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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:

Physicians for Human Rights Welcomes Lifting of Travel Ban for Bahraini Human Rights Activist (October 1, 2014)

PHR today welcomed the decision by a Bahraini court to lift the travel ban on Maryam al-Khawaja, but remained concerned about the spurious charges that remain against her.

Judge Allows Case Against Turkish Medical Association to Proceed (September 30, 2014)

PHR today criticized an Ankara judge’s decision to proceed with a lawsuit against the Turkish Medical Association (TMA), which did its job by mobilizing medical personnel to provide emergency care to demonstrators injured during the Gezi Park protests.

Doctors Reporting Injuries from U.S.-Led Air Strikes in Syria (September 25, 2014)

A doctor at one hospital near Idlib, in northern Syria, reported that his hospital treated 40 wounded patients over three hours as a result of the U.S.-led air strikes early Wednesday morning.

Turkish Medical Group Faces Lawsuit for Providing Emergency Care (September 23, 2014)

PHR is calling on judges in Ankara to dismiss a lawsuit against the Turkish Medical Association, which recruited and organized physicians to provide urgently needed emergency medical care to demonstrators injured during the Gezi Park protests that began in May 2013.

More Medical Neutrality News »

Syria’s Forgotten Civilians (September 26, 2014)

As atrocities committed by the self-declared Islamic State (IS), also called ISIS or ISIL, dominate media headlines, we must not forget the civilians who have been suffering since long before IS gained a stronghold in parts of Syria and Iraq.

Fear, Trust, and Attacks on Ebola Workers (September 24, 2014)

As health workers fan out across the Ebola-stricken areas of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, they are facing a battle on two fronts: fighting Ebola and addressing the fears, rumors, and myths of those at risk of Ebola.

The United States and Its Unafraid Ally, Bahrain (September 19, 2014)

The United States, a long-time ally of the al-Khalifa regime currently governing Bahrain, is in a unique position to pressure the country to change its policies. The United States must take concrete action to condemn the Bahraini regime for its ongoing human rights violations.

What Did President Obama Leave Out of His Speech on the Islamic State? (September 12, 2014)

On the same turf that IS operates other actors are committing mass atrocities, while enjoying full impunity.

More Medical Neutrality Posts »

Syria's Medical Community Under Assault (October 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.

Prepared Remarks - Health Care & Violence: The Need for Effective Protection (September 2014)

PHR attended and presented at the high-level debate, Health Care & Violence: The Need for Effective Protection, at the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 25, 2014.

Student Toolkit (May 2014)

This student toolkit provides comprehensive information on the principle of medical neutrality – which ensures safe access to medical facilities, protects health care workers and their patients, and allows medical workers to provide unbiased care.

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.

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 »