ResourcesPress Release

Eight Million Dollar Gift Jumpstarts New Era for Physicians for Human Rights

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) announced today that it will receive an $8 million gift from the Open Society Foundations (OSF), a longtime funder of PHR’s crucial work in harnessing the powerful voices of science and medicine to prevent and investigate human rights atrocities worldwide. The contribution, spaced over four years, will power a new era in the 30-year-old organization’s history, allowing the New York-based PHR to make critical investments in its work and to expand the network of health professionals and human rights advocates globally.

“We are incredibly honored to receive this grant from the Open Society Foundations and are humbled to work in partnership with OSF to further the cause of human rights,” said PHR’s executive director, Donna McKay. “We already pride ourselves on being nimble and adaptive – a lean organization with an outsized footprint – and this transformative gift will allow us to build a global network of health professionals committed to advancing human rights at a time when evidence-based advocacy and scientific expertise is needed more than ever.”

PHR also announced today it will embark on a $16 million fundraising campaign that will help the organization vastly increase the number of health professionals working to further human rights protections in the United States, East and Central Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere. The OSF gift to PHR is structured as a challenge grant – meaning that OSF will donate one dollar for every two dollars in new funding PHR can raise over the next four years. The entire effort will allow PHR to invest in new technologies and train more health professionals to use their medical and scientific expertise to present evidence that speaks truth to power.

“Health professionals play a vital role in securing freedom, peace, and justice for people around the world,” said Chris Stone, president of the Open Society Foundations, who will formally announce the gift at tonight’s PHR gala in New York City. “Physicians for Human Rights is a powerful institution that prioritizes partnerships and engagement with local communities to help them become part of a global movement. We are proud to support PHR’s path-breaking work.”

The gift stems from OSF’s goal to strengthen critical institutions that promote values like justice, truth telling, and openness – and to invest in organizations with strong leadership. In recent years, PHR has provided forensic evidence from mass graves that helped convict former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic for war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity; spearheaded efforts to release an imprisoned human rights defender in Türkiye; led a 13-year campaign against the complicity of health professionals in the post-9/11 torture program in the United States; and documented more than 1,200 attacks on medical workers and medical facilities in Syria since March 2011, all of which are classified as war crimes.

“By definition, doctors and health professionals set out to alleviate human suffering and improve the human condition,” said PHR’s McKay. “Medicine and science are also about truth, and we at PHR have been working to solidify our role as a place for doctors, nurses, psychologists, students, and others to rally under the banner of humanity, human decency, truth, and justice. Today, in the shadow of demagoguery and xenophobia that’s been cast across the United States and the world, it’s critical to engage those who believe in the truth – who believe in the power of evidence – to join with us in our global fight to end impunity and promote human rights.”

Among the organization’s accomplishments, Physicians for Human Rights shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for its work as part of theInternational Campaign to Ban Landmines. PHR investigated the devastating effects of landmines, mobilized the health community, and participated in meetings that led to the international Mine Ban Treaty. PHR also spearheaded the exhumation and forensic examination of human remains from mass graves in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia in cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunals for those countries.

“Stretching from our early work in the Middle East, the Balkans, and Latin America in the 1980s and extending to our work in Syria today, Physicians for Human Rights has always been motivated by the belief that doctors and health professionals can and must be defenders of human rights everywhere,” said Dr. H. Jack Geiger, co-founder and former board chair of PHR. “That core belief hasn’t changed, but we are also ready and willing to adapt. It’s what makes PHR the dynamic organization I was so proud to help start.”

“For the past five years, I’ve been honored to lead PHR into a new era in its history,” PHR’s McKay said. “The timing of this gift couldn’t be more critical, both as PHR grows and as the world becomes more chaotic and more dangerous. We face a refugee crisis of unprecedented proportions, conflicts rippling across the Middle East and North Africa, dictators and tyrants thirsting for power rather than doing what’s right. With this gift and the contributions to come, we at PHR will stand as a bulwark against impunity and lawlessness and as a force for propagating the core values that animate health professionals and human rights advocates worldwide.”

Photos of PHR’s work worldwide:

  • A Syrian physician being trained by PHR to document evidence of torture
  • A group of protesters from New York City’s medical and human rights communities take part in a PHR “die-in” to protest the targeting of health professionals and medical facilities in Syria
  • PHR Executive Director Donna McKay (right) after the trial of Turkish human rights defender and long-time PHR partner Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı (left) in 2016
  • The director of PHR’s Program on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones, Karen Naimer, speaks with Dr. Désiré Munyali Alumeti, a pediatric surgeon and forensic doctor at Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • PHR Asylum Network member Dr. Katherine McKenzie demonstrates torture documentation at her clinic at the Yale Center for Asylum Medicine
  • PHR partners from the Afghanistan Forensic Science Organization take part in a grave exhumation exercise in Bamyan province, Afghanistan
  • PHR researcher Christine Mehta (far right) speaks with family members of people killed by Turkish security forces in the country’s southeast

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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