Russia and Syria in the Spotlight for Latest Idlib Medic Deaths

The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) said two medical workers were killed in an attack Wednesday at an ambulance centre in Ma’aret Hurmeh, a town in Idlib province. Courtesy: Syrian American Medical Society

By James Reinl
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 16 2019 – Medical aid groups have again blasted Russian and Syrian government forces this week for an ever-growing death toll among doctors, paramedics and other health workers in military strikes in northwestern Syria.

The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) said two medical workers were killed in an attack Wednesday at an ambulance centre in Ma’aret Hurmeh, a town in Idlib province, which has been gripped by fighting in recent weeks.

Paramedic Mohamad Hussni Mishnen, 29, and ambulance driver Fadi Alomar, 34, died in a series of six airstrikes that levelled the facility, SAMS said. A rescuer also perished in a “double tap” hit on the centre as he tried to pull Mishnen and Alomar from the rubble.

Several aid groups and the United Nations have warned of repeated strikes on Idlib’s hospitals as Syrian government forces, backed by Russian airpower, retake the last rebel bastion in the country’s eight-year civil war. 

Mufaddal Hamadeh, president of SAMS, said in a statement he was “saddened and disturbed by this terrible incident”. He paid tribute to the medics and said those responsible for such “blatant crimes” should be held accountable.

Another group, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), has received reports of 46 attacks on  health centres since Syrian government and Russian forces launched an offensive on Idlib on April 29. The group has verified 16 of them.

“PHR’s rigorous research since the conflict began reveals that Syrian government and/or Russian government forces have committed approximately 91 percent of the attacks on health facilities in Syria,” said the group’s policy director Susannah Sirkin.

“The fact that these courageous professionals in Idlib were killed while merely doing their jobs should compel the U.N. and all parties to act now to stop the relentless bombing of civilians.”

Last month, after two-thirds of U.N. Security Council diplomats issued a protest note, U.N. secretary-general António Guterres launched an inquiry into attacks on civilian infrastructure including hospitals, clinics and schools.

The so-called Board of Inquiry will probe whether GPS coordinates of hospitals and clinics that the U.N. provides to Russia, the U.S. and Turkey to ensure the hospitals’ protection were used instead to target them.

Guterres “must conduct a rapid, public, and transparent investigation into attacks on health in the face of the deconfliction agreements”, while Security Council members “must ensure that those responsible for these unthinkable crimes are held accountable,” added Sirkin.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government and Moscow, whose airpower has been critical to Damascus’ military gains in recent years, say they are fighting terrorists and deny targeting civilians, schools or hospitals, which can constitute war crimes.

Replying to a question from IPS, Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia’s envoy to the U.N., said he was “disappointed” by the U.N.’s decision to launch the probe but did not commit to cooperating with investigators.

“If we were sure that this board will really try to establish the truth, then I can’t exclude this,” Polyanskiy told reporters.

“But there are a lot of doubts about this. These countries that were pushing for the establishment of this board … are not seeking to find the truth about what’s happened, they seek another tool to pressure Russia, to pressure Syria, and to just distort the actions that we take there.”

Syria’s U.N. ambassador Bashar Ja’afari has said that northwest Syria’s healthcare centres were used by “terrorist groups” rather than doctors.

According to the U.N., more than 450 people have been killed in the Idlib offensive and hundreds of thousands more displaced by fighting. Idlib’s population is about three million, most of whom have fled from other parts of war-torn Syria.

Idlib and nearby parts of the northwest were covered by a “de-escalation” deal to staunch the conflict that was struck in September by Russia and Turkey, which backs some rebel groups in the area. 

But the deal was never fully implemented after fighters refused to withdraw from a planned buffer zone. Fighting has ratcheted up again in recent weeks, sending waves of refugees spilling from conflict hotspots.

President Assad is seeking to claw back control of Syria after peaceful protests in 2011 spiralled into a brutal civil war that saw him lose much of the country to armed religious extremists and other rebels.

More than 400,000 people have died across Syria since 2011, according to World Bank figures, and almost 12 million others have been forced to flee from their homes because of the fighting, both within Syria and abroad.

A Key Role for 1.8 Billion Youth in UN’s 2030 Development Agenda

Students in Primary Seven at Zanaki Primary School in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania during an English language class. Credit: Sarah Farhat/World Bank.

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 16 2019 – The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) is convinced that the world’s 1.8 billion adolescents and youth– a quarter of the global population—have a key role to play in helping implement the UN’s 2030 Development Agenda.

In an interview with IPS, UNFPA Deputy Executive Director (Programme) Dereje Wordofa, said “young people are at the centre of sustainable development”.

“If we do not work with, and for them, there is no way we can achieve the sustainable development goals by 2030, or UNFPA’s three transformative results,” he warned.

Through “My Body, My Life, My World!”, UNFPA is also contributing to each of the five priorities of the UN’s overall Youth Strategy, “Youth 2030”.

“If we make coherent, tailored, large-scale reforms and investments, especially in health (including sexual and reproductive health), skills development, and employment, those nations can achieve a huge demographic dividend from their healthy, empowered young populations”

Dereje Wordofa, UNFPA Deputy Executive Director (Programme)

“These are engagement, participation and advocacy, informed and healthy foundations, economic empowerment through decent work, and peace and resilience,” he pointed out.

Speaking during International Youth Day on August 11, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres complained schools are “not equipping young people with the skills they need to navigate the technological revolution.”

Last year, he also stressed the importance of young people in addressing the challenges confronting the contemporary world, including peace, impacts of climate change and growing inequalities.

“The best hope [to address these] challenges is with the new generations. We need to make sure that we are able to strongly invest in those new generations,” said Guterres, urging the international community to be fully engaged in addressing a key problem of youth unemployment.

