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Medical Neutrality Stories

Bahrain (2011)

Do No Harm: a Call for Bahrain to End Systematic attacks on Doctors and Patients [2]

“PHR investigators interviewed a young Bahraini man who was attending a wedding ceremony on 13 March 2011. Riot police attacked the wedding guests by firing tear gas canisters inside the communal hall. As the crowd fled, more police arrived from the other side of the building and began firing birdshot – from only several meters away – into the fleeing crowd. The riot police withdrew after one hour, at about 9:00 p.m. The youth whom Physicians for Human Rights interviewed and examined was injured by birdshot in the right upper arm (biceps brachii) and left lower extremity (gastrocnemious). He reported that he was too afraid to visit Salmaniya Hospital or the local medical center because he had heard that government authorities were disappearing patients. He said that with an unsterilized knife, he dug out approximately 70 metal pellets from his arm and leg.”

United States (2011)

Dual Loyalties: The Challenges of Providing Professional Health Care to Immigration Detainees [1]

“HuiLui Ng, a 34-year-old computer engineer married to a US citizen wife and father of two US citizen children, was taken into ICE custody during his final green card interview for allegedly overstaying a visa many years earlier. Ng was repeatedly transferred among jails and detention centers as his case was pending. During this time he experienced excruciating back pain and was too weak to walk, but security personnel denied his requests for a wheelchair and failed to take him to critical medical appointments for MRI or CT scans. When Hui eventually died in ICE custody, the medical examiner found a fractured spine and a body completely overcome with undiagnosed and untreated cancer.”

“Guido Newbrough was held in immigration detention for nine months while his case was pending. During that time a virulent staph infection took hold of his system, causing intense pain in his stomach and back. While Guido’s pleas to see a doctor went unanswered, his symptoms worsened dramatically until he was “sobbing throughout the night.” When Guido began pounding on a door in desperation and shouting for help, guards accused him of faking his illness and dragged him, shouting, into an isolation cell. By the time Guido was transported to the hospital, his heart had begun to fail and he was likely suffering from multiple organ failure, which may have been treatable by antibiotics. Two hours after Guido’s family arrived at the hospital, his heart stopped. Detention health care expert Dr. Homer D. Venters, who was called in by Guido’s family to review the autopsy report, observed that the errors in the care of Mr. Guido Newbrough were threefold. “First, Mr. Newbrough’s medical complaints were apparently ignored. Second, Mr. Newbrough was placed in a disciplinary setting while ill and despite having voiced medical complaints. Third, Mr. Newbrough was not adequately (if at all) medically monitored.”

Libya (2011)

32nd Brigade Massacre: Evidence of War Crimes and the Need to Ensure Justice and Accountability in Libya [3]

“Omar reported to PHR that the 32nd Brigade soldiers guarding the warehouse gave the detainees insufficient food and water, consisting of only a small piece of bread with a thin spread to eat for an entire day, or a handful of pasta; many of the men reportedly suffered severe constipation. Many detainees did not have bowel movements for weeks, and one reportedly suffered rectal prolapse after finally moving his bowels after five weeks of constipation. Guards left him for a day with his prolapsed rectum protruding out, and he physically deteriorated. Finally they brought in a doctor, who told the guards to send him to Mitiga military hospital where he spent one month recuperating before returning to the warehouse. The guards occasionally allowed this physician from Zleitan to treat detainees with shots of antibiotics and vitamins, but the physician later refused to return to the detention facility.”

“PHR interviewed “Ali” (pseudonym) on 10 September 2011. Ali was initially detained sometime in mid-April 2011 at the warehouse in the Agricultural Compound at Khalat Al Forjan. He was then transferred in early August to another makeshift prison, apparently located on the premises of a Brazilian construction company (Odebrecht) located in Guser Bin Gashir, Tripoli, where he was a witness to six summary executions of detainees. Ali is a day laborer who stated that he had no political affiliations, but began supporting the revolutionary forces as of 19 February, preparing them meals in Martyr’s Square in Zawiya.

“At that time Qaddafi forces were attacking the city, trying to retake Zawiya. One night, around nightfall, after he had just cooked for the different groups in the square, Ali and a group of revolutionary forces in Zawiya came under attack. Tanks reportedly fired 14.5mm shells into the crowd in Martyr’s Square. Revolutionary forces returned fire, but were heavily out gunned. Ali was not carrying a weapon, but retreated with others to a nearby mosque. Heturned the corner and was suddenly hit by shrapnel. His left foot, leg, thigh, and lower abdomenwere severely wounded. Rebels carried him to an ambulance and drove him to Zawiya hospital where he underwent emergency surgery.

Ali stayed overnight in the hospital, where he heard that Qaddafi forces may attack and occupy the hospital. Ali called his brother to take him home, but as soon as he got in his brother’s car, the wound in his leg broke open and began bleeding heavily. His brother brought him back to the hospital where doctors immediately operated on him a second time. Ali’s leg was placed in a cast, and he stayed a second night in hospital before returning home.

The next day, family members who worked at the same hospital told Ali that Qaddafi forcesoverran the hospital and arrested wounded patients on suspicion of being combatants. Ali recuperated at home for the next month.”


Burma (2010)

Life Under the Junta: Evidence of Crimes Against Humanity in Burma’s Chin State [4]

“PHR spoke with a 46-year-old man living with his wife and seven children, five of whom are under fifteen years of age. The family, Chin and Christian, lives in Paletwa Township. He describes himself as feeling depressed and hopeless nearly every day during the past two weeks and shares that his entire family has faced religious persecution by the Burmese army within the past year. More than one family member was tortured with deadly weapons by army troops in the last 12 months, he explains. Family members have been forced to relinquish livestock, food and money to state authorities, which this man interprets as means to kill his family and make them flee. Though there is a public health facility in his township (a full day’s walk away), no one in this man’s family has received treatment from a medical doctor, nurse, or community health worker within the past year. He fears being denied care because of his religion or ethnicity.”

