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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.

In Two Days, Four Syrian Hospitals Suffer Airstrikes (November 15, 2016)

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today confirmed airstrikes against four separate hospitals in Syria on Sunday and Monday of this week. All within 20 miles of one another, the four facilities sustained significant damage after coming under air fire by either Syrian government forces or their Russian allies. PHR continues to condemn the ongoing assault on Syria’s medical personnel and facilities and calls for renewed vigilance on the part of the entire international community to end such crimes.

Turkish Court Postpones Case against Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı and Two Others (November 8, 2016)

A Turkish court today postponed criminal proceedings against Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, president of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey and a longtime partner and colleague of Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). Earlier this year, Dr. Fincancı and her co-defendants, Erol Önderoğlu and Ahmet Nesin, were accused of disseminating “terrorist propaganda” for taking part in a solidarity campaign with a newspaper critical of Turkey’s government. Her case will resume January 11, 2017.

Despite Relative Calm in Aleppo, Airstrikes on Syrian Hospitals Continue (October 21, 2016)

As the Syrian and Russian governments planned to halt their bombing of civilians and hospitals in Aleppo this week, attacks on medical facilities in other parts of Syria continued unabated. During that time, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) documented a series of deadly strikes on hospitals throughout Syria, and PHR today urged that the international community heed these ongoing violations of international law.

PHR Responds to Announcement of Humanitarian Pause in Aleppo (October 17, 2016)

Russian officials announced that their forces and those of their Syrian government allies would suspend bombing and other attacks on the city of Aleppo on Thursday for an eight-hour period. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), which has been documenting attacks on health care facilities and personnel since the conflict began in 2011, issued the following response, attributable to PHR Director of Programs Widney Brown.

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Human Rights on Trial in Turkey (November 21, 2016)

Accused of disseminating “terrorist propaganda” for taking part in a freedom of expression campaign, Dr. Fincancı is one of thousands of Turks who have faced punishment in recent months for criticizing a government that has increasingly flouted international law and human rights norms - and has shown a willingness to vilify anyone who opposes its actions.

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.

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PHR and Global Coalition Demand Immediate UN Action to End Attacks in Syria (December 2016)

The UN has failed to protect the Syrian people. Through its inaction – in large part due to the stalemate in the Security Council – the UN is allowing the siege of Aleppo and elsewhere to continue, unhindered, threatening the lives of millions of civilians still left in Syria and impeding life-saving aid from accessing them. Physicians for Human Rights stands with a global coalition of 223 civil society organizations who are urgently calling upon UN member states to request an Emergency Special Session of the UN General Assembly, demanding “timely and decisive action” and an end to these unlawful attacks.

Letter to Turkish President on Unlawful Charges Against Human Rights Defenders (November 2016)

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has sent a letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan today urging his government to immediately drop all charges against Prof. Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, president of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, as well as charges against author Ahmet Nesin and Erol Önderoğlu of Reporters without Borders, both of whom were arrested and detained with Dr. Fincancı. Their arrests and subsequent detention, allegedly due to their involvement in “making terrorist propaganda,” are unwarranted and in direct violation of their rights to free expression and association in accordance with international human rights.

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.

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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 »