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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 Calls for Protection of Medical Facilities and Personnel in Gaza (July 22, 2014)

PHR today urgently called on the government of Israel to stop attacking health facilities, ambulances, and health personnel in Gaza. PHR also said that Hamas and other armed groups must fully respect and protect the neutral operation of medical personnel and patients’ safety by ensuring that no military equipment or units operate in or near medical facilities.

PHR Comments on UN Security Council Vote (May 22, 2014)

PHR today criticized Russia and China’s refusal to refer the Syria crisis to the International Criminal Court.

New Map Shows Government Forces Deliberately Attacking Syria’s Medical System (May 14, 2014)

Syrian forces have systematically attacked the health care system in opposition-held areas over the past three years, resulting in the death of more than 460 health professionals and widespread destruction to hospitals and clinics, PHR said today as it launched an interactive map tracking these violations.

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.

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Attacking Health Care: A Common Denominator in Conflict (June 3, 2014)

Last week, Human Rights Watch reported that the Iraqi government repeatedly targeted and attacked Fallujah General Hospital in Anbar province. Fallujah is a pivotal city in Sunni-majority Anbar province, which has long accused the Shia-dominated central government of persecution.

The War on Health Care in Syria (May 19, 2014)

Dr. H has treated bombing casualties, chemical weapons survivors, and victims with bullet wounds – all standard cases in his field hospital in one of the opposition-controlled areas of Syria.

When Reality Intrudes on Resilience (April 30, 2014)

Despite continued death and destruction, the Syrian people have shown incredible resilience. In conflicts as tragic as the one in Syria, hope for a better future is essential to survival.

Killing Without Weapons (April 25, 2014)

Last week, Radio Dabanga, an independent radio station in Darfur, reported the expulsion of Merlin, a British humanitarian organization working in Sudan.

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Syria's Medical Community Under Assault (May 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.

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.

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.

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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 »