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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.

As Fighting Intensifies, Daraa Civilians and Hospitals Must be Spared (July 2, 2018)

Physicians for Human Rights is deeply concerned by the news of yet more indiscriminate attacks on health care sites in Syria. In less than a week, PHR has received credible reports of large-scale airstrikes on at least six hospitals in Daraa in the south of the country, including Al-Giza Hospital’s emergency department, which was left completely destroyed after being targeted six times.

Impunity Reigns as Medical Personnel and Facilities across 23 Conflict-Torn Countries Remain Under Attack (May 21, 2018)

In its fifth annual report released today, the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition warns that attacks on health care in conflict zones around the world are continuing with impunity and may in fact be increasing. The report entitled “Violence on the Front Lines: Attacks on Health Care in 2017” documents more than 700 separate attacks on hospitals, health workers, patients, and ambulances in 23 countries in conflict across the globe.

Physicians for Human Rights Condemns Attacks against Civilians in Eastern Ghouta (February 20, 2018)

In response to the ongoing assault against Syrian civilians and health facilities in eastern Ghouta, Susannah Sirkin, Director for International Policy and Partnerships at Physicians for Human Rights, issued the following statement.

Physicians for Human Rights Documents Dramatic Increase in Attacks on Northern Syrian Medical Facilities (January 23, 2018)

Syrian medical facilities have experienced a dramatic increase in attacks, particularly in opposition-controlled areas of Hama and Idlib, according to new data from Physicians for Human Rights (PHR).

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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 »