Physicians must be considered as Neutral in Armed Conflicts and Civil Unrest

(15.10.2011) Physicians and other health care personnel must be considered as neutral in armed conflicts and situations of violent civil unrest, the World Medical Association declared in a statement today. They must not be prevented from fulfilling their ethical, moral and professional duties.

At its annual General Assembly in Montevideo, Uruguay, the WMA said that hospitals and other medical facilities had frequently been attacked and medical personnel had been killed or wounded. Yet warring parties had a duty not to interfere with medical care for wounded or sick combatants and civilians, and not attack, threaten or impede medical functions.

The meeting called for the appropriate international bodies to start collecting data about assaults on physicians, other health care personnel and medical facilities in armed conflicts. It also suggested the setting up of a new United Nations post of Rapporteur on the independence and integrity of health professionals.

Dr. Mukesh Haikerwal, chair of the WMA, said: ‘These attacks on physicians put people in need of help in great danger and can lead to the flight of physicians and other health personnel from the conflict areas.

‘It is surprising that at the moment no-one is responsible for collecting data about assaults on medical personnel and facilities. We want to change that. We believe that all attacks must be properly investigated and those responsible for the violations of the Geneva Conventions and Protocols must be brought to justice.'

The new rapporteur being proposed by the WMA would have the task of ensuring that doctors were allowed to move freely and that patients had access to medical treatment, without discrimination as to nationality or ethnic origin, in war zones or in situations of political tension.