Events in Chile in 1981 signaled the first global call for PHR founders to stop human rights atrocities against health professionals, no matter where they were happening. In 1981, Dr. Jonathan Fine, who later came to found PHR in 1986, had responded to an unusual call for a delegation of U.S. physicians to fly on short notice to Chile to press for the release of three Chilean doctors held by the brutal dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.
The presence of an American medical delegation in a court room in Valparaiso, Chile caused the military judge to tremble. Within an hour, the medical professionals were allowed entry to the prison to meet the Chilean doctors, who had just emerged from the hands of the notorious CNI security forces. Five weeks later, the doctors were released.
In addition to advocating for many other health professionals persecuted for their defense of human rights during those traumatic years, PHR spent four years conducting detailed research and investigations on specific cases and their wider impact families and communities in Chile, publishing a report Sowing Fear: the Uses of Torture and Psychological Abuse in Chile, revealing that since 1978, medical examinations of victims had been incorporated routinely into government agencies’ torture programs. The report also described the cases of physicians and other health professionals who had been harassed, imprisoned, tortured, and killed by Chile’s security forces.