Analyzing and Optimizing Data Collection on the Attacks on Health-Care Facilities in Syria

Summer 2016

Sayaka Ri : Molecular and Cell Biology

Mentor: Alexa Koenig

The Syrian civil war is approaching its fifth year of conflict and has been labelled “the worst humanitarian disaster of recent times”. Since the beginning of the conflict, the Al-Assad regime has systematically targeted health-care facilities and personnel as a weapon of war. In international criminal law, these attacks are a war crime and documentation is important to preserve evidence for purposes of accountability. Despite the increasing number of attacks on health-care systems in the twenty-first century, data on attacks are lacking and there is no standardized method for reporting attacks on health-care in conflict settings.

The conflict in Syria has prompted several organizations to develop specific documentation methods to track, report and monitor attacks on health-care. My research involves aggregating and optimizing the different documentation methods. This includes local reporting, satellite imagery, and open-source data collection methods. Through analyzing different methodologies and their datasets, I will identify specific elements required for this type of data to be admissible to any judiciary body. By developing a minimum standard for the data on the attacks on health-care, I hope to contribute to the urgent need to establish a comprehensive system for regular reporting of acts of violence against health care infrastructure. 

I would like to extend my immense gratitude to the sponsors of the SURF program and the invaluable assistance given by its staff members. Through SURF’s funding, I am able to contribute to the field of documentation that I find is overlooked and undermined. Although the Syrian conflict is ongoing and civilian populations are constantly under attack, I am hoping that my research will contribute to an improved method of data collection that better documents and conserves evidence for accountability in court. Furthermore, with a better understanding of the violence against health-care, documentation has the ability to highlight these war crimes and protect physicians from further attack. The SURF program has empowered me with the opportunity to address the need to acknowledge attacks on health-care and to make a small impact to the burgeoning scholarship of health and human rights; a field I hope to enter into in the near future.