Human rights activists across the world were shocked, Saturday, when Syria was selected to serve on the board of the World Health Organization despite President Bashar Assad’s record of human rights abuses, including unleashing deadly bombing raids on his own citizens.
The decision sparked protests in Syria’s independent regions, where health care workers are targeted by Assad’s government.
“Dozens of medical workers in rebel-held northwest Syria on Monday protested a decision to grant President Bashar Assad s government a seat on the executive board of the World Health Organization They said Assad is responsible for bombing hospitals and clinics across the war-ravaged country,” reported The Independent.
“The decision to give Syria a seat came a decade into the country’s devastating civil war that has left untold numbers of civilians — including many health care workers — dead and injured,” the outlet added.
The change to the WHO’s executive board came during a “little-noticed session” of the group’s assembly on Saturday. “Syria was among 12 WHO member states that were chosen to appoint new members for the 34-member board in an assembly vote that faced no debate or opposition,” according to The Independent.
Syria will serve on the body’s executive board beginning Wednesday, where it will become a key decision-maker for the international health organization, which is slated to take up the issue of whether to further investigate the Chinese government over allegations that the COVID-19 virus “escaped” from a virus research laboratory in Wuhan, where the global COVID-19 pandemic was thought to originate.
The WHO previously sent a team to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 virus. According to a report from the BBC, however, that team told the global health body that China refused to turn over key data necessary to understand how the pandemic was able to take root so quickly. China would not give investigators any raw patient data from Wuhan’s affected, and researchers “only received a summary” of critical data points.
Syria has its own troubles. A report from Physicians For Human Rights noted that “over the past 10 years in Syria, there were 598 attacks on health care facilities and personnel, 350 health care facilities were targeted, and 930 medical professionals were killed,” leaving their commitment to global health in question.
“Syria’s election is a travesty,” Hillel Neuer, the executive director of UN Watch, said in a statement. “It’s like appointing a pyromaniac to be the town fire chief.”
“Syria’s Assad regime, with the help of its allies Russia and Iran, systematically bombs hospitals and clinics, killing doctors, nurses, and others as they care for the sick and injured,” he continued. “Health professionals have also been arrested, disappeared, imprisoned, tortured, and executed. Electing this murderous regime to govern the world’s top health body is an insult to Assad’s millions of victims, and sends a terrible message.”
Syria’s own civil defense workers, known as “white hats,” also condemned the decision.
“We are appalled by the WHO’s decision to reward the Assad regime for destroying hospitals and killing doctors and refusing to provide medical assistance to Syrians by electing it as a member of its executive board,” the group said.
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