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The Principle of Medical Neutrality

VIDEO

This 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 Responds to Kunduz Hospital Airstrike Report (April 29, 2016)

The Defense Department today released the redacted report of its internal investigation into the U.S. military airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. Since the attack last October, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has been pressing the White House and the Pentagon to consider a criminal inquiry in accordance with the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Airstrike on Syrian Hospital Kills Dozens, Including Patients and Doctors (April 28, 2016)

An overnight airstrike on a Syrian hospital in Aleppo killed dozens of civilians, patients, and doctors, including one of the last pediatricians working in the area. PHR is appalled by such a brazen attack on health care workers, patients, and facilities.

Federal Judge Allows Lawsuit Against Architects of CIA Torture Program to Proceed (April 22, 2016)

A lawsuit brought by victims of CIA torture against two psychologists who designed and oversaw the illegal program will be allowed to proceed in a U.S. court.

Physicians for Human Rights Honors Syrian Doctors, Two Philanthropists for Their Work (April 20, 2016)

Two Syrian doctors and the philanthropists Ayman and Sawsan Asfari were honored Monday evening, April 18, for their work supporting the people of Syria at a gala hosted by PHR in New York.

More Medical Neutrality News »

Pregnancy, Drug Use, and Why Prison Is Not the Solution (April 11, 2016)

In New Hampshire, a bill to redefine opioid use or addiction in “custodial parents,” including pregnant women, as child abuse is making its way through the legislature, despite vocal objection from the state’s medical community.

We Must Hold Assad to Account for Murdering Doctors and Journalists (March 23, 2016)

On December 23, a paramedic with the civil defense, or White Helmets, was killed by Syrian government shelling while aiding the wounded in al Nashabiya, a small town in besieged Eastern Ghouta, in the Damascus suburbs. Three others were killed and 13 injured during that assault.

Failed Peace Talks Are a Death Sentence for Syrians (January 28, 2016)

Political wrangling in the lead up to Friday's U.N.-brokered peace talks has dramatically lowered expectations. But continued inaction at the diplomatic level, writes Elise Baker of PHR, is a "death sentence" for many Syrians trapped in besieged or remote areas across the country

Protecting Syria's civilians: another discarded New Year's resolution? (January 11, 2016)

It's been just three weeks since the UN Security Council adopted its latest resolution on the conflict in Syria, re-authorizing cross-border delivery routes for humanitarian aid and promising - once again - to take "further measures" if the parties to the conflict do not comply with international humanitarian law.

More Medical Neutrality Posts »

Letter to President Obama on the Kunduz Hospital Attack (April 2016)

PHR sent a letter to President Obama expressing grave concern about the increased frequency of attacks on hospitals and medical personnel across the globe, including the devastating October airstrikes by the U.S. military on an MSF hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan.

Update on Syria – April 2016 (April 2016)

Syria’s cessation of hostilities, which came into effect on February 27, was supposed to reduce violence and guarantee delivery of humanitarian aid to desperate populations in need across Syria. The reduction of violence witnessed in the first weeks of the cessation has started to reverse course, and the cessation has largely failed on its promises to deliver life-saving humanitarian aid to the millions of Syrians in besieged and hard-to-reach areas.

Prepared Remarks - Five Years of War in Syria: Health Care Under Attack (March 2016)

Director of Programs Widney Brown of Physicians for Human Rights delivered remarks at the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Briefing - Five Years of War in Syria: Health Care Under Attack.

Letter to Turkish Prime Minister on Lack of Access to Medical Care in Southeastern Turkey (February 2016)

PHR and leading medical organizations sent a letter to Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to express concerns about credible reports that Turkish security forces are blocking access to urgent medical care for the sick and wounded in the course of their operations in southeastern Turkey.

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 »