A doctor struggling to cope with the numbers of injured patients in besieged rebel-held east Aleppo has filed legal proceedings against Russia because of President Vladimir Putin’s continued support of Syrian air strikes on the area.
London-based lawyers acting on behalf of Dr Moawyah Al-Awad, a cardiologist at one of east Aleppo’s last functioning hospitals, said his claim at the European Court of Human Rights is based on Russia’s violation of his and his patients’ right to life and to live free from inhumane and degrading treatment, as specified under international law.
Aleppo, one of the fiercest battlegrounds in Syria’s five-and-a-half year long civil war, has been divided between government and opposition areas since fighting broke out in the city in 2012. President Bashar al-Assad’s forces managed to cut off rebel supply lines into east Aleppo in July, leaving the neighbourhood’s 250,000 residents living under siege conditions since.
East Aleppo has been subject to unprecedented shelling by regime and Russian warplanes since a seven-day ceasefire collapsed last month that has killed at least 330 people, the World Health Organisation says. Monitors and activists on the ground put the figure much higher.
Residents in the besieged part of the city allege that the recent bombing has deliberately targeted civilian infrastructure, including two hospitals, two civil defence service rescue centres and several ambulances which have been left completely unserviceable.
Dr Al-Awad has worked at east Aleppo’s Al Quds hospital, which - like many of the area’s remaining medical facilities - now operates from an undisclosed location to shield it from bombing after the original site was destroyed by an air strike in April 2016.
There are only around 30 doctors in east Aleppo left to care for thousands of people in need of emergency and other medical care. Their job is complicated by the fact that equipment and drug stocks are beginning to dry up.
Horrific images of surgeries being carried out on floors slick with blood in makeshift clinics and reports of amputations carried out because there isn’t time to save limbs have shocked the world and led the UK, US and France to accuse Russia of war crimes for its complicity in bombing built-up civilian areas.
Russia used its position as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council to veto a resolution to reimplement a ceasefire last week. Both Damascus and Moscow maintain that air strikes are targeted at US-backed and al-Qaeda affiliated rebels in east Aleppo who use civilians as human shields.
Speaking during the House of Commons emergency debate on the situation in Aleppo on Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said that “the wells of outrage [over Russia’s actions] are growing exhausted” but little in the way of a concrete plan going forward emerged.
“Dr Al-Awad’s action sets a standard beyond rhetoric,” his lawyers said in a statement, adding that the case had been sent to relevant countries and UN bodies as well as the European Court of Human Rights.
“It is entirely [up to them] to use his initiative… an initiative taken by an exhausted doctor working 20 hour shifts in punishing conditions under fear of immediate death.”
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