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:

PHR response to AP interview with Assad (September 22, 2016)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad continued his outlandish attempt to defend the criminal actions of his own government, lying to the world about his campaign of terror against civilians and medical facilities. President Assad claimed yet again that his forces do not attack hospitals, a position wholly at odds with the facts.

After Outcry Over Rescued Boy, PHR Debunks Russian Denial of Attacking Civilians (August 19, 2016)

PHR said it was deeply moved by images of a young boy rescued in Aleppo, and disputed the Russian government's assertion that it was not responsible for strikes against civilians

Turkey’s Southeast Remains Under Siege as Purge Continues Nationwide (August 9, 2016)

Turkish security forces have unlawfully imposed a virtual state of emergency across the country’s southeast, according to a new report from PHR. That state of emergency led to hundreds of civilian deaths and deprived thousands of urgent medical care.

PHR Welcomes APA Vote to Maintain Anti-Torture Protections (August 5, 2016)

During its annual meeting in Denver, Colorado, the American Psychological Association (APA) voted against changing its 2015 ban on psychologists participating in national security interrogations and practicing at illegal detention sites like Guantánamo Bay. Instead, decisions on any proposed amendments have been tabled until February 2017, when the APA’s governing Council of Representatives will reconvene.

More Medical Neutrality News »

Israel’s New Force-Feeding Law Violates Medical Ethics and Human Rights (September 30, 2016)

The news that three Palestinian hunger strikers – one of them on the verge of death – have recently secured an end to administrative detention in Israeli prisons is welcome. Twenty-year-old Malik al-Qaadi and two brothers, Muhammed and Mahmoud al Balboul, had all been refusing food since July, and al-Qaadi was in an induced coma when a deal was struck with Israeli authorities for their release.

Standing Up for Women and Girls in Afghanistan: PHR and Allies Challenge "Virginity Testing" (September 28, 2016)

Afghan physician Dr. Tamana Asey finds hymen examinations to be "total abuse." She is at the forefront of change on this issue.

The U.N. General Assembly Can’t Let Syria Become Another Rwanda (September 19, 2016)

World leaders have been given the opportunity to change the situation in Syria and end the ongoing violence at the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

Doctors of Aleppo Abandoned, Again (August 17, 2016)

In their letter to U.S. President Barack Obama, Aleppo’s remaining doctors pleaded not for tears but for a plan to end the Syrian government’s all-out assault on hospitals and medical workers. And the response from the White House was the same as it’s been for months: we’re working on it.

More Medical Neutrality Posts »

Letter to Vice President Biden on Crisis in Turkey (August 2016)

PHR sent a letter to U.S. Vice President Biden, ahead of his upcoming visit to Turkey, to express concern about the ongoing crisis in Turkey’s southeast.

Southeastern Turkey: Health Care Under Siege (August 2016)

Since July 2015, the Turkish authorities have waged a campaign against the population of southeastern Turkey, resulting in thousands of deaths.

Madaya: Portrait of a Syrian Town Under Siege (July 2016)

The Syrian government has besieged Madaya – a small town controlled by opposition forces an hour’s drive from Damascus – trapping residents inside without access to supplies, food, or services outside the town since July 2015.

Statement on Anal Examinations in Cases of Alleged Homosexuality (May 2016)

The Independent Forensic Expert Group, of which PHR’s Medical Director, Dr. Vincent Iacopino, is a member, released this statement on anal examinations in cases of alleged homosexuality.

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 »