Focus Areas | Attacks on Health Care

PHR documents the deliberate targeting of health care systems and personnel, and advocates to hold violators to account.

PHR has always stood firmly by the longstanding humanitarian principles upholding medical neutrality – that doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals have the obligation and right to treat those in need – regardless of politics, race, or religion. Attacks on health professionals violate the principle of medical neutrality and are grave breaches of international law.

PHR has rallied attention and demanded accountability with respect to violent attacks on health in Syria, Yemen, and in earlier years, in El Salvador, Chile and the former Yugoslavia. Addressing attacks on health care has been at PHR’s core since our founding members flew to Chile in 1981 where medical professionals were being persecuted under General Pinochet’s rule. Since then, PHR led a global campaign to free jailed doctors in Iran, and kept up the focus and pressure on the government of Turkey, calling attention to its crackdown on dozens of doctors including Drs. Şebnem Korur Fincancı and Serdar Küni.

The deliberate targeting of health care facilities, with devastating impact on civilians, is a defining element of the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen. Syria is among the worst examples of targeting medical care as a weapon of war, with hundreds of attacks on hospitals and medical facilities since 2011, and nearly 900 medical personnel who have been killed. Physicians for Human Rights has systematically documented these war crimes since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011. In Yemen, Al-Thawra Hospital has been directly targeted by dozens of mortar shells since the beginning of the conflict in March 2015. Read more about the toll of the conflict in PHR’s 2018 Yemen newsletters.

PHR advocates for the protection of health professionals who are upholding professional ethics and carrying out their duties without discriminating against patients, especially in places where local governments pursue attacks on health care workers and medical personnel, hinder access to sufficient medical treatment and practice discriminatory treatment of those injured or sick.