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Persecution of Health Workers

Physicians and other health professionals all over the world face persecution resulting from adhering to their duty to provide nondiscriminatory treatment of the injured and sick. PHR documents the deliberate targeting of health care systems and personnel, and advocates accountability for violators.

The Principle of Medical Neutrality

Doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals are trained to treat those in need – regardless of politics, race, or religion. Attacks on health professionals violate the principle of medical neutrality and are grave breaches of international law.

Bahrain: Systematic Attacks on Doctors and Patients

PHR's emergency report documented and decried systematic human rights abuses in Bahrain during and after unrest in February and March 2011. For the first time, forensic evidence documented government attacks on physicians, medical staff, patients, and unarmed civilians with the use of bird shot, physical beatings, rubber bullets, tear gas, and unidentified chemical agents.

Bellagio Conference on Protection of Health Workers, Patients, and Facilities in Times of Violence

In November, 2013, the Center for Public Health and Human Rights of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health convened 19 experts, including Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), from the fields of humanitarian practice, human rights, human security, academic research, government, and philanthropy, along with UN representatives and leaders from health professional associations, at Bellagio, Italy to address the grave problem of attacks on and interference with health care, particularly in times of armed conflict and internal disturbances. PHR and the various experts called upon the international community to advance the security of health, particularly in situations of armed conflict and internal disturbances. A full report of the rich and varied discussions that took place during the conference can be found here.

Jailed Doctors in Iran

Doctor Arash Alaei and Doctor Kamiar Alaei, two well-known Iranian brothers working in the field of HIV/AIDS, were detained without charge in June 2008 by Iranian authorities. The government used the doctors’ travel to international AIDS conferences as a basis for subsequently charging and convicting the doctors of conspiring with an enemy government — a dangerous conflation of public health diplomacy with treason. PHR worked tirelessly from the moment of the doctors' detention, leading the global movement resulting in their release (Dr. Kamiar in late 2010, Dr. Arash in summer 2011), working to persuade the government of Iran that treating AIDS is not a crime. 

Syria: Serious Violations of Medical Neutrality

Since mid-March, 2011, Syrian government forces have sought to crush citizen uprisings. More than 1,700 people have been killed and at least 10,000 are reported to be in custody or missing. In addition to the widely reported atrocities committed by the government, PHR has discovered reports of serious violations of medical neutrality in Syria. PHR is calling on the Government of Syria to cease its campaign of targeting medical facilities and health workers and their patients, and to safeguard doctors’ obligation to provide neutral and ethical care for civilians.

Physicians for Human Rights Welcomes Lifting of Travel Ban for Bahraini Human Rights Activist (October 1, 2014)

PHR today welcomed the decision by a Bahraini court to lift the travel ban on Maryam al-Khawaja, but remained concerned about the spurious charges that remain against her.

Judge Allows Case Against Turkish Medical Association to Proceed (September 30, 2014)

PHR today criticized an Ankara judge’s decision to proceed with a lawsuit against the Turkish Medical Association (TMA), which did its job by mobilizing medical personnel to provide emergency care to demonstrators injured during the Gezi Park protests.

Doctors Reporting Injuries from U.S.-Led Air Strikes in Syria (September 25, 2014)

A doctor at one hospital near Idlib, in northern Syria, reported that his hospital treated 40 wounded patients over three hours as a result of the U.S.-led air strikes early Wednesday morning.

Turkish Medical Group Faces Lawsuit for Providing Emergency Care (September 23, 2014)

PHR is calling on judges in Ankara to dismiss a lawsuit against the Turkish Medical Association, which recruited and organized physicians to provide urgently needed emergency medical care to demonstrators injured during the Gezi Park protests that began in May 2013.

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Syria’s Forgotten Civilians (September 26, 2014)

As atrocities committed by the self-declared Islamic State (IS), also called ISIS or ISIL, dominate media headlines, we must not forget the civilians who have been suffering since long before IS gained a stronghold in parts of Syria and Iraq.

The United States and Its Unafraid Ally, Bahrain (September 19, 2014)

The United States, a long-time ally of the al-Khalifa regime currently governing Bahrain, is in a unique position to pressure the country to change its policies. The United States must take concrete action to condemn the Bahraini regime for its ongoing human rights violations.

What Did President Obama Leave Out of His Speech on the Islamic State? (September 12, 2014)

On the same turf that IS operates other actors are committing mass atrocities, while enjoying full impunity.

While Syria Burns (July 17, 2014)

I had mixed emotions about the latest "good news" on humanitarian aid in Syria. The U.N. Security Council has passed a long overdue resolution that -- if implemented -- will save the lives of Syrians trapped in desperate circumstances by the war.

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Syria's Medical Community Under Assault (October 2014)

This fact sheet illustrates the deliberate targeting and destruction of medical facilities by government and opposition forces, loss of medical personnel, and resulting health consequences in Syria.

Prepared Remarks - Health Care & Violence: The Need for Effective Protection (September 2014)

PHR attended and presented at the high-level debate, Health Care & Violence: The Need for Effective Protection, at the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 25, 2014.

Student Toolkit (May 2014)

This student toolkit provides comprehensive information on the principle of medical neutrality – which ensures safe access to medical facilities, protects health care workers and their patients, and allows medical workers to provide unbiased care.

Letter from Medical and Public Health Experts to President Thein Sein Regarding Suspension of MSF in Rakhine State (April 2014)

In this letter, 30 medical and public health experts express concern over the government of Burma's refusal to allow Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to conduct humanitarian operations in Rakhine State.

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Featured Expert

Nizam Peerwani, MD

Nizam Peerwani, MD

A Chief Medical Examiner in Texas since 1979, Dr. Peerwani was one of two investigators for PHR of attacks on health professionals and their patients in Bahrain in 2011. Read More »