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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, Watchlist Say Attacks on Health Care Continue Unabated (May 3, 2017)

On anniversary of Security Council Resolution condemning attacks on medical facilities and personnel, both organizations say all-out assault continues worldwide

Turkey Prolongs Unlawful Detention of Physician Who Treated Patients During Unrest in Southeast (March 17, 2017)

A court in the southeastern Turkish city of Şırnak has ordered the continued arbitrary detention of Dr. Serdar Küni, a member of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey and former president of the Şırnak medical chamber, this week extending his five-month confinement by at least another month.

Turkish Court Continues Baseless Case Against Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı (January 11, 2017)

A criminal court in Istanbul today again postponed the trial of prominent human rights defender Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, president of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey and a longtime friend and colleague of Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). Last spring, Dr. Fincancı and two co-defendants were arrested, briefly imprisoned, and charged for disseminating “terrorist propaganda” after taking part in a solidarity campaign with a newspaper critical of Turkey’s government. Proceedings will resume March 21. PHR today reiterated its call to drop all charges against Dr. Fincancı, her co-defendants, and other members of civil society who are being unjustly prosecuted.

PHR Welcomes UN Vote to Collect Syrian War Crimes Evidence (December 22, 2016)

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today welcomed the United Nations General Assembly’s vote to establish a group that will collect, preserve, and analyze evidence of war crimes and human rights abuses committed during the Syrian conflict. The team will ultimately prepare that evidence for future justice proceedings.

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The People’s Convoy: We Reject The New Normal Of Attacks On Hospitals (December 22, 2016)

The brutality visited on Aleppo in recent weeks has shown the world that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has no scruples about killing his own people and destroying one of the world’s once-great cities. But it’s a brutality that has been clear all along to those of us who’ve watched Assad and his allies engage in a seemingly limitless campaign to annihilate Syria’s health care infrastructure and personnel over the past five years.

Aleppo in Crisis: ‘We Have Witnessed the Defeat of the Human Spirit in Aleppo’ (December 15, 2016)

By allowing Assad to seize Aleppo by any means, the world has permitted a scorched-earth campaign against anyone who threatens the authoritarian rule of the Syrian president or Russia’s stronghold in the Middle East, writes Elise Baker of Physicians for Human Rights.

Let’s Not Pretend Scenes of Horror in Eastern Aleppo Are ‘Unexpected’ (December 6, 2016)

The humanitarian crisis in eastern Aleppo is tragic but not unimaginable or surprising – it is the result of years of inaction by the international community, writes Physicians for Human Rights researcher Elise Baker.

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.

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PHR Appeals for Release of Imprisoned Iranian Doctor (March 2017)

PHR sent this letter to the Supreme Leader of Iran expressing our deep concern over the imprisonment of Dr. Ahmadreza Djalali on false charges.

PHR Supports Aleppo Doctors’ Plea for Safe Evacuation of Civilians (December 2016)

As Syrian government forces and their allied militias close in on eastern Aleppo city, PHR supports the lifesaving appeal by Syrian relief and medical organizations on the ground inside the besieged city.

PHR Urges Russian Medical Community to Protect Health in Syria (December 2016)

PHR joins medical colleagues around the world in urging the Russian medical community to demand that its government ease the health care crisis in Syria.

Blind to Justice: Excessive Use of Force and Attacks on Health Care in Jammu and Kashmir, India (December 2016)

In this report, Physicians for Human Rights describes the excessive and indiscriminate use of force against protesters by Indian state police and Central Reserve Police Forces with weapons misleadingly represented as “less than lethal.” While Indian authorities claimed that the use of these weapons was meant to reduce the potential for injuries or fatalities, PHR researchers found that their use had in fact caused serious injury and death.

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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 »