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Medical Neutrality Protection Act
The Medical Neutrality Protection Act of 2011 (H.R. 2643) is a bipartisan bill, largely drafted by PHR, that makes the protection of medical professionals and access to medical services a global policy priority for the US government. The bill also calls for the creation of a UN Special Rapporteur on the Protection and Promotion of Medical Neutrality. Upon introduction, the legislation was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and to the House Judiciary Committee for further consideration.
This toolkit provides details on the Medical Neutrality Protection Act and actions that can be taken to support its passage. The toolkit also provides a brief introduction to the principle of Medical Neutrality, its foundation in medical ethics and international law, and violations of Medical Neutrality.
A downloadable version of this toolkit is also available:
For the more on PHR’s work promoting the Principle of Medical Neutrality, visit our website .
The Medical Neutrality Protection Act of 2011 (H.R. 2643) is a bipartisan bill, largely drafted by PHR, that makes the protection of medical professionals and access to medical services a global policy priority for the US government. The bill also … Continue reading
What is medical neutrality?
PHR promotes the principle of noninterference with medical services in times of armed conflict: warring factions must protect civilians; allow sick and wounded civilians and soldiers both to receive care regardless of their political affiliations; and refrain from interfering with medical facilities, transport, and personnel. This is medical neutrality.
Medical neutrality ensures:
- The protection of medical personnel, patients, facilities, and transport from attack or interference;
- Unhindered access to medical care and treatment;
- The humane treatment of all civilians; and
- Nondiscriminatory treatment of the injured and sick.
Violations of medical neutrality occur when, for instance, civilians are turned into deliberate targets during times of war or civil unrest. Armies shell cities, obstruct the flow of food and medical supplies, and use human shields. Militaries undermine health care and retaliate against the health professionals who treat the sick and wounded. Violations of medical neutrality can rise to the status of war crimes, a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions, which govern the laws of war. As well, during periods of civil unrest, violations of medical neutrality can violate important human rights treaties such as the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Convention on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the Convention Against Torture (CAT).
What countries are affected by violations of medical neutrality?
Unfortunately, violations of medical neutrality are not unique to any one country, region, or type of government. PHR has published 27 pieces documenting violations of medical neutrality in over 14 countries from 1988-present, including: Panama (1988); Chile (1988); El Salvador (1990); Kuwait (1991); Somalia (1992, 1997); Thailand (1992, 2010); India (1993); Yugoslavia (1996); Russia (2002); Iraq (2003); United States (2003-2007); Sri Lanka (2009); Saudi Arabia (2010); Libya (2011); and the Middle East and North Africa region (2011). This list is not exhaustive, and does not cover all of the countless conflicts during which violations of medical neutrality have occurred.
What does H.R. 2643, the Medical Neutrality Protection Act of 2011, do?
Introduced in the House in July 2011, the Medical Neutrality Protection Act of 2011  establishes accountability for violations of medical neutrality by: 1) withholding military assistance from violator countries (including bans on the transfer of military weapons or equipment, military education and training, financing to buy US defense items, and licenses for direct commercial sales); 2) placing visa bans on individuals responsible for violations of medical neutrality; 3) encouraging the US to use its voice at the United Nations Human Rights Council to establish a Special Rapporteur on medical neutrality; and 4) mandating the inclusion of medical neutrality in the annual State Department Country Human Rights Reports. This bill does not limit humanitarian aid to any country.
Why do we need this bill?
The principle of medical neutrality draws upon three key categories: international humanitarian law, international human rights law, and professional medical ethics. But there is a gap in the current state of the law. The Geneva Conventions, for example, apply during times of armed conflict, but PHR has documented egregious violations of medical neutrality in countries such as Syria and Bahrain, where the conflict is not categorized as an armed conflict, but instead only rises to the level of civil unrest, which is not governed by the Geneva Conventions.
This bill closes the gap in applicable law and ensures that medical neutrality can be protected at all times, not only in a time of war. This bill will also encourage policymakers to view violations of medical neutrality for the crimes that they are, and not natural collateral damage from civil unrest. The bill authorizes a strong U.S. response to violations of medical neutrality abroad whether they are committed during wartime or peacetime. The bill sends a clear message that the U.S. will not tolerate violations of medical neutrality anywhere they may occur.
