Today the State Department released its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) applauds Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Michael Posner, and the staff of the State Department for their tireless work in producing these reports, which catalogue a number of human rights violations in nearly 200 countries during 2011.
PHR also thanks the Administration for breaking new ground in its human rights reporting by including a greater focus on medical neutrality in this year’s country reports. During the past year, PHR has documented violations of medical neutrality during the Arab Spring, including violations in Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, and Syria. Such violations include the arrest and torture of medics, militarization of health facilities, obstruction of health care access, and related abuses, which have a detrimental impact on the entire community.
However, PHR encourages the Administration to standardize the collection of information regarding violations of medical neutrality across the globe. The Administration should, as a matter of policy, adhere to the principle set forth in the Medical Neutrality Protection Act (HR 2643) which would mandate the inclusion of medical neutrality in each individual country report, similar to other legally mandated reporting requirements.
The inclusion of information on attacks on health care in the Libya report, for example, is a clear recognition of the significance of the principle of medical neutrality, but this important theme is absent from other country reports. PHR has collected information from partner organizations in Burma, for example, that relates to attacks on medical professionals and the obstruction of access to medical treatment. Documenting and disseminating information regarding attacks on health care on an international level will not only raise the profile of this alarming trend, but will also mobilize states to take concerted action to stop these violations, deter future attacks, and hold perpetrators accountable.