Asked how realistic was UNFPA’s strategy in poverty-stricken communities struggling to survive on less than $1.25 a day, Wordofa told IPS: “Having lived and worked in many countries affected by poverty and deprivation, including in my own Ethiopia, I couldn’t agree with you more”

He said Sustainable Development Goal 1 (SDG 1) is a lynchpin for all the other SDGs, and in all sectors of development “we are contributing towards reducing poverty. I believe empowered young people will play a vital role here too”.

“At UNFPA, we firmly believe that one of the most essential routes to achieving sustainable development lies in educating and empowering young people to make decisions about their health and wellbeing, giving them the tools to take charge of their lives, to drive development, and to sustain peace”.

“We must recognize that adolescents and young people make up the majority of the population in many economically poor nations,” he declared.

“ If we make coherent, tailored, large-scale reforms and investments, especially in health (including sexual and reproductive health), skills development, and employment, those nations can achieve a huge demographic dividend from their healthy, empowered young populations,’ said Wordofa, who earlier served as the International Regional Director, Eastern and Southern Africa, at SOS Children’s Villages and Regional Director for Africa at the American Friends Service Committee.

In this context, he pointed out that UNFPA’s “My Body, My Life, My World!” is a human-centric approach: “we are emphasizing how all the different issues affecting adolescents and youth today are interlinked and inseparable”.

“For example, without rights and choices over their bodies, it is not possible for young people to have full control over their lives and actively shape their communities and end poverty. So we must continue to address the complex determinants that affect young people’s health and wellbeing,” he noted.


UNFPA Deputy Executive Director (Programme) Dereje Wordofa.



Excerpts from the interview:

IPS: How best would you describe the UNFPA’s new strategy on adolescents and youth? 

WORDOFA: UNFPA’s vision is to create a world where every young person can make their own choices and enjoy their rights. The strategy titled “My body, my life, my world!” is our new rallying cry for every young person to have the knowledge and power to make informed choices about their bodies and lives, and to participate in transforming their world.

The strategy puts young people – their talents, hopes, perspectives and unique needs – at the very centre of sustainable development, and offers a new approach to collaborate with, invest in, and champion young people around the world. It encompasses everything that was called for and promised by world leaders at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) back in 1994 in Cairo.

“My Body, My Life, My World!” provides a new narrative for all of UNFPA’s youth work, building on the organization’s strategic plan and the UN’s “Youth 2030” strategy, and putting young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights at the core of what we do both in development and humanitarian settings.

In addition to the crucial need for young people to enjoy their right to sexual and reproductive health, the strategy also includes their fundamental right to participate in sustainable development, humanitarian action and sustaining peace.

By working with and for young people, we will deliver across the three spheres that matter to them – their body, life, and world. This will be essential if we are to finally fulfil the promise of the ICPD of rights and choices for all adolescents and youth.

IPS: Are you working on a deadline for its implementation?

WORDOFA: UNFPA seeks to achieve its three transformative goals by 2030; namely zero unmet need for family planning, zero maternal deaths and zero violence and harmful practices against women and girls. “My Body, My Life, My World!” will be a key accelerator to achieving these three goals.

IPS: Do you think the world’s 1.8 billion adolescents and youth now remain largely marginalized in decisions relating to reproductive health, marriage and child-bearing?

WORDOFA: Yes! It is a sad fact that far too many young people are still a long way from being able to exercise their reproductive rights, despite being promised them by world leaders twenty-five years ago at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo.

The numbers are staggering: 21 per cent of girls worldwide are married before age 18. Tens of thousands of girls get married every day. And every day in developing countries, 20,000 girls under age 18 give birth: this amounts to 7.3 million births a year.

The choices young people make—or are forced to make—determine their lives now, their futures as adults, and the health of future generations. A single choice, for example, to stay in school may protect against early pregnancy, child marriage, gender-based violence and HIV infection.

Yet many young people will not be able to make that choice. Poverty, humanitarian crises, race, ethnicity, gender and cultural traditions are just some of the barriers that may stand in the way.

IPS: What role can civil society play in promoting the Youth strategy in the developing world?                   

WORDOFA: Making a real difference in the lives of young people rests on shared leadership and shared responsibility. Youth-led and youth-serving organizations, governments, community leaders, UN entities, civil society, academia, the private sector and the media all have essential roles to play.

As UNFPA, we take pride in being a trusted ally and partner for youth leaders, organizations and networks. We systematically invest in strengthening national and regional youth-led networks, and pioneering models for youth leadership and participation in many countries.

Adolescents and youth both benefit from our programmes, and as our close partners, offer vital contributions to shaping their design and implementation.

For “My Body, My Life, My World!” we are excited to strengthen and broaden our partnership base and collaborate with youth-led organizations, community-based organizations, but also iNGOs, to scale up joint implementation efforts with young people.

IPS: How will your young professional network – the Tangerines – described as the first of its kind in the UN system, be deployed in promoting your new strategy?

WORDOFA: The Tangerines played an important role in formulating and shaping the strategy. We will continue to provide a safe space and promote an organizational culture that encourages young professionals within UNFPA to be closely linked to the implementation of “My Body, My Life, My World!” We know we need to start by walking the talk.

At the conception phase of the Strategy, we conducted a global survey with Tangerine members and consulted with our Executive Director, Dr Natalia Kanem, and the UN Secretary General’s Youth Envoy to explore how UNFPA was delivering for young people and what could be strengthened.

We are planning to collaborate closely with the Tangerines for the global launch and promotion of the Strategy, as well as when thinking about how we can reach young people and operationalize the strategy.

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