What is the bill’s current status?
The bill has been introduced in the House and referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement. There are 13 cosponsors, or official supporters of the bill. PHR is currently engaging Senate offices to encourage champions of human rights to introduce a Senate version of the bill. For updates on the status of the bill, please contact PHR’s Washington, D.C. office at (202) 728-5335.
What would this bill mean for US policy?
This means that the United States:
- Will consider the protection of medical neutrality a priority in its foreign affairs policies, and will use its influence to further the cause of medical neutrality worldwide;
- Will support the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on the Protection and Promotion of Medical Neutrality in the United Nations;
- State Department must compile a list of nations in violation of medical neutrality, publish the list, and inform the countries that they have been placed on the list of violators; and
- Will not provide certain types of military assistance, including weapons sales, to countries determined to have violated norms of medical neutrality.
Will humanitarian aid be revoked for countries that violate medical neutrality?
This bill would not affect humanitarian aid. In the interest of assisting all those in need, humanitarian assistance may still be granted to nations found to have violated principles of medical neutrality.
What implications would this bill have on the livelihoods of doctors and their patients?
Medical professionals have an ethical duty to provide care and treatment to those in need, without discrimination, even in times of conflict. But during conflict and civil unrest, health care professionals, facilities, and patients too often come under attack. These attacks are not a natural part of conflict, but are deliberate violations of the principle of medical neutrality.
Attacks on medical professionals prevent them from providing unbiased care to those in need, in violation of their ethical obligations. In addition, individuals are often deterred from seeking medical treatment, even when faced with a serious medical condition, for fear that they might be abused when seeking treatment. As a result, medical professionals may be inhibited or even prohibited from providing any medical treatment to patients, and patients may likewise be inhibited or prevented from seeking medical treatment as a result of government attacks on doctors and patients.
Such an outcome would limit a medical service provider’s ability to perform his or her job adequately, and could endanger the health of patients, who may not be able to return to work after falling sick or becoming injured. As a result, a government’s failure to protect principles of medical neutrality can have devastating consequences for the livelihoods of medical professionals as well as their patients.
What can I do?
The most important thing you can do is get the word out about the Medical Neutrality Protection Act (H.R. 2643). You can write or call your Representative and express your support of this important legislation. You can also tell your friends about the bill, and encourage them to get involved.
What is medical neutrality? PHR promotes the principle of noninterference with medical services in times of armed conflict: warring factions must protect civilians; allow sick and wounded civilians and soldiers both to receive care regardless of their political affiliations; and … Continue reading
Student Network groups are encouraged to hold meetings with their peers to engage them in, and educate them about, medical neutrality. Holding an informational meeting requires some advanced planning, so you will want to think about what your goals are and how you plan to achieve them beforehand.
- Determine what type of meeting you wish to have. Will it be open only to your student group, or will you open it up to the public? Will you host the meeting jointly with another student group? Will you ask attendees to act individually in support of the medical neutrality bill, or do you plan to use the meeting to organize a group action?
- Once you have identified your group’s goals for the meeting, make arrangements to secure a meeting space, date, and time. Do you know how many people you expect to attend? Do you have access to a meeting space suitable for the anticipated number of participants? Is the space quiet enough to allow group members to comfortably engage in a discussion? Is the date and time convenient for most members? Will you provide food and beverages, or will the meeting be held in or close to an establishment that sells snacks?
- Prepare an agenda for the meeting. You may wish to begin with introductions, if there are new participants at the meeting. If there are any new members whose contact information you don’t have, be sure to ask them to sign in so you have a way to reach them after the meeting. Be sure to inform new participants about your student group. Also be sure to inform all participants of the meeting agenda, or provide copies of it, so they can identify the appropriate time to bring up an issue or ask a question. Keep participants on track so you can maximize productivity.
- Ask participants to take a specific action on the medical neutrality bill. You may wish to ask participants to send a letter, call their Representative, or join in a group visit to their Representative’s office. Whatever it is, be sure to be specific about the requested action and what the expectations are in terms of a time commitment.
