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Syria regime elected to WHO executive board, sparking outrage

A picture taken on May 8, 2021 shows a sign of the World Health Organisation (WHO) [FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images]
A picture taken on May 8, 2021 shows a sign of the World Health Organisation (WHO) [FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images]

The Syrian regime of Bashar Al-Assad was elected to the World Health Organisation's (WHO) executive board last week, igniting outrage amongst medical workers and activists who fear it will use the seat to cut off aid to millions of Syrians.

The United Nations organisation's executive board, consisting of 34 members who hold three-year terms, has the responsibility of setting the agenda for the Health Assembly and implementing the agreed policies and decisions.

Many see the appointment of Syria to the board as ironic, considering the Assad regime and its ally Russia were found to have bombed numerous hospitals and medical facilities during the ongoing ten-year conflict, committing war crimes against facilities protected by international law.

According to a report by the NGO Physicians For Human Rights, 598 attacks on Syrian health care facilities and personnel have been carried out, 350 health care facilities have been targeted, and 930 medical professionals have been killed throughout the conflict.

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The appointment was condemned by activists around the world and medical workers in the opposition-held north-west Syria alike, especially amid fears that the regime would use its position to strangle the lifeline of aid to Idlib province where millions of displaced Syrians are in urgent need of help.

The Executive Director of the Switzerland-based NGO UN Watch, Hillel Neuer, also criticised the move, saying: "Electing Syria to govern the world's top health body is like hiring a pyromaniac to be the town fire chief. Syria's Assad regime systematically bombs hospitals and clinics, killing doctors, nurses, and others as they care for the sick and injured."

"Health professionals have also been arrested, disappeared, imprisoned, tortured, and executed," Neuer added. "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."

In January it was revealed that the WHO had used a sanctioned Syrian regime-affiliated airline to deliver aid to Libya.

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