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 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.

UN Security Council Calls for End to Attacks on Doctors, Hospitals (May 3, 2016)

The United Nations Security Council today unanimously adopted a resolution calling for an end to attacks on health care workers and facilities.PHR, which advocates for the protection of medical facilities and health workers worldwide, welcomes today’s vote, reaffirming that deliberately attacking hospitals and doctors is a war crime.

More Medical Neutrality News »

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.

We Must Hold Assad to Account for Murdering Doctors and Journalists (March 23, 2016)

On December 23, a paramedic with the civil defense, or White Helmets, was killed by Syrian government shelling while aiding the wounded in al Nashabiya, a small town in besieged Eastern Ghouta, in the Damascus suburbs. Three others were killed and 13 injured during that assault.

Failed Peace Talks Are a Death Sentence for Syrians (January 28, 2016)

Political wrangling in the lead up to Friday's U.N.-brokered peace talks has dramatically lowered expectations. But continued inaction at the diplomatic level, writes Elise Baker of PHR, is a "death sentence" for many Syrians trapped in besieged or remote areas across the country

More Medical Neutrality Posts »

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.

Prepared Remarks - Five Years of War in Syria: Health Care Under Attack (March 2016)

Director of Programs Widney Brown of Physicians for Human Rights delivered remarks at the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Briefing - Five Years of War in Syria: Health Care Under Attack.

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 »