- Follow up with participants after the meeting. Be sure to contact participants within a week after the meeting to thank them for their participation, and to follow up with them about the planned action (if there is one), or to provide an update on an action they took at the meeting (e.g., if they signed a letter to their Representative, you can inform them that the letter has been mailed, faxed, or emailed, and that you are awaiting a reply).
- Incorporate feedback from the meeting into plans for future meetings or events. Offer participants an opportunity to provide feedback on the meeting or the action, and then incorporate their feedback into plans for future meetings or events. For instance, you might ask participants what they enjoyed about the meeting, or what prompted them to want to take action on the medical neutrality bill. You may learn that a participant has a particular skill or background (e.g., in medicine or in journalism) that could prove useful in future actions (e.g., a person with a medical background might be able to provide a unique perspective when meeting with policymakers or their staff, while a person with a background in journalism may be able to help your group publicize its actions on the medical neutrality bill).
Student Network groups are encouraged to hold meetings with their peers to engage them in, and educate them about, medical neutrality. Holding an informational meeting requires some advanced planning, so you will want to think about what your goals are … Continue reading
- Medical ethics have been in existence for over 2,300 years, and cross cultural boundaries.
- Doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals are trained to treat those in need – regardless of politics, race, or religion – and governments must respect that duty.
- Attacks on health professionals and the sick and wounded violate the principle of medical neutrality and are grave breaches of international law.
- Violations of medical neutrality include:
- Attacks on health care facilities, medical personnel, and patients;
- Wanton destruction of medical supplies;
- Willful obstruction of medical ethics; deliberate misuse of health care facilities, services, uniforms, or insignia;
- Deliberate blocking of access to health care facilities and care; and
- Arbitrary arrest or detention of medical professionals or patients.
- Laws of war protect the sick and wounded and the medical professionals who treat them during times of armed conflict. However, during periods of civil unrest, these same rights are not granted the same equally-deserving level of protection or definition under international human rights law.
- The Medical Neutrality Protection Act of 2011:
- Authorizes the United States to withhold military assistance to countries found to be in violation of the principle of medical neutrality; and
- Calls for the Secretary of State to provide a list of countries that currently violate medical neutrality, and requires the State Department to include medical neutrality violations in the annual State Department Country Human Rights Reports;
- Encourages the US to use its voice at the UN Human Rights Council to establish a Special Rapporteur on medical neutrality.
Medical ethics have been in existence for over 2,300 years, and cross cultural boundaries. Doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals are trained to treat those in need – regardless of politics, race, or religion – and governments must respect that … Continue reading
Hosting a panel or speaker can be a great way to attract attention to your group and to the issue you wish to promote. As importantly, seasoned and well-informed speakers can help to educate group members and the public about medical neutrality. For suggestions on guest speakers in your area who can speak credibly about medical neutrality, please contact Andrea Gittleman at PHR via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via telephone at (202) 728-5335.
Hosting an event featuring a panel speaker can take over a month to plan, so there are a number of steps you’ll want to consider.
- Identify the discussion topic(s) or focus of the event in advance (ideally, 2-4 months). You will need to determine the focus of the event before you can identify an appropriate panel or speaker to address that issue. In addition, when inviting speakers, you will want to be able to tell them what the theme of the event is, and what issues you hope they can address. Finally, travel planning and logistics can take some time to iron out, so it is important that you give your group ample time to plan the event, and that speakers have ample time to accept the invitation and make travel arrangements. Likewise, if a speaker cancels, you will need the extra time to identify and invite somebody else.
- Send an invitation to your speaker or panelists. Be very clear about the topic you would like your guest to address. For instance, you may wish for your guest to discuss violations of medical neutrality in a particular country or region, or you may wish for them to discuss the legislative process so that attendees can better understand how the Medical Neutrality Protection Act will proceed through Congress.
- Determine whether your speaker or panelists have special requirements. After you’ve sent out your invitation to your speaker or panelists, and once they responded, either to accept the invitation or to ask questions about the event, you will want to determine whether the speakers expect a fee, honoraria, or other expense (e.g., travel expenses) that your group will need to cover. If they do expect some financial compensation, you will need to find out when the speaker expects to receive it (e.g., in advance of the event or at the event). Many speakers offer to do participate on a volunteer basis.
