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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.

PHR Files Legal Brief in Support of Turkish Medical Association (March 26, 2014)

PHR submitted an amicus brief today in support of members of the Turkish Medical Association (TMA) who will face trial for recruiting and organizing urgent medical care for protesters injured during the Gezi Park demonstrations that began in May 2013.

Turkish President Signs Bill that Criminalizes Emergency Medical Care (January 17, 2014)

PHR expressed concern today over the Turkish president’s signing of a bill that will criminalize certain aspects of emergency care and punish medical professionals.

PHR Submits Statement on Syria’s Refugee Crisis to Senate Committee (January 7, 2014)

The United States should immediately convene a humanitarian summit with Russia and other nations in order to improve humanitarian aid in Syria; take steps to allow more Syrian refugees to resettle in the United States; and provide funding to address their health and other needs.

Turkey Passes Bill that Criminalizes Emergency Medical Care (January 3, 2014)

The Turkish parliament passed a bill today that will criminalize emergency medical care and punish doctors with heavy fines and imprisonment for assisting those in need. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is urging the president of the Turkish Republic, Abdullah Gul, not to sign the bill, which would have a chilling effect on access to medical care.

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The Unsung Heroes of Syria (April 16, 2014)

Photos and stories of doctors working in conflict and under other forms of duress are compelling for many reasons. Their bravery and commitment to their patients is admirable, and attacks against those caring for others are unjustifiable in any conflict.

Physician Accounts from the Front Lines of the Syrian Conflict (April 8, 2014)

My recent experiences in training Syrian physicians in a border community opened my eyes to levels of courage and commitment I have never seen in my 30 years of practice and international work.

The Rwandan Genocide: An Indelible Stain (April 7, 2014)

PHR's director of international policy and partnerships/senior advisor, Susannah Sirkin, discusses the Rwandan genocide 20 years later, highlighting that "never again" has not been adhered to. Conflicts in Syria, Sudan, and the Central African Republic continue, and the world is incapable of an effective response.

Strength in the Face of Terror (April 4, 2014)

Qusai Zakarya is by all definitions an incredible human being. After surviving the 2013 chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburb of Moadamiya, he became a tireless public opponent of the oppressive Assad regime and rallied worldwide support during a 33-day hunger strike that called attention to the illegal siege of cities across Syria.

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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. The signatories urgently call on President Thein Sein to reverse the order expelling the organization from the region, as he did for other parts of the country. The letter reiterates that the removal of MSF from the health infrastructure in Rakhine State is an inexcusable act that will have devastating consequences, particularly for the Rohingya community, which is especially reliant on the health services provided by MSF.

Syria's Medical Community Under Assault (March 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.

Letter to Turkish Prime Minister on Legal Action Against Doctors (March 2014)

PHR and leading medical organizations sent a letter to Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan to express concerns over the Ministry of Health taking punitive actions against physicians, including members of the Turkish Medical Association (TMA), who provided emergency medical care to demonstrators during the Gezi Park protests that begain in May 2013.

As Olympic Games Open in Sochi, 37 Humanitarian, Human Rights, and Peace Organizations Call for UNSC Resolution to Open Syria to Aid (February 2014)

As the world unites to celebrate the spirit of the Olympic Games, PHR and 36 other organizations call on all members of the Security Council to support a binding resolution demanding all parties to the conflict guarantee safe, full and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance to populations in need in all areas of Syria.

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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 »