of Hearth that together serve all of Syria with 14, 571 beds. Medical care in Syria is virtually free. .
Emergency Department of Damascus Public Hosptial founded in 1953
Among those I had the opportunity to meet with at Damascus Public Hospital and to discuss issues raised by Amnesty International were Dr. Mahmoud Naji ( Email address removed ) who is the Director of the Emergency Department and Intensive Care Unit at Damascus Hospital and Dr. Adib Mahmoud, ( Email address removed ), Damascus Hospital administrator.
Both the Syria Medical Emergency Association, of which Dr.Naji is a representative and the Syrian Medical Association, have large memberships with the reputation of being fiercely independent of and resistant to outside influences. At the same time they have achieved individual treatment and medical ethics standards that help make Syria's medical services the highest rated in the Middle East.