9 May 2024 17:00 - 19:00 SG1, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DP


An event by the Healthcare in Conflict research network.

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  • Toby Cadman (Co-founder of The Guernica 37 Group and joint Head of Guernica 37 Chambers)
  • Jack Sproson (British Barrister specialised in international law, Guernica 37)


Toby Cadman
‘Doctors under fire in armed conflict – legal case studies from Syria’

The conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Palestine have witnessed unimaginable atrocities. Reports of extreme torture, the use of starvation as a weapon of war, indiscriminate barrel bombings, and chemical attacks have littered the international media. However, as much as these conflicts are stories of barbarity, they are also stories of bravery. Ordinary citizens risking their lives to document atrocities that will allow the prosecution of those responsible for the atrocities committed. This talk will seek to highlight the role of those anonymous heroes that risk their lives every day in Syria, Yemen, Palestine and Ukraine to save others: the medics. During conflict, they have had to deal with the frustration of war; treat terrible injuries under extreme conditions, without light or adequate supplies and instruments or after having worked around the clock for days. However, the situation is becoming increasingly critical: the continuous indiscriminate attacks on medics and healthcare workers have reached new deplorable levels, as doctors–who are seeking to help injured civilians–are targeted.

This talk will focus on three cases. The first concerns Dr Saher Halak, a Syrian medical physician from Aleppo brutally tortured and murdered for carrying out his duties as a doctor. The second example concerns the death of Dr. Abbas Khan. Dr. Khan was a British orthopaedic surgeon who travelled to Syria to treat civilian victims. On 16 December 2013 he was murdered by members of the Syrian security forces following at least a year of torture.  The third concerns the deliberate bombing of hospitals in Syria by Russian forces and our attempts to have the case heard by the European Court of Human Rights.

Jack Sproson
‘The challenges of delivering humanitarian assistance – an international law perspective’

Despite the protections afforded to humanitarian assistance and those who deliver it under international law, UN data shows that “we are on target to witness a shocking increase” in the denial of access globally, including through restrictions on and interference with humanitarian operations, and direct and indiscriminate attacks on civilian infrastructure and humanitarian personnel.

In line with international law, parties are routinely called upon to allow and facilitate safe, timely, and unimpeded humanitarian access and refrain from the military use of schools and hospitals, often to no end. This raises questions regarding why, despite a relatively developed legal framework, compliance with those norms remains low.

Against this background, this talk will explore and offer some preliminary perspectives on practical strategies and avenues to increase compliance with the protections afforded to humanitarian assistance and those who deliver it. In doing so, it seeks to highlight interdisciplinary perspectives which might serve to bring the law to bear on reality in the protection of humanitarian workers delivering humanitarian assistance in conflict affected contexts around the globe.

About the speakers

Toby Cadman is the Co-founder of The Guernica 37 Group and Joint Head of Guernica 37 Chambers. He is an established international law specialist in the areas of international criminal and humanitarian law, international terrorism, international commercial law, arbitration, anti-corruption, extradition and mutual legal assistance, and human rights law. He lectures extensively on international criminal law, criminal procedure and human rights law and has provided extensive advice and training to judges, prosecutors, lawyers and law enforcement agencies throughout the Balkans, Middle East, North Africa and South Asia.

He has provided expert evidence and statements in parliamentary, legal and arbitration proceedings in the United Kingdom, European Parliament, United Nations, United States Congress, ICSID, LCIA and World Bank in a number of conflict and post-conflict situations including Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Ecuador, India, Iraq, Ireland, Isle of Man, Kosovo, Libya, Maldives, Montenegro, Myanmar, Pakistan, Palestine, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Syria, Trinidad & Tobago, United Arab Emirates, United States of America and Yemen.

Toby advises foreign governments, law enforcement agencies, international organisations, corporations, and private individuals to develop professional and transparent institutions that protect human rights, combat corruption, and reduce the threat of transborder and transnational crime and develops training curricula for law enforcement, prosecutorial and governmental agencies for the investigation of international crimes.

He has appeared and been instructed in matters before the International Criminal Court, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the International Crimes Tribunal Bangladesh, the European Court of Human Rights, the Bosnian War Crimes Chamber, the UN Human Rights Committee and the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights.

Jack Sproson is a British Barrister specialised in international law and a DPhil candidate at the University of Oxford. Echoing his thesis focus on the legalities of humanitarian assistance in complex humanitarian emergencies, he has a particular specialism in humanitarian and legal issues pertaining to conflict-related insecurity and displacement, on which he regularly advises in conflict and post-conflict settings.

For enquiries, please contact the Research Networks Programme Manager.

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