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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:

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.

Pentagon’s Health Experts Endorse Recusal on Medical Ethics Grounds (March 20, 2015)

PHR today welcomed a recommendation by the Pentagon’s independent health advisors that medical personnel be excused from duties that violate professional ethics.

New Reports of Chemical Attacks in Syria Require Investigation, says Physicians for Human Rights (March 18, 2015)

PHR is alarmed by new reports of chemical barrel bomb attacks in the Syrian village of Sarmin and calls on the UN Security Council to conduct an inquiry.

Doctors in the Crosshairs: Four Years of Attacks on Health Care in Syria (March 11, 2015)

Deliberate and indiscriminate attacks have decimated the ranks of health professionals and devastated the medical infrastructure in Syria, exacerbating a humanitarian crisis.

More Medical Neutrality News »

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.

Closing Guantánamo Is Imperative, But Not Enough (January 23, 2015)

During President Obama’s State of the Union address, he reaffirmed his commitment to closing the notorious prison at Guantánamo: Since I’ve been president, we’ve worked responsibly to cut the population of Gitmo in half. Now it is time to finish the job, and I will not relent in my determination to shut it down. It is not who we are. It’s time to close Gitmo.

Documentation Vital to Ending Attacks on Health Care Workers (January 15, 2015)

2014 was a distressing year for health care workers in conflict areas around the world, as attacks on medical professionals and facilities were carried out in numerous countries. As these attacks continue, they must be appropriately documented in order to increase available information, raise awareness, and find appropriate solutions that facilitate accountability and ultimately prevent future violence.

More Medical Neutrality Posts »

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.

Letter to President Obama on Rejecting Request to Return CIA Torture Report (January 2015)

The new chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Richard Burr, requested that the executive branch return all copies of the CIA torture report to the committee. PHR and partner organizations sent this letter to President Obama urging him to reject Senator Burr’s request.

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 »