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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.

Conflicts and Crises Spawn Attacks on Health Care Worldwide (May 20, 2015)

Health professionals, facilities, and patients are regularly targeted by violence and restrictive legislation in situations of conflict and civil unrest, according to an online, interactive world map of attacks on health published today by PHR.

PHR Welcomes Decision on Navy Nurse, Demands End to Force-Feeding in Guantánamo (May 13, 2015)

PHR welcomed the U.S. Navy’s decision not to discharge a nurse for refusing to force-feed detainees on hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay.

Attacks on Health Care in Syria Continue, Defying U.N. Resolutions (April 17, 2015)

Deliberate attacks on hospitals and health care professionals in Syria persist despite three United Nations resolutions aimed at protecting civilians and new hopes of relief following recent international pledges of aid to Syrians in need, according to an online map of attacks on health PHR updated today.

New Reports of Chemical Attacks in Syria Require Investigation, says Physicians for Human Rights (March 18, 2015)

PHR is alarmed by new reports of chemical barrel bomb attacks in the Syrian village of Sarmin and calls on the UN Security Council to conduct an inquiry.

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Tech & Human Rights Blog Series (May 26, 2015)

PHR's Tech & Human Rights Blog Series is meant to highlight the intersection between technology and human rights, and to examine the increasing role that technology can play in advancing human rights around the world.

Unbiased Health Care Stifled in Bahrain (April 30, 2015)

The release of Ibrahim al-Demestani, a nurse imprisoned by Bahraini authorities, is the latest chapter in the government’s ongoing campaign against health professionals. While his release should be celebrated, al-Demestani should never have been imprisoned and forced to complete a three-year sentence in the first place.

Assault on Medical Workers in Burma – Reminiscent of Dictatorship (March 17, 2015)

The state-sponsored violence that took place against student demonstrators in Burma this month is a shocking reminder that the country is just beginning its transition to democracy and still has a very long way to go.

Under the Gun: Practicing Medicine in Syria (March 10, 2015)

By the end of 2011, government security forces were bringing detained members of the opposition to my hospital for treatment. Members of the security forces would insult and physically attack the medical staff, while also causing chaos by shooting their weapons into the air.

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Navy Nurse Press Call (May 2015)

Physicians for Human Rights commends the U.S. Navy’s decision not to discharge the nurse who refused to participate in the force-feeding of Guantánamo detainees.

Open Letter to the Government of Bahrain (March 2015)

Physicians for Human Rights, partner organizations, and human rights activists call on the government on Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience in the country in the aftermath of the 2011 popular uprising.

Doctors in the Crosshairs: Four Years of Attacks on Health Care in Syria (March 2015)

The consequences of the international community’s failure to protect Syrians from systematic and repeated violations of both human rights and humanitarian law have been devastating. Yet, one in particular stands out: the erosion of the long-established principle that neither militaries nor armed groups can target medical workers and the health care system for attacks.

Syria's Medical Community Under Assault (February 2015)

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.

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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 »