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For Immediate Release

PHR-Led Bill to Protect Health Workers Introduced

Legislation Would Help Safeguard Medical Professionals and Facilities During Unrest

Media Contact

Vesna Jaksic Lowe, MS

Media Relations Manager, New York
Tel: 917-679-0110

Cambridge, MA - 05/16/2013

PHR today helped introduce a bill that would protect health workers globally from increasing attacks during times of war and unrest, and ensure they can continue to provide services without fear of violence, retribution, or arrest.

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) today introduced the bipartisan bill, called the Medical Neutrality Protection Act of 2013, which he also introduced in the 112th Congress. Medical neutrality is the principle that requires governments not to interfere with the functioning of health services during conflict and civil unrest. Violations can include attacks on health care facilities, medical staff and patients, as well as destruction of medical supplies, misuse of health care facilities, and arbitrary arrests of medical professionals and patients.

“Health workers often put themselves at great risk in order to provide essential services, and may witness grave human rights abuses in the course of helping the wounded,” said Dr. Deborah Ascheim, who chairs PHR’s board of directors. “This bill aims to stop the disturbing rise in attacks against health professionals so they can continue to do their important work, and also serve as human rights defenders. It sends a signal that the United States does not tolerate these kinds of deliberate violations, and allows for concrete actions in order to stop them.”

McDermott said: “Since I first introduced this bill in July 2011, we have heard of widespread cases, particularly in the Middle East and Africa, where physicians and medics are arrested, detained, interrogated and even tortured for caring for the wounded. The call to medicine goes beyond political parties and doctors must be allowed to honor their consciences. Countries that persecute their medical professionals do not deserve our military aid funded by American taxpayers.”

The bill introduced today in the U.S. House of Representatives authorizes essential measures to deter the attacks and hold perpetrators accountable by:

  • withholding military assistance from violator countries
  • imposing visa bans on the responsible individuals
  • encouraging the United States to help establish a special rapporteur on medical neutrality
  • mandating the inclusion of medical neutrality in the U.S. State Department’s annual human rights reports

Since 1988, PHR has documented violations on medical workers, including the recent systematic attacks on doctors in Bahrain, jailing of doctors in Iran, and targeting of medical facilities and health workers in Syria as well as the former Yugoslavia. PHR’s experts have also testified in Congress about the growing need to address violations of medical neutrality around the globe.

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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