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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.

PHR response to AP interview with Assad (September 22, 2016)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad continued his outlandish attempt to defend the criminal actions of his own government, lying to the world about his campaign of terror against civilians and medical facilities. President Assad claimed yet again that his forces do not attack hospitals, a position wholly at odds with the facts.

PHR Condemns Brazen Attack on Syrian Humanitarian Convoy (September 20, 2016)

PHR condemned the deadly overnight attack on a humanitarian aid convoy in Syria. The attack killed approximately 20 people, including aid workers and truck drivers, and destroyed 18 trucks loaded with vital food, medical, and other humanitarian supplies meant for tens of thousands of Syrians in opposition-held areas west of Aleppo city.

After Outcry Over Rescued Boy, PHR Debunks Russian Denial of Attacking Civilians (August 19, 2016)

PHR said it was deeply moved by images of a young boy rescued in Aleppo, and disputed the Russian government's assertion that it was not responsible for strikes against civilians

Turkey’s Southeast Remains Under Siege as Purge Continues Nationwide (August 9, 2016)

Turkish security forces have unlawfully imposed a virtual state of emergency across the country’s southeast, according to a new report from PHR. That state of emergency led to hundreds of civilian deaths and deprived thousands of urgent medical care.

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The U.N. General Assembly Can’t Let Syria Become Another Rwanda (September 19, 2016)

World leaders have been given the opportunity to change the situation in Syria and end the ongoing violence at the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

Doctors of Aleppo Abandoned, Again (August 17, 2016)

In their letter to U.S. President Barack Obama, Aleppo’s remaining doctors pleaded not for tears but for a plan to end the Syrian government’s all-out assault on hospitals and medical workers. And the response from the White House was the same as it’s been for months: we’re working on it.

World Must Not Overlook Violence in Turkey’s Southeast in Wake of Failed Coup (August 11, 2016)

In order to prevent more loss of life, Turkish authorities must cease unlawful practices that obstruct access to health care, and commit to investigating all allegations of human rights violations committed since July 2015 in the southeast.

Starving to Death in Madaya (July 13, 2016)

In late spring 2016, 12-year-old Ola died in Syria. In a place where her death could easily have been caused by barrel bombs, missiles, or mortar fire, she instead suffered a slow and painful death from starvation. This happened because she lived in Madaya.

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Letter to Vice President Biden on Crisis in Turkey (August 2016)

PHR sent a letter to U.S. Vice President Biden, ahead of his upcoming visit to Turkey, to express concern about the ongoing crisis in Turkey’s southeast.

Southeastern Turkey: Health Care Under Siege (August 2016)

Since July 2015, the Turkish authorities have waged a campaign against the population of southeastern Turkey, resulting in thousands of deaths.

Madaya: Portrait of a Syrian Town Under Siege (July 2016)

The Syrian government has besieged Madaya – a small town controlled by opposition forces an hour’s drive from Damascus – trapping residents inside without access to supplies, food, or services outside the town since July 2015.

Letter to President Obama on the Kunduz Hospital Attack (April 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.

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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 »