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
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.
PHR welcomed the U.S. Navy’s decision not to discharge a nurse for refusing to force-feed detainees on hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay.
American Psychological Association Emails Expose Direct Ties to CIA Torture Program (April 30, 2015)
PHR again urged the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the American Psychological Association’s complicity in the CIA torture program, following a new report in the NY Times.
Attacks on Health Care in Syria Continue, Defying U.N. Resolutions (April 17, 2015)
Deliberate attacks on hospitals and health care professionals in Syria persist despite three United Nations resolutions aimed at protecting civilians and new hopes of relief following recent international pledges of aid to Syrians in need, according to an online map of attacks on health PHR updated today.
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.
Under the Gun: Practicing Medicine in Syria (March 10, 2015)
By the end of 2011, government security forces were bringing detained members of the opposition to my hospital for treatment. Members of the security forces would insult and physically attack the medical staff, while also causing chaos by shooting their weapons into the air.
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.
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.
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 »