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For Immediate Release

PHR applauds introduction of medical neutrality protection act

Cambridge, Mass. - 07/26/2011

Representatives Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Walter Jones (R-NC) introduced a bill today that will protect medical neutrality around the world. This bill, the Medical Neutrality Protection Act of 2011 (H.R. 2643) (pdf), would allow the U.S. government to do several things: end military aid to countries committing violations of medical neutrality, keep individuals who commit these crimes from entering the United States, mandate inclusion of violations of medical neutrality in State Department annual reports, and push for the establishment of a Special Rapporteur for Medical Neutrality at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Medical professionals often risk their lives and security to provide essential services, and they must be able to uphold this duty to patients and others in need without fear of violence, retribution, or arbitrary arrest. The importance of protecting medical professionals, facilities, and transport from attack makes up the foundation for the norm of medical neutrality, which is firmly grounded in international humanitarian law, professional codes and ethics, and international human rights law. Violations of medical neutrality include attacks on health care facilities, medical personnel, and patients; wanton destruction of medical supplies; willful obstruction of medical ethics; deliberate misuse of health care facilities, services, uniforms, or insignia; deliberate blocking of access to health care facilities and care; and arbitrary arrest or detention of medical professionals or patients.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) researchers documented violations of medical neutrality related to uprisings in Bahrain earlier this year. In Bahrain, PHR investigated the government’s takeover of hospitals, intimidation of patients, and arrest and prosecution of doctors as part of its crackdown on popular dissent.

“Physicians for Human Rights and the medical community are deeply grateful to Congressmen Jim McDermott and Walter Jones for their outstanding leadership on the issue of medical neutrality,” said Dr. Robert Lawrence, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Physicians for Human Rights. “The Medical Neutrality Protection Act of 2011 for the first time shines a bright light on serious human rights violations which strike at the heart of communities at large all over the world. The act introduced today in the U.S. House of Representatives makes it crystal clear that the United States will not tolerate any attacks under any circumstances on medical professionals, hospitals, equipment and supplies, or will turn a blind eye to any interference with the ability to seek medical treatment or the ability to provide it without concern of politics, religious affiliation, or ethnic background. We urge the U.S. Congress to pass this crucial piece of legislation immediately, and call on President Obama to sign it into law.”

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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