- Develop an agenda for the event. Be very clear about start and end times, as well as the order of presentations. Even if you only plan to host one speaker at the event, rather than a panel, you will still want someone from your group to do introductions. At the end of the presentation, that person should also offering concluding remarks thanking the speaker, and should ask people to take action (see next step for ideas).
- If possible, meet the speaker when they arrive. You may wish to welcome your guest speaker personally to your campus or group meeting site. If they have made arrangements to stay at a hotel or other nearby destination, you might offer to take them to their destination.
- Ask attendees to take action in support of the medical neutrality bill. In addition to asking attendees to sign in so you can keep in touch with them after the event, you may also wish to have guests take part in other actions related to the medical neutrality bill. For instance, you might prepare some pre-written letters that attendees can sign, include a sign-up sheet for people to take part in a Call-In Day, or set out information packets about the medical neutrality bill. If you decide to ask participants to sign and send a letter to their Representative, you may want to bring a laptop (and be sure that you have internet connection at the event site) so you can look up the participant’s Representative, as not everyone will know who their Member of Congress is. If you include a sign-in sheet for attendees to participate in a Call-In Day, be sure to get the attendee’s contact information so you have a way to follow up with them. You can set these tools and resources, along with a sign-in sheet, out at a table by the entrance to make it easier for participants to take action on the medical neutrality bill both before and after the event.
- Thank the speaker and participants for attending. Be sure to send an email to the guest speaker to thank them for taking the time to share their expertise with your peers. Be sure to also reach out to participants who attended the event to thank them for their interest, and to share information with them about future events.
Hosting a panel or speaker can be a great way to attract attention to your group and to the issue you wish to promote. As importantly, seasoned and well-informed speakers can help to educate group members and the public about … Continue reading
How to Contact PHR Student Network Staff
If you have questions or need guidance on a particular issue, you can contact Andrea Gittleman at (202) 728-5335. Additional online resources are available to student groups at http://phrtoolkits.org/ .
How to Contact PHR Student Network Staff If you have questions or need guidance on a particular issue, you can contact Andrea Gittleman at (202) 728-5335. Additional online resources are available to student groups at http://phrtoolkits.org/.
This video provides a brief introduction to the principle of medical neutrality, its foundation in medical ethics and international law, examples of violations of medical neutrality, and steps that can be taken to protect and promote the principle.
This video provides a brief introduction to the principle of medical neutrality, its foundation in medical ethics and international law, examples of violations of medical neutrality, and steps that can be taken to protect and promote the principle.
Host a Write-In Campaign
A letter-writing campaign can be a great way to urge your Representative to support a major legislative issue or champion a cause crucial to health and human rights. Gather your friends, faculty, classmates, and local community members to write letters to your Representative. Bring sample letters for everyone to replicate or use as a draft. Call the office of your elected official to find out the e-mail address of the staff member who works on foreign policy or human rights issues. Then, address the letter to your Representative and fax or e-mail the letter to the appropriate staff contact. Finally, follow up on the letter writing campaign with a phone call to your Representative’s office.
Petitions and postcard campaigns can demonstrate to your Representative that there is substantial agreement in your PHR chapter, campus, or larger community on this important legislation. To identify your Representative, please visit http://www.house.gov/representatives/  .
Sample Letter 1
The Honorable [Firstname Lastname]
[Room #] [Building Name] House Office Building
United States House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Representative [Lastname]:
As your constituent, I write to urge you to support H.R. 2643, the Medical Neutrality Protection Act of 2011. This bipartisan bill aims to strengthen existing international legal protections against violations of medical neutrality for health care workers and the sick and injured during times of war and civil unrest.
Doctors have an ethical duty to prevent illness and care for the sick and wounded without regard to politics, race, or religion. During times of conflict, governments too often interfere with this duty by attacking medical professionals who treat individuals in need of medical attention, blocking access to medical facilities, and arbitrarily arresting and detaining health care workers and individuals seeking care. Regrettably, these violations of medical neutrality are not new: such violations have been documented in countless conflicts around the world. This bipartisan bill would elevate these issues as a policy priority for the U.S. government so that countries that violate norms of medical neutrality face repercussions.
