The Principle of Medical Neutrality
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:
- Under the Gun: Ongoing Assaults on Bahrain’s Health System
- Do No Harm: A Call for Bahrain to End Systematic Attacks on Doctors and Patients
- Hospital Staff Upholds International Medical Ethics During Unrest in Bangkok
- Medicine Under Siege in the Former Yugoslavia
- Human Rights Crisis in Kashmir — A Pattern of Impunity
- Bloody May: Excessive Use of Lethal Force in Bangkok — The Events of May 17-20, 1992
- The Health-care Situation in Iraqi-Occupied Kuwait
- Panama 1987: Health Consequences of Police and Military Actions
- El Salvador: Health Care Under Siege
Turkish President Signs Bill that Criminalizes Emergency Medical Care (January 17, 2014)
PHR expressed concern today over the Turkish president’s signing of a bill that will criminalize certain aspects of emergency care and punish medical professionals.
PHR Submits Statement on Syria’s Refugee Crisis to Senate Committee (January 7, 2014)
The United States should immediately convene a humanitarian summit with Russia and other nations in order to improve humanitarian aid in Syria; take steps to allow more Syrian refugees to resettle in the United States; and provide funding to address their health and other needs.
Turkey Passes Bill that Criminalizes Emergency Medical Care (January 3, 2014)
The Turkish parliament passed a bill today that will criminalize emergency medical care and punish doctors with heavy fines and imprisonment for assisting those in need. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is urging the president of the Turkish Republic, Abdullah Gul, not to sign the bill, which would have a chilling effect on access to medical care.
We must unite against health law that threatens medical neutrality in Turkey (British Medical Journal, December 16, 2013)
Our fears of an assault on medical neutrality by the Turkish government have been realised. The article of the draft health law referred to in our BMJ editorial would criminalise the delivery of emergency medical care to everyone in need, not only demonstrators.
Health Crisis in Rakhine State (March 2, 2014)
While the news that Médecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) will be allowed to continue their work in most of Burma is certainly welcome, the decision by the Burmese government to shut down the MSF’s operations in Rakhine state continues a trend of denying rights to the Muslim population who lives there.
Sunday Bloody Sunday – Another Day in Syria (February 23, 2014)
As I read about the latest in a string of attacks on Syrian field hospitals and medical staff – this time a car bomb that killed 14 people and wounded 70 in a Syrian town on the Turkish border – the classic and morbid U2 song, which memorializes violence against civilian protesters in Northern Ireland, echoed in my head.
Medical Personnel Targeted in Ukraine (February 21, 2014)
As the dust settles in Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, with an agreement between the government and opposition groups, many questions remain. Will there be an independent investigation into the government’s tactics to put down the protests, including the reported use of snipers, which violate the principles on use of force?
On Three-Year Anniversary of Bahrain’s Protests, Medics Remain Imprisoned (February 14, 2014)
In response to peaceful protests demanding greater political freedom and equality that started thee years ago today in Bahrain, the government responded with excessive force, using tear gas as a weapon and targeting activists and health professionals with torture and arbitrary detention.
PHR and leading medical organizations sent a letter to Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan to express concerns over the Ministry of Health taking punitive actions against physicians, including members of the Turkish Medical Association (TMA), who provided emergency medical care to demonstrators during the Gezi Park protests that begain in May 2013.
An Appeal to President Putin and the Russian Government (February 2014)
As the Olympic Games begin in Sochi, 47 signatories, including PHR broad member, Justice Richard J. Goldstone, callon President Vladimir Putin of Russia to lead efforts to agree on a UN Security Council humanitarian resolution that calls for Syria’s parties to the conflict to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance and open Syria’s conflict lines and borders to ensure aid reaches all those in need, including through local ceasefires.
As Olympic Games Open in Sochi, 37 Humanitarian, Human Rights, and Peace Organizations Call for UNSC Resolution to Open Syria to Aid (February 2014)
As the world unites to celebrate the spirit of the Olympic Games, PHR and 36 other organizations call on all members of the Security Council to support a binding resolution demanding all parties to the conflict guarantee safe, full and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance to populations in need in all areas of Syria.
Syria's Medical Community Under Assault (January 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.
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 »