New Medical Neutrality Exemption to “Material Support” Bar to Asylum is Applauded

Physicians for Human Rights commends Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano’s decision to create an exemption to the “material support” bar for health professionals who have provided medical assistance to wounded combatants. The decision is a major victory for health professionals who were forced to provide health care to alleged terrorists during armed conflict. Previously, medical professionals forced to provide care to members of terrorist organizations, some under the threat of torture or death, were denied asylum in the US.

For years, PHR has been at the forefront of an effort to include an exemption for health professionals to the “material support” bar. PHR has advocated on behalf of those affected by the bar; those fleeing persecution yet denied asylum because they complied with internationally-recognized ethical duties to treat anyone who is ill or wounded.

In 2006, PHR drew attention to the issue by submitting an amicus brief in support of a Nepalese healthcare worker. The healthcare worker was denied asylum after being forced at gun point to treat a member of a Maoist guerrilla group. PHR has also written literature on the topic, submitted a statement to the Senate subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, educated members of Congress, briefed DHS, and conducted advocacy on the Hill.

DHS’s sweeping interpretation of the material support bar squarely conflicted with internationally-accepted principles of medical ethics and humanitarian law and contradicted health care providers’ ethical duty to treat anyone in need,regardless of the person’s political affiliation. Denial of humanitarian protection to these health professionals also clashed with US policy which supports medical neutrality and the protection of health workers in war.

About Physicians for Human Rights

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is an independent organization that uses the integrity of medicine and science to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations against individuals. We are supported by the expertise and passion of health professionals and concerned citizens alike.

Since 1986, PHR has conducted investigations in more than 40 countries around the world,including Afghanistan, Congo, Rwanda,Sudan, the United States, the former Yugoslavia, and Zimbabwe:

  • 1988 First to document Iraq’suse of chemical weapons against Kurds
  • 1996 Exhumed mass graves in the Balkans
  • 1996 Produced critical forensic evidence of genocide in Rwanda
  • 1997 Shared the Nobel Peace Prize for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines
  • 2003 Warned of health and human rights catastrophe prior to the invasion of Iraq
  • 2004 Documented and analyzed the genocide in Darfur
  • 2005 Detailed the story of tortured detainees in Iraq,Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay
  • 2010 Presented the first evidence showing that CIA medical personnel engaged in human experimentation on prisoners in violation of the Nuremberg Code and other provisions

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