ResourcesPress Release

PHR-Led Bill to Protect Health Workers Introduced

Legislation Would Help Safeguard Medical Professionals and Facilities During Unrest

For Immediate Release

PHR today helped introduce a bill that would protect health workers globally from increasing attacks during times of war and unrest, and ensure they can continue to provide services without fear of violence, retribution, or arrest.

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) today introduced the bipartisan bill, called the Medical Neutrality Protection Act of 2013, which he also introduced in the 112th Congress. Medical neutrality is the principle that requires governments not to interfere with the functioning of health services during conflict and civil unrest. Violations can include attacks on health care facilities, medical staff and patients, as well as destruction of medical supplies, misuse of health care facilities, and arbitrary arrests of medical professionals and patients.

“Health workers often put themselves at great risk in order to provide essential services, and may witness grave human rights abuses in the course of helping the wounded,” said Dr. Deborah Ascheim, who chairs PHR’s board of directors. “This bill aims to stop the disturbing rise in attacks against health professionals so they can continue to do their important work, and also serve as human rights defenders. It sends a signal that the United States does not tolerate these kinds of deliberate violations, and allows for concrete actions in order to stop them.”

McDermott said: “Since I first introduced this bill in July 2011, we have heard of widespread cases, particularly in the Middle East and Africa, where physicians and medics are arrested, detained, interrogated and even tortured for caring for the wounded. The call to medicine goes beyond political parties and doctors must be allowed to honor their consciences. Countries that persecute their medical professionals do not deserve our military aid funded by American taxpayers.”

The bill introduced today in the U.S. House of Representatives authorizes essential measures to deter the attacks and hold perpetrators accountable by:

  • withholding military assistance from violator countries
  • imposing visa bans on the responsible individuals
  • encouraging the United States to help establish a special rapporteur on medical neutrality
  • mandating the inclusion of medical neutrality in the U.S. State Department’s annual human rights reports

Since 1988, PHR has documented violations on medical workers, including the recent systematic attacks on doctors in Bahrain, jailing of doctors in Iran, and targeting of medical facilities and health workers in Syria as well as the former Yugoslavia. PHR’s experts have also testified in Congress about the growing need to address violations of medical neutrality around the globe.

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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