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The Principle of Medical Neutrality

VIDEO

A new video from PHR provides a brief introduction to the principle of Medical Neutrality, its foundation in medical ethics and international law, violations of Medical Neutrality, and steps that can be taken to protect and promote the principle. >> Watch Now

Modern war often turns civilians into deliberate targets. Armies shell cities, obstruct the flow of food and medical supplies, and use human shields. Militaries also undermine health care and retaliate against the health professionals who treat the sick and wounded. This violation of medical neutrality is a war crime, a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions or laws of war.

PHR promotes the principle of noninterference with medical services in times of armed conflict: Warring factions must protect civilians; allow sick and wounded civilians and soldiers both to receive care regardless of their political affiliations; and refrain from interfering with medical facilities, transport, and personnel. This is medical neutrality.

Medical neutrality ensures

  • the protection of medical personnel, patients, facilities, and transport from attack or interference;
  • unhindered access to medical care and treatment;
  • the humane treatment of all civilians; and
  • nondiscriminatory treatment of the injured and sick.

PHR documents the deliberate targeting of health care systems and personnel, and advocates accountability for violators.

PHR's investigations regarding medical neutrality include these reports:

Physicians for Human Rights Releases Expert Analysis of CIA Torture Report, Calls for Federal Commission to Hold Health Professionals Accountable (December 16, 2014)

Health professionals played an essential role at every stage of the CIA’s torture program, committing at least eight violations of ethics and law, PHR said today in an analysis of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report summary on CIA torture.

Landmark United Nations General Assembly Resolution Calls for the Protection of Health Workers from Violence (December 15, 2014)

A resolution passed last week by the United Nations General Assembly recognizes for the first time the severity of attacks on health workers, facilities, and patients in all circumstances, and demands respect by States for provisions of medical ethics and human rights law, as well as international humanitarian law, said the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition.

CIA Torture Report Highlights Unnecessary Medical Procedure (December 10, 2014)

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) said today that the use of rectal hydration and rectal feeding on detainees without evidence of medical necessity – which was revealed in yesterday’s U.S. Senate report – constitutes torture.

PHR Calls for Federal Probe into American Psychological Association’s Role in CIA Torture Program (October 16, 2014)

PHR is calling for a Department of Justice investigation into the American Psychological Association’s (APA) role in supporting the CIA’s torture program.

More Medical Neutrality News »

Will Bahrain Get Away with It Again? (December 3, 2014)

As the Bahraini authorities continue to violate human rights and target rights defenders, the United States should leverage the re-admission of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Tom Malinowski to Bahrain as an opportunity to ask the Bahraini government to fulfill their international human rights obligations.

Critical Condition: a Syrian Female Doctor Makes a Desperate Plea to the U.N. for Help (November 4, 2014)

Before the uprising began more than three years ago, the Syrian healthcare system was suffering, but now it is in critical condition and desperate need of life-saving support.

Syria’s Forgotten Civilians (September 26, 2014)

As atrocities committed by the self-declared Islamic State (IS), also called ISIS or ISIL, dominate media headlines, we must not forget the civilians who have been suffering since long before IS gained a stronghold in parts of Syria and Iraq.

Fear, Trust, and Attacks on Ebola Workers (September 24, 2014)

As health workers fan out across the Ebola-stricken areas of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, they are facing a battle on two fronts: fighting Ebola and addressing the fears, rumors, and myths of those at risk of Ebola.

More Medical Neutrality Posts »

Doing Harm: Health Professionals’ Central Role in the CIA Torture Program (December 2014)

This analysis by PHR of the SSCI report’s executive summary builds on years of investigation and research documenting the systematic use of torture by the United States.

Syria's Medical Community Under Assault (October 2014)

This fact sheet illustrates the deliberate targeting and destruction of medical facilities by government and opposition forces, loss of medical personnel, and resulting health consequences in Syria.

Prepared Remarks - Health Care & Violence: The Need for Effective Protection (September 2014)

PHR attended and presented at the high-level debate, Health Care & Violence: The Need for Effective Protection, at the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 25, 2014.

Student Toolkit (May 2014)

This student toolkit provides comprehensive information on the principle of medical neutrality – which ensures safe access to medical facilities, protects health care workers and their patients, and allows medical workers to provide unbiased care.

More Medical Neutrality Research »

Featured Report

Under the Gun: Ongoing Assaults on Bahrain’s Health System

In February 2011, the Government of Bahrain began targeting health professionals who treated protesters. In April 2012, PHR's Richard Sollom, Deputy Director, and Holly Atkinson, MD, FACP, past President of PHR's Board and volunteer expert, authored a report showing the devastation on Bahrain's health system that have resulted from the Government of Bahrain’s continued assault on doctors, patients, and the healthcare system. Read More »