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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.

Judge Dismisses Case Against Turkish Medical Association (February 20, 2015)

PHR today welcomed an Ankara court’s decision to dismiss a lawsuit against the Turkish Medical Association (TMA), which had mobilized medical personnel to provide emergency care to demonstrators injured during the Gezi Park protests.

Attack on Myanmar Red Cross Violates International Law (February 19, 2015)

PHR strongly condemns the recent attack in Burma (officially the Union of Myanmar) on a Myanmar Red Cross convoy that was evacuating civilians from a conflict area.

Landmark United Nations General Assembly Resolution Calls for the Protection of Health Workers from Violence (December 15, 2014)

A resolution passed last week by the United Nations General Assembly recognizes for the first time the severity of attacks on health workers, facilities, and patients in all circumstances, and demands respect by States for provisions of medical ethics and human rights law, as well as international humanitarian law, said the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition.

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.

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Documentation Vital to Ending Attacks on Health Care Workers (January 15, 2015)

2014 was a distressing year for health care workers in conflict areas around the world, as attacks on medical professionals and facilities were carried out in numerous countries. As these attacks continue, they must be appropriately documented in order to increase available information, raise awareness, and find appropriate solutions that facilitate accountability and ultimately prevent future violence.

Will Bahrain Get Away with It Again? (December 3, 2014)

As the Bahraini authorities continue to violate human rights and target rights defenders, the United States should leverage the re-admission of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Tom Malinowski to Bahrain as an opportunity to ask the Bahraini government to fulfill their international human rights obligations.

Critical Condition: a Syrian Female Doctor Makes a Desperate Plea to the U.N. for Help (November 4, 2014)

Before the uprising began more than three years ago, the Syrian healthcare system was suffering, but now it is in critical condition and desperate need of life-saving support.

Recognizing Dr. Denis Mukwege and His Inspirational Fight against Sexual Violence (October 23, 2014)

Our dear friend and medical partner Dr. Denis Mukwege of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was announced the winner of the Sakharov Prize.

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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.

States Should Not Issue Blanket Quarantine Orders for Medical Workers Returning from Ebola-Stricken Countries (October 2014)

The decision by several states, including Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York, to impose a mandatory quarantine on health workers – mostly volunteers – returning from the three countries in West Africa where there is a significant Ebola outbreak should be reversed.

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.

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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 »