For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 

Megan Prock
Senior Press Officer
mprock [at] phrusa [dot] org
Tel: (617) 301-4237

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

WASHINGTON - 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, non-profit organization that uses medical and scientific expertise to investigate human rights violations and advocate for justice, accountability, and the health and dignity of all people. 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, Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, the United States, the former Yugoslavia, and Zimbabwe.

  • 1988 — First to document Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against Kurds
  • 1996 — Exhumed mass graves in the Balkans
  • 1996 — Produced critical forensic evidence of genocide in Rwanda
  • 1997 — Shared the Nobel Peace Prize for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines
  • 2003 — Warned of health and human rights catastrophe prior to the invasion of Iraq
  • 2004 — Documented and analyzed the genocide in Darfur
  • 2005 — Detailed the story of tortured detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan,
    and Guantánamo Bay
  • 2010 — Showed how CIA medical personnel sought to improve waterboarding and other interrogation techniques that amount to torture

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PHR was founded in 1986 on the idea that health professionals, with their specialized skills, ethical duties, and credible voices, are uniquely positioned to investigate the health consequences of human rights violations and work to stop them. PHR mobilizes health professionals to advance health, dignity, and justice and promotes the right to health for all.

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