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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:

May Marks Deadliest Month for Medical Personnel in Syria; June was Second Highest for Facility Attacks (July 23, 2014)

PHR today released the latest numbers on attacks on health care in Syria, which show that – with 30 deaths – May was the deadliest month for medical professionals.

PHR Calls for Protection of Medical Facilities and Personnel in Gaza (July 22, 2014)

PHR calls on the government of Israel to stop attacking health facilities, ambulances, and health personnel in Gaza. PHR also said that Hamas and other armed groups must fully respect and protect the neutral operation of medical personnel and patients’ safety by ensuring that no military equipment or units operate in or near medical facilities.

PHR Welcomes Nurse’s Decision to Honor Medical Ethics by Refusing to Force-Feed Guantánamo Detainees (July 17, 2014)

PHR supports the refusal of a U.S. Navy nurse to continue force-feeding Guantánamo Bay prisoners, who are engaged in hunger strikes as a legitimate form of protest.

New Map Shows Government Forces Deliberately Attacking Syria’s Medical System (May 14, 2014)

Syrian forces have systematically attacked the health care system in opposition-held areas over the past three years, resulting in the death of more than 460 health professionals and widespread destruction to hospitals and clinics, PHR said today as it launched an interactive map tracking these violations.

More Medical Neutrality News »

Psychologists Must Stand by their Ethical Obligations (August 11, 2014)

American psychologists designed and oversaw the brutal regime of interrogation used on detainees in U.S. military custody at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay, and elsewhere during the U.S. war on terror; but the profession has yet to punish any psychologist who participated in torture or to fully distance itself from this legacy.

Health Workers Must Treat with Medicine, Not Politics (August 8, 2014)

The use of health programs by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to recruit political activists in Cuba is reprehensible and unacceptable. Using health care as a cover for political activities goes against the internationally accepted principle of medical neutrality and is harmful to the wider practice of providing medical aid in countries around the world.

Honoring Victims of Torture Means Repairing Trust in Healers (June 26, 2014)

Today, UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, marks 27 years since the UN Convention against Torture came into effect.

Attacking Health Care: A Common Denominator in Conflict (June 3, 2014)

Last week, Human Rights Watch reported that the Iraqi government repeatedly targeted and attacked Fallujah General Hospital in Anbar province. Fallujah is a pivotal city in Sunni-majority Anbar province, which has long accused the Shia-dominated central government of persecution.

More Medical Neutrality Posts »

Syria's Medical Community Under Assault (July 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.

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.

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.

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 »