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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:

Despite Aid Deliveries, Besieged Syrians in Madaya Starving to Death (July 12, 2016)

Civilians in Syria’s besieged town of Madaya are dying from malnutrition, starvation, and other preventable diseases, according to a new report published by PHR and the Syrian American Medical Society.

PHR Calls for Immediate Release of Imprisoned Turkish Human Rights Leader (June 20, 2016)

PHR calls for the immediate, unconditional release of Şebnem Korur Fincancı, chair of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey and a forensic expert who has fought alongside PHR to end torture worldwide.

Deadly Aleppo Airstrikes Damage Two Syrian Hospitals (June 8, 2016)

Airstrikes in Syria damaged two hospitals in opposition-controlled areas of Aleppo today, killing and wounding dozens. Working with information from its partners on the ground, PHR says both facilities are now out of service.

In Conflict Zones Worldwide, Medical Facilities and Personnel in 19 Countries Are Under Relentless Attack (May 23, 2016)

In conflict zones around the world, health care workers and facilities are under relentless attack, according to a new report “No Protection, No Respect” from the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition.

More Medical Neutrality News »

CIA Documents Show How Deeply Doctors and Health Professionals Were Involved in Torture (July 25, 2016)

Last month, the CIA released more than 50 declassified documents about the illegal torture program it operated after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. Many of them elaborate on the sheer brutality of the CIA’s practices.

Starving to Death in Madaya (July 13, 2016)

In late spring 2016, 12-year-old Ola died in Syria. In a place where her death could easily have been caused by barrel bombs, missiles, or mortar fire, she instead suffered a slow and painful death from starvation. This happened because she lived in Madaya.

Conversations: One Doctor’s Struggle for Justice (June 2, 2016)

The only way to reinstate peace and stability in Syria is to document ongoing crimes in the hopes that those responsible will some day be brought to justice, according to a doctor working with Physicians for Human Rights along the Turkish border.

Pregnancy, Drug Use, and Why Prison Is Not the Solution (April 11, 2016)

In New Hampshire, a bill to redefine opioid use or addiction in “custodial parents,” including pregnant women, as child abuse is making its way through the legislature, despite vocal objection from the state’s medical community.

More Medical Neutrality Posts »

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.

Letter to President Obama on the Kunduz Hospital Attack (April 2016)

PHR sent a letter to President Obama expressing grave concern about the increased frequency of attacks on hospitals and medical personnel across the globe, including the devastating October airstrikes by the U.S. military on an MSF hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan.

Update on Syria – April 2016 (April 2016)

Syria’s cessation of hostilities, which came into effect on February 27, was supposed to reduce violence and guarantee delivery of humanitarian aid to desperate populations in need across Syria. The reduction of violence witnessed in the first weeks of the cessation has started to reverse course, and the cessation has largely failed on its promises to deliver life-saving humanitarian aid to the millions of Syrians in besieged and hard-to-reach areas.

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 »