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PHR applauds introduction of medical neutrality protection act

For Immediate Release

Representatives Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Walter Jones (R-NC)introduced a bill today that will protect medical neutrality around the world. Thisbill, the Medical Neutrality Protection Act of 2011 (H.R. 2643) (pdf),would allow the U.S. government to do several things: end military aid tocountries committing violations of medical neutrality, keep individuals whocommit these crimes from entering the United States, mandate inclusion of violationsof medical neutrality in State Department annual reports, and push for theestablishment of a Special Rapporteur for Medical Neutrality at the UnitedNations Human Rights Council.

Medical professionals often risk their lives and security toprovide essential services, and they must be able to uphold this duty topatients and others in need without fear of violence, retribution, or arbitraryarrest. The importance of protecting medical professionals, facilities, andtransport from attack makes up the foundation for the norm of medicalneutrality, which is firmly grounded in international humanitarian law,professional codes and ethics, and international human rights law. Violationsof medical neutrality include attacks on health care facilities, medicalpersonnel, and patients; wanton destruction of medical supplies; willfulobstruction of medical ethics; deliberate misuse of health care facilities,services, uniforms, or insignia; deliberate blocking of access to health carefacilities and care; and arbitrary arrest or detention of medical professionalsor patients.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) researchers documentedviolations of medical neutrality related to uprisings in Bahrain earlier thisyear. In Bahrain, PHR investigated thegovernment’s takeover of hospitals, intimidation of patients, and arrest andprosecution of doctors as part of its crackdown on popular dissent.

“Physiciansfor Human Rights and the medical community are deeply grateful to CongressmenJim McDermott and Walter Jones for their outstanding leadership on the issue ofmedical neutrality,” said Dr. Robert Lawrence, Chairman of the Board ofDirectors of Physicians for Human Rights. “The Medical Neutrality ProtectionAct of 2011 for the first time shines a bright light on serious human rightsviolations which strike at the heart of communities at large all over theworld. The act introduced today in the U.S. House of Representatives makes itcrystal clear that the United States will not tolerate any attacks under anycircumstances on medical professionals, hospitals, equipment and supplies, orwill turn a blind eye to any interference with the ability to seek medicaltreatment or the ability to provide it without concern of politics, religiousaffiliation, or ethnic background. We urge the U.S. Congress to pass thiscrucial piece of legislation immediately, and call on President Obama to signit into law.”

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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