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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:

Senate Report Confirms Ethical Breaches of Health Professionals in CIA Torture Program (April 11, 2014)

The leaked summary of the findings from the Senate Select Intelligence Committee's report confirm previous reporting by PHR: The CIA enlisted health professionals to use their skills to destroy the minds of prisoners, breaking with longstanding ethical and legal obligations of health professionals.

PHR Files Legal Brief in Support of Turkish Medical Association (March 26, 2014)

PHR submitted an amicus brief today in support of members of the Turkish Medical Association (TMA) who will face trial for recruiting and organizing urgent medical care for protesters injured during the Gezi Park demonstrations that began in May 2013.

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.

More Medical Neutrality News »

The Unsung Heroes of Syria (April 16, 2014)

Photos and stories of doctors working in conflict and under other forms of duress are compelling for many reasons. Their bravery and commitment to their patients is admirable, and attacks against those caring for others are unjustifiable in any conflict.

Physician Accounts from the Front Lines of the Syrian Conflict (April 8, 2014)

My recent experiences in training Syrian physicians in a border community opened my eyes to levels of courage and commitment I have never seen in my 30 years of practice and international work.

Strength in the Face of Terror (April 4, 2014)

Qusai Zakarya is by all definitions an incredible human being. After surviving the 2013 chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburb of Moadamiya, he became a tireless public opponent of the oppressive Assad regime and rallied worldwide support during a 33-day hunger strike that called attention to the illegal siege of cities across Syria.

The Need for Transparency in U.S. Detention and Interrogation Practices (April 1, 2014)

This week, a group of senators will have the ability to move forward and acknowledge the U.S. government’s use of torture and prevent future abuse.

More Medical Neutrality Posts »

Letter from Medical and Public Health Experts to President Thein Sein Regarding Suspension of MSF in Rakhine State (April 2014)

In this letter, 30 medical and public health experts express concern over the government of Burma's refusal to allow Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to conduct humanitarian operations in Rakhine State. The signatories urgently call on President Thein Sein to reverse the order expelling the organization from the region, as he did for other parts of the country. The letter reiterates that the removal of MSF from the health infrastructure in Rakhine State is an inexcusable act that will have devastating consequences, particularly for the Rohingya community, which is especially reliant on the health services provided by MSF.

Syria's Medical Community Under Assault (March 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.

Letter to Turkish Prime Minister on Legal Action Against Doctors (March 2014)

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.

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.

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 »