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For Immediate Release

PHR Condemns Violations of Medical Neutrality in the Middle East and North Africa

Cambridge, Mass - 03/18/2011

Physicians for Human Rights is deeply concerned about reports of violations of medical neutrality in the Middle East and North Africa. Credible news reports show that medical professionals, health care facilities, and individuals seeking medical care are coming under attack in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, and elsewhere in the region. The protests and corresponding crackdowns currently sweeping the region demand increased attention on the specialized role of the medical profession and the importance of guarding medical neutrality in times of armed conflict.

Reports from Bahrain describe beatings and intimidation of paramedics and other health care professionals, and those from Libya relay information about violent attacks on hospitals and ambulances. PHR has also received information about the destruction of an entire blood supply in a hospital in Libya. Such attacks on hospitals, patients, supplies, and medical professionals are not only gruesome, but are grave violations of international humanitarian law as codified in the Geneva Conventions.

Medical professionals and the facilities in which they operate provide essential services and receive heightened protections in times of armed conflict. Amidst violent conflict, medical professionals and institutions must remain firmly dedicated to their duty to provide medical care to those in need regardless of nationality, ethnicity, political affiliation, or other social division. This concept of medical neutrality is firmly grounded in international humanitarian law, professional codes and ethics, and international human rights law.

"Medical professionals are risking their lives and security to provide essential services – they must be able to uphold their duty to their patients and others in need without fear of violence,” said Dr. Robert Lawrence, Chairman of the Board for Physicians for Human Rights. "The violence that has been rocking the region in recent months highlights the importance of ensuring that people have unrestricted access to medical care. Attacks in Libya are estimated to have claimed over 1000 lives, and attacks in Egypt injured several hundred. Denying people access to hospitals is simply another way of targeting them,” he said.

"Physicians for Human Rights has documented violations of medical neutrality in conflict situations including the former Yugoslavia, El Salvador, and Iraq, and we remain dedicated to ending these crimes wherever they occur,” said Frank Donaghue, CEO of PHR. "Violations of medical neutrality, which may constitute war crimes, must be thoroughly investigated and perpetrators must be prosecuted. Physicians for Human Rights condemns these violations and urges all actors in the region to abide by their international legal obligations. The recent UN Security Council authorization of a no-fly zone for Libya represents the widespread concern about wanton violence against citizens, and in order to build upon this international consensus, Physicians for Human Rights calls on the international community to bring perpetrators to justice for any violations,” he said.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is an independent organization that uses medicine and science to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. We are supported by the expertise and passion of health professionals and concerned citizens alike.

Since 1986, PHR has conducted investigations in more than 40 countries around the world, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, the United States, the former Yugoslavia, and Zimbabwe.

  • 1986 — Led investigations of torture in Chile gaining freedom for heroic doctors there
  • 1988 — First to document the Iraqi use of chemical weapons on Kurds providing               evidence for prosecution of war criminals
  • 1996 — Exhumed mass graves in the Balkans and Rwanda to provide evidence for               International Criminal Tribunals
  • 1997 — Shared the Nobel Peace Prize for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines
  • 2003 — Warned US Policymakers on health and human rights conditions prior to and               during the invasion of Iraq
  • 2004 — Documented genocide and sexual violence in Darfur in support of international               prosecutions
  • 2010 — Investigated the epidemic of violence spread by Burma’s military junta
  • 2011 — Championed the principle of noninterference with medical services in times of               armed conflict and civil unrest during the Arab Spring
  • 2012 — Trained doctors, lawyers, police, and judges in the Democratic Republic of the               Congo, Kenya, and Syria on the proper collection of evidence in sexual               violence cases
  • 2013 — Won first prize in the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention with MediCapt, our               mobile app that documents evidence of torture and sexual violence

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