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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.

Less Than a Third of Aleppo’s Hospitals Functioning; 95% of Doctors Have Fled, Been Detained or Killed (November 18, 2015)

The Syrian government’s assault on eastern Aleppo city, which includes 45 attacks on medical facilities in the past three years, has decimated the city’s health care system.

Russian Forces Carried Out at Least 10 Attacks on Medical Facilities in Syria in October (November 16, 2015)

PHR has confirmed that Russian forces were responsible for at least 10 attacks on medical facilities in October, resulting in the death of at least one medical staffer.

Die-In to #DefendDoctors in Syria Commemorated in New York (October 29, 2015)

Hundreds of health professionals and volunteers participated in a “die-in” near the United Nations today to represent the almost 700 medical personnel killed during the Syrian conflict and highlight war crimes being committed through deliberate attacks on Syria’s health care system.

Thursday, 10/29 in New York: Die-In to #DefendDoctors in Syria (October 26, 2015)

Hundreds of health professionals and volunteers will stage a die-in on Thursday, October 29, to represent the medical personnel killed during the Syrian conflict and highlight war crimes being committed through deliberate attacks on Syria’s health care system.

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Russia Fanning the Flames in Syria (October 30, 2015)

Russia’s entrance into the Syrian conflict has made an already grim situation far worse... the nature of Russia’s military attacks, in step with Bashar al-Assad’s strategies, signals a new level of deterioration in the conflict.

In Memoriam: Dr. Khaled Kandil (October 14, 2015)

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to see Dr. Khaled Kandil receive an award from the Syrian American Medical Society at their annual conference in Gaziantep, Turkey. He was being honored for establishing the dialysis center at Bab al-Hawa Hospital – one of the few remaining treatment centers in the opposition-held territories in Syria.

It’s About Civilian Protection (October 7, 2015)

Even in a world inured to violence, the U.S. airstrike on a Doctors without Borders (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, which killed both staff and patients, was shocking.

No Strangers to War (July 15, 2015)

The only practical solution to ending the desperation in Yemen is an immediate end to the Saudi-led bombardment and blockade of the country.

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Aleppo Abandoned (November 2015)

The Syrian government’s ongoing assault on health care is one of the most egregious the world has ever seen. This report focuses specifically on the state of health care in eastern Aleppo city and tells a story of courage and resilience in the face of tremendous human suffering and loss.

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.

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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 »