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 impartiality – 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.

Attacks on hospitals – both targeted and indiscriminate – have devastating impacts on civilians and are a defining element of the ongoing conflicts in the Gaza Strip, Syria, and Ukraine

“Health workers and health facilities are not targets. Under international law, hospitals are protected places. All parties must safeguard civilians, as well as all health care facilities, workers, and infrastructure.”

Sam Zia-Zarifi, PHR Executive Director

PHR has rallied attention and demanded accountability with respect to violent attacks on health in Ukraine, Syria, and in earlier years, in El Salvador, Chile, Yemen, 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 Türkiye, calling attention to its crackdown on dozens of doctors including Drs. Şebnem Korur Fincancı and Serdar Küni.

Following the Russian Federation’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, PHR raised the alarm about attacks on health. Our landmark 2023 investigation documents Russia’s brutal violence against Ukrainian hospitals and health workers, pointing to likely war crimes and potential crimes against humanity. 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.

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.

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