Criminal Responsibility for the COVID-19 Pandemic in Syria

Lu Phillips, Roger; Abi-Falah, Layla

Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, the Syrian government has bombed healthcare facilities, attacked healthcare workers, and diverted humanitarian medical aid. These attacks not only decimated hospitals and led to numerous fatalities, but they also crippled Syrian healthcare capacity, leaving the country entirely unprepared to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Health experts now estimate that an unmitigated COVID-19 outbreak in Idlib, the last redoubt of the opposition, could result in the deaths of up to one hundred thousand persons—a situation that would not have arisen but for the Syrian government’s campaign of violence against healthcare.

The Syrian government’s attacks on health facilities are well- documented and were condemned in a series of reports issued by United Nations entities, journalists, and non-governmental organizations. But the death and suffering caused by these attacks is not fully encompassed by reference to direct casualties alone. Thousands of Syrians have been deprived of routine medical treatment for acute illnesses as well as communicable diseases as a result of a deliberate strategy of eradicating access to healthcare. This Article examines whether individuals may be held criminally liable for the Syrian government’s campaign of violence against healthcare, which has led to the death and suffering of the Syrian people through injuries and illnesses, including COVID-19. By examining the concept of dolus eventualis, the Article concludes that the Syrian government’s acts and omissions in furtherance of a policy to attack healthcare constitute numerous crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder and extermination.


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Columbia Human Rights Law Review

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May 5, 2022