Attacks on Health Care | Medical Neutrality

A physician’s ethical responsibility to provide care during time of war is identical to that during time of peace.

When armed forces bomb hospitals, attack ambulances, and target healthcare providers, the effect on the sick and injured is devastating. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) promotes medical neutrality – the principle of noninterference with medical services in times of armed conflict and civil unrest. 

For more than 30 years, PHR has documented violations of medical neutrality around the world. Physicians and other health professionals have a duty to treat patients regardless of their background – the concept known as medical neutrality. The international code of medical ethics, first adopted by the World Medical Association (WMA) General Assembly in 1949, states that a “physician shall give emergency care as a humanitarian duty unless he/she is assured that others are willing and able to give such care,” and “always bear in mind the obligation to respect human life.” 

Although governments have the obligation to protect physicians’ impartiality to objectively heal the sick and treat the injured, sometimes, physicians face persecution for their nondiscriminatory treatment of the injured and sick. PHR continues to document the deliberate targeting of health care systems and personnel, and advocates to hold violators to account. We have investigated and spoken out against attacks on medical neutrality in Bahrain, Egypt, El Salvador, Kashmir, Iraqi-occupied KuwaitPanamaSyria, ThailandTurkey, and the former Yugoslavia, among others.

Fact Sheets:

Introduction to Medical Neutrality

Effective Protections for Health Care Workers Under International Human Rights Law

Medical Neutrality and the Use of Weaponized Tear Gas in Bahrain

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