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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 in the country. More than 190,000 people have been killed according to the UN and thousands of others are reported to be in custody or missing. PHR has also discovered reports of serious violations of medical neutrality in Syria and has been documenting attacks on medical personnel and faicitilies across the country in this interactive map. PHR has called on the government of Syria to cease its campaign of targeting medical facilities, health workers, and patients, and to safeguard the obligation of doctors to provide neutral and ethical care for civilians.

Turkish Security Forces Blocking Access to Medical Care in Southeastern Turkey (February 8, 2016)

PHR expressed concern over credible reports that Turkish security forces are blocking access to urgent medical care for the sick and wounded in the course of their operations in southeastern Turkey.

Syria’s Neighbors Must Let Doctors Practice (February 2, 2016)

PHR is calling on world leaders to prioritize Syria’s shattered health system by creating mechanisms for thousands of displaced medical professionals to temporarily practice in neighboring countries. PHR’s call comes in light of this week’s conference of donor governments meeting in London to discuss response to the Syrian crisis.

2015 Marks Worst Year for Attacks on Hospitals in Syria (December 18, 2015)

This year has been the worst on record for attacks on medical facilities in Syria, with government forces responsible for most of the 112 attacks, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) said today. The figure only includes attacks through November and represents a 25 percent increase over the previous high of 89 attacks in 2012.

Less Than a Third of Aleppo’s Hospitals Functioning; 95% of Doctors Have Fled, Been Detained or Killed (November 18, 2015)

The Syrian government’s assault on eastern Aleppo city, which includes 45 attacks on medical facilities in the past three years, has decimated the city’s health care system.

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Failed Peace Talks Are a Death Sentence for Syrians (January 28, 2016)

Political wrangling in the lead up to Friday's U.N.-brokered peace talks has dramatically lowered expectations. But continued inaction at the diplomatic level, writes Elise Baker of PHR, is a "death sentence" for many Syrians trapped in besieged or remote areas across the country

Protecting Syria's civilians: another discarded New Year's resolution? (January 11, 2016)

It's been just three weeks since the UN Security Council adopted its latest resolution on the conflict in Syria, re-authorizing cross-border delivery routes for humanitarian aid and promising - once again - to take "further measures" if the parties to the conflict do not comply with international humanitarian law.

Courageous Refugees, Cowardly Politicians (November 19, 2015)

I came to Europe to bear witness to the overwhelming numbers of children, women, and men searching for safety and a future far from the bombs that have devastated their homes in Syria. I joined the Nobel Women's Initiative to meet with some of these courageous refugees and listened to their stories.

Russia Fanning the Flames in Syria (October 30, 2015)

Russia’s entrance into the Syrian conflict has made an already grim situation far worse... the nature of Russia’s military attacks, in step with Bashar al-Assad’s strategies, signals a new level of deterioration in the conflict.

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Letter to Turkish Prime Minister on Lack of Access to Medical Care in Southeastern Turkey (February 2016)

PHR and leading medical organizations sent a letter to Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to express concerns about credible reports that Turkish security forces are blocking access to urgent medical care for the sick and wounded in the course of their operations in southeastern Turkey.

Let Syria’s Health Professionals Work (February 2016)

In this paper, PHR provides recommendations to donor governments that would demonstrate their commitment to the health and well-being of the Syrian people, to the principles of mutual recognition of health professional qualifications, and to core commitments by the global community to sustainable development in the region.

Letter to President Obama on the Kunduz Hospital Attack (January 2016)

PHR sent a letter to President Obama expressing grave concern about the increased frequency of attacks on hospitals and medical personnel across the globe, including the devastating October airstrikes by the U.S. military on an MSF hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan.

Aleppo Abandoned (November 2015)

The Syrian government’s ongoing assault on health care is one of the most egregious the world has ever seen. This report focuses specifically on the state of health care in eastern Aleppo city and tells a story of courage and resilience in the face of tremendous human suffering and loss.

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Featured Expert

Nizam Peerwani, MD

Nizam Peerwani, MD

Dr. Peerwani is also an advocate of human rights and serves as a forensic advisor for Physicians for Human Rights with completed assignments in Rwanda, Bosnia, Indonesia, Cyprus, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Israel for genocide and human rights violations under the auspices of the United Nations Tribunal. Read More »