Skip to Main Content
Printer Friendly Home > Issues > Persecution of Health Workers > Medical Neutrality

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:

Worst Month Yet for Attacks on Hospitals in Syrian Conflict (June 18, 2015)

Attacks on health care facilities in Syria reached the highest numbers yet in a single month since the start of the conflict in March 2011. In May alone, PHR documented 15 attacks on 14 medical facilities, including seven that had been attacked previously.

Physicians for Human Rights Denounces Israel’s Proposed Force-Feeding Law (June 16, 2015)

PHR urged Israel’s parliament to reject a proposed bill that would legalize the force-feeding of hunger-striking prisoners, in violation of medical ethics and international law.

Physicians for Human Rights Applauds Bipartisan Amendment Reaffirming Prohibition on Torture (June 16, 2015)

PHR welcomed the passage of a bipartisan amendment that reaffirms the prohibition on torture and helps prevent future U.S. administrations from engaging in torture.

Conflicts and Crises Spawn Attacks on Health Care Worldwide (May 20, 2015)

Health professionals, facilities, and patients are regularly targeted by violence and restrictive legislation in situations of conflict and civil unrest, according to an online, interactive world map of attacks on health published today by PHR.

More Medical Neutrality News »

In Syria, Drying Out the Sea to Kill the Fish (June 10, 2015)

On March 28, 2015, Jabhat al-Nusra and allied opposition groups wrested Idlib city from government control in Syria. The following day, the Syrian air force attacked the city’s Red Crescent-run hospital with rockets, causing significant damage and forcing the hospital to close.

Tech & Human Rights Blog Series (May 26, 2015)

PHR's Tech & Human Rights Blog Series is meant to highlight the intersection between technology and human rights, and to examine the increasing role that technology can play in advancing human rights around the world.

Unbiased Health Care Stifled in Bahrain (April 30, 2015)

The release of Ibrahim al-Demestani, a nurse imprisoned by Bahraini authorities, is the latest chapter in the government’s ongoing campaign against health professionals. While his release should be celebrated, al-Demestani should never have been imprisoned and forced to complete a three-year sentence in the first place.

Assault on Medical Workers in Burma – Reminiscent of Dictatorship (March 17, 2015)

The state-sponsored violence that took place against student demonstrators in Burma this month is a shocking reminder that the country is just beginning its transition to democracy and still has a very long way to go.

More Medical Neutrality Posts »

Navy Nurse Press Call (May 2015)

Physicians for Human Rights commends the U.S. Navy’s decision not to discharge the nurse who refused to participate in the force-feeding of Guantánamo detainees.

Open Letter to the Government of Bahrain (March 2015)

Physicians for Human Rights, partner organizations, and human rights activists call on the government on Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience in the country in the aftermath of the 2011 popular uprising.

Doctors in the Crosshairs: Four Years of Attacks on Health Care in Syria (March 2015)

The consequences of the international community’s failure to protect Syrians from systematic and repeated violations of both human rights and humanitarian law have been devastating. Yet, one in particular stands out: the erosion of the long-established principle that neither militaries nor armed groups can target medical workers and the health care system for attacks.

Syria's Medical Community Under Assault (February 2015)

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.

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 »