UN Commission Should Investigate Ambulance Shooting in Homs
(New York, September 14, 2011) – A merciless attack on a Red
Crescent ambulance is the latest evidence of grave danger to humanitarian
workers in the embattled Syrian city of Homs, Human Rights Watch said today.
The September 7 attack on the ambulance by unknown
assailants injured three rescuers and the wounded patient it was transporting.
The attack highlights the need for an on-the-ground,
independent investigation into human rights violations in Syria, Human Rights
The following day, September 8, security forces at a
checkpoint in the Khalidiyya neighborhood of Homs stopped a Red Crescent
vehicle on its way to drop off a staff member at his home and then insulted and
beat the driver, accusing him and the Red Crescent of “rescuing protesters and
gang members.” The incident has been documented in a complaint submitted to the
Red Crescent by one of its staff members.
The Syrian government has not commented on the September 7
or 8 attacks on Red Crescent staff and the ambulance.
The Commission of Inquiry established by the UN Human Rights
Council on August 23 and whose members were named on September 12, should
ensure that attacks and harassment of medical rescuers are one of the
priorities of their work, Human Rights Watch said.
“If Red Crescent volunteers are not safe from harm, who is?”
said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Attacks
on humanitarian workers are unacceptable in any context, and the United Nations
commission should make investigation of this incident a priority.”
Human Rights Watch reviewed an internal incident report of
the September 7 attack prepared by Red Crescent volunteers who were in the
Researchers for Human Rights Watch also interviewed one of
the volunteers and reviewed photos of the ambulance following the attack.
According to the report and the volunteer, the ambulance was hit with 31
bullets from four sides. A Red Crescent volunteer who was in the ambulance told
Human Rights Watch that there was no fighting going on around their vehicle
when they came under fire.
According to the incident report prepared by the Red
Crescent volunteers, a Red Crescent ambulance with license plate 269837 set out
to the Warshe neighborhood of Homs at 10:15pm after receiving an emergency
call. The vehicle carried four Red Crescent rescuers and a driver. A security
checkpoint at the entrance of the neighborhood allowed them to proceed to treat
the wounded. After picking up a man injured with two bullet wounds and while
driving him to the hospital, the ambulance came under heavy fire from four
sides: rear, left, right, and above.
Three of the Red Crescent rescuers were gravely wounded by the
bullets: Hakam Dara’ al-Seba`i, Muhammad Hakam Mubarak, and Abdel Hameed
al-Fajr. The injured patient in the ambulance was also hit by additional
bullets. The driver escaped injury and managed to drive the ambulance to the
According to one of the rescuers, their ambulance had its
distinctive blue and red warning lights on and was clearly marked and visible.
“We were the only vehicle on the street, and there were no street lights. So
you could not miss us,” he told Human Rights Watch. “Fire came from all sides.
I did not see those shooting at us, as I ducked my head. Much of the fire came
from above. It must have been the security forces posted on rooftops. Why would
the antigovernment folks open fire on us while we were transporting a wounded
man from their own neighborhood?“
Photos of the vehicle, taken by Red Crescent volunteers the
day after the incident, show that it was clearly marked as a Red Crescent
vehicle and appear to confirm the large number of hits on the vehicle.
This is not the first attack on rescuers or Red Crescent
vehicles since the beginning of antigovernment protests in Syria. Residents
from the southern governorate of Daraa told Human Rights Watch that security
forces had opened fire on several occasions on medical personnel trying to
reach the injured during the crackdown in March-April. In one instance in
March, an ambulance came under fire and a doctor and a nurse were killed. The
authorities later blamed the attack on “armed gangs.”
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