“In February 2010, Physicians for Human Rights spoke with a 39-year-old Chin man living in Hahka Township. He, his wife, and their 12-year-old daughter were conscripted for 26 days of forced labor during the past year.

The Village Peace and Development Council (VPDC) forced them to build roads, porter, grow jatropha, and engage in other forms of forced labor last year. The family still paid 3,000 kyat ($3 USD) in fines to avoid further forced labor duties. In addition to the VPDC’s demands for money, tatmadaw soldiers demanded that this family provide troops with livestock.

His health is poor, he says, and he has felt depressed nearly every day over the past two weeks. He shares that his family has had difficulty obtaining reliable medical care nearby; a medical health worker denied family members treatment this year, during a time when someone in his house was very sick and unable to get medical care in Chin State. He fears being denied treatment because of his religion.”

United States (2005) 

 Break Them Down: Systematic Use of Psychological Torture by US Forces [6]

“In certain cases, such as in Abu Ghraib military intelligence section, methods of physical and psychological coercion used by the interrogators appeared to be part of the standard operating procedures by military intelligence personnel to obtain confessions and extract information. Several military intelligence officers confirmed to the ICRC that it was part of the military intelligence process to hold a person deprived of his liberty naked in a completely dark and empty cell for a prolonged period to use inhumane and degrading treatment, including physical and psychological coercion, against persons deprived of their liberty to secure their cooperation.”

Kosovo (1999)

War Crimes in Kosovo: A Population-Based Assessment of Human Rights Violations Against Kosovar Albanians [5]

“I don’t know how many, but there were lots of tanks and armored vehicles. I saw more than 150 paramilitary wearing different uniforms. I saw some police and paramilitary with masks. I went at 6 a.m. to alert the doctor that we all had to leave the house because we were surrounded. When they tried to go in one valley, used as a cover from shelling, the police started shooting. I heard more than 50 shots. My brother in law (brother of the doctor) left the house and went to the valley. But the doctor stayed in the house. He said, ‘I am a doctor. I‘m a health worker.’ I was 50 m from him. They told him, ‘you are exactly the person we are looking for’ and shot him. We buried the body—it had a lot of bullet wounds.”

“On April 5, I went to report to work. I used to work in the internal diseases department in Kosovska Mitrovica. At about 11:00 a.m., armed soldiers with masks and guns came in and ordered us to separate into groups of Albanian and Serbs. No one from our Serb colleagues tried to help us. We had only five minutes to leave the hospital. They didn’t allow us to even undress so I left in my white uniform. I saw a lot of patients running out also as they had been dressed as patients. In our department, we had some disabled persons and I don’t know what happened to them. I am especially concerned about my patients from the surgery department.”

“Everybody was closed in their homes. We had no freedom of movement. If a doctor was on duty from that part of the city, he had no chance for movement. I was the last one who worked because my house is close to the hospital. But we realized it was impossible to work and we closed the maternity service…At that time four women were there to deliver. There were no doctors or midwives with them. They left because they were also unsafe, they have no security to stay.”

Former Yugoslavia (1996)

 Medicine Under Siege in the Former Yugoslavia (1991-1995) [7]

“On the morning of May 26, 1992, I had an extremely difficult time getting to the hospital because of heavy sniper fire and blockades. The front lines of the Serb forces were by then only about fifty meters from our hospital. When I finally arrived, I found our staff and patients alike were excited and terribly frightened. Those who had been on call could not get home; in all we had six nurses and three physicians. I contacted our territorial defense commander who reassured me that he considered it unlikely that Serbian forces would bombard us directly because they knew our building was a hospital, and one for children at that. He told us not to be frightened. Nonetheless, we began to move all our patients down as close to the ground floor as possible.

About 4 o’clock we realized our hospital was being directly bombarded. We simply could not believe this at first. We decided quickly that we must evacuate, since there was no safe place for our children. The Obstetric and Gynecologic Hospital was one hundred meters from us, a larger building with a basement that could be used as a shelter…

Our neo-natal ward contained seventeen newborns, mostly prematures from outside Sarajevo. To evacuate these infants we had to remove them from their incubators. Each of us carried two to three babies and ran to reach the basement of the Obstetric and Gynecologic Hospital. Bullets and shells fell all around us as we ran carrying the children. The noise was awful. By the time we could evacuate the thirty-three children, we were exhausted…We finally succeeded in moving all of our patients to the basement of the Obstetric and Gynecologic Hospital where we joined their patients (105 mothers and their newborns, seventy-five gynecologic patients, and some neighborhood mothers and children taking refuge in the hospital), and forty-eight staff members. About five minutes after we had left our clinic, a grenade fell on our neo-natal unit, destroying every incubator and incinerating the unit. Had we waited even a few minutes more, all of our babies would have burned alive…

As we huddled in the basement we could hear heavy shelling of the building directly over our heads. When we called for help by way of a shortwave radio we learned that one floor after another was collapsing on top of us. The patients and mothers were screaming and crying. This went on for hours, for an eternity…[In the morning], trucks and cars arrived and we evacuated the patients to [Kosevo Hospital] two kilometers away. As we left, we were still being fired at; fortunately, no one was killed. However, because of the lack of incubators, warmth, and oxygen, nine of our babies died.”