Under H.R. 2643, the U.S. would be authorized to withhold military assistance from governments that violate medical neutrality and government officials from the violating countries will not be eligible for visas to travel to the United States.
I strongly encourage you to use your leadership to ensure that physicians, nurses, and other medical workers are able to provide nondiscriminatory treatment for the sick and wounded, without punishment, in accordance with their ethical obligations. Please support the Medical Neutrality Protection Act of 2011. Thank you for your consideration.
Host a Call-In Campaign
Organizing a Call-In Day can be a very effective way to advocate policymakers and to engage your peers. Congressional staffers keep track of who calls in to their offices every day, and what issues constituents are concerned about. Make sure your issue rises to the top by getting 20, 50, or 100 or more of your classmates to call your Representative’s office in one day.
Organizing a Call-In Day is easy. First, create materials about your issue. You’ll need a call-in script for people to follow, so they have the facts right there in front of them. This script should be short, just a few sentences–calls to offices usually last less than 2 minutes, so the script should be concise and powerful. You may also want to prepare a one page fact sheet. A fact sheet will teach potential callers more about your issue, why they should care, and what impact their action can have on health and human rights. Finally, you need the phone number to the office–DOUBLE CHECK to make sure it works before you share it with others!
Once you have the phone number, script, and facts, it’s time to plan an outreach strategy. Got an active email list? Send out an e-alert. For a more immediate impact, set up a table in a busy area of campus, and ask everyone to pull out their cell phones and make a call. Have PHR chapter members make the same ask in every class they are in on the Call-In Day. Work with other groups, too: reach out to the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) or other campus groups and see if they want to join the Call-In Day. Blog about it. Be creative—there are many ways to publicize a call-in day to ensure maximum exposure and impact.
Follow-up is important too. Within a few days of the Call-In Day, make official contact with your Representative’s office. See if they want or need more information. You will be on their radar screen—offer yourself as a resource and help make sure your issue remains at the top of their list!
To identify your Representative, please visit http://www.house.gov/representatives/  .
Sample Call-In Script
Call the congressional switchboard and ask to be connected to your Representative: (202) 224-3121.
My name is ________ and I am a constituent living in Representative ________’s district. [Note: You may be asked to provide your zip code or address to verify that you are a constituent.]
I want to urge Representative ________ to support H.R. 2643, the Medical Neutrality Protection Act of 2011, which will help strengthen existing protections for medical workers and their patients during times of war and civil unrest.
Representative ________ must use his/her leadership to ensure that physicians, nurses, and other medical workers are able to provide nondiscriminatory treatment for the sick and wounded, without punishment, in accordance with their ethical obligations.
Thank you for taking the time to share my concerns with Representative ________.
Meet with Your Representative
Schedule a meeting with your Representative by calling their Washington, D.C. or District Office and speaking with their Scheduler. To contact your Representative at his or her Washington, D.C. office, call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected to your Member’s office.
Allow sufficient lead time when calling for an appointment. The more advanced notice the office has, the more likely that your Representative will attend the meeting. Even if the Member cannot attend, it can still be very beneficial to meet with a staff member who is knowledgeable about human rights issues and who may be able to “sell” H.R. 2643 to his or her boss.
To maximize the impact of your meeting, try to schedule your visit to coincide with a milestone: a report that has just been released, recent media coverage of attacks on health care in a particular country, a related bill that is being deliberated, etc. Refer to the Physicians for Human Rights website (www.physiciansforhumanrights.org ) to identify recent reports or media coverage on medical neutrality that could tie in to the reason for your visit.
Don’t bring a large group—three or four people should suffice. Be sure that your group includes people from the legislator’s district, are from constituencies that the member cares about (religious or civil groups, for example), and are articulate and confident.
Practice what you will say beforehand, and keep your presentations brief and to-the-point. It may be useful to prepare an agenda beforehand to share and discuss with your group prior to meeting with the Representative or his or her staff.
Host a Write-In Campaign A letter-writing campaign can be a great way to urge your Representative to support a major legislative issue or champion a cause crucial to health and human rights. Gather your friends, faculty, classmates, and local community … Continue reading