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Obituary Dr. Jonathan Fine

IFHHRO mourns for Dr. Jonathan Fine, who died at age 86 on Wednesday 17 January in his house in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Jonathan Fine had been one of the founders of Physicians for Human Rights in Boston in 1986, and was a very outspoken Director.

He was convinced that medical testimonies of human rights violations were important and pivotal in establishing human rights violations, in bringing the perpretators to court and in rehabilitating the victims.

Fact-finding missions, facilitating forensic investigations of mass murders, and torture cases made Physicians for Human Rights a key player in the international community of human rights organizations.

Co-founder of IFHHRO

Jonathan Fine was also one of the founders of IFHHRO in the late 1980s. Together with the then Chair of the Dutch Johannes Wier Foundation for health and human rights, Dr. Adriaan van Es, Jonathan Fine decided that health-related human rights advocacy should have an international forum. Many organizations joined this initiative, such as Amnesty International, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Physicians for Human Rights in Israel, the UK, and Denmark, the British Medical Association, CEHAT India, the Nationaal Medical Associations of Turkey, Norway, and South Africa, and many others.

Jonathan Fine’s input and inspiration has been crucial for IFHHRO. After he had stepped down from PHR, he always kept a keen interest in our cause. He also was a personal friend and colleague, always focusing on the interests of others, with a keen intuition for strategy and publicity.

Jonathan’s health had deteriorated over the last few years, but he maintained his clear, critical and inquisitive mind to the end.

Further reading: Obituary in the Boston Globe , 22 January 2018, and information about his contribution to Physicians for Human Rights on the website of PHR


Health and human rights violations in the Human Rights Watch World Report 2018

A quick scan of the latest annual report of Human Rights Watch reveals a number of health-related human rights violations that have taken place in 2017. Most infringements included in the report can be categorized into the following categories:

  • Sexual and reproductive health and rights – e.g., a new law criminalizing all abortions, without exceptions, in Angola, and the withdrawal of funding for SRHR services in the USA
  • Refugees and asylum seekers – e.g., delays and sometimes even denial of medical care in Manus and Naura (Australian detention centres in PNG), lack of access to services in Lebanon, and overcrowded and inhuman conditions in refugee centres on the Greek islands
  • Access to medicines – e.g., shortages in the supply of essential medicines in Mozambique and Venezuela, and lack of access to pain medication for people with cancer in Ukraine
  • Environmental pollution – e.g., poisoned drinking water in Bangladesh and Canada, and open burning of waste in Lebanon
  • Stigmatization and discrimination – e.g., of people with disabilities in Armenia and transgender people in Azerbaijan

To give you an idea of the type of infringements listed in the report, we have excerpted five country-specific examples highlighting these issues below.

Angola: Access to legal abortion

Women’s reproductive rights were threatened after parliament approved an amendment to the abortion law on February 24, making all abortions illegal. As part of the process of replacing Angola’s 1886 penal code, the government had proposed a bill that would criminalize abortion, except in cases of rape, or when the mother’s health is in danger. However, parliament rejected that proposal and made abortion, without exceptions, illegal and punishable by 4-10 years’ imprisonment. Parliament passed the first reading of the bill without any public consultations, and activists accused parliamentarians of ignoring their views. The final vote on the draft penal code, which had been scheduled for March 23, was cancelled and the bill was withdrawn pending further debate after women marched on the streets supporting the right to abortion. At time of writing, a new version of the abortion bill had not been submitted to parliament.

Lebanon: Access to services for refugees

As the Syrian refugee crisis continued, an estimated 80 percent lack legal status. […] Lebanon’s residency policy makes it difficult for Syrians to maintain legal status, heightening risks of exploitation and abuse and restricting refugees’ access to work, education, and healthcare. According to humanitarian organizations, an estimated 80 percent of [the approximately 1.5 million] Syrians in Lebanon now lack legal residency and risk detention for unlawful presence in the country.

Ukraine: Access to pain medication

Tens of thousands of patients with advanced cancer suffer from severe pain every year. The regulatory reforms adopted in recent years that made oral morphine available to patients have not been fully implemented. Healthcare workers lack proper education and training in pain treatment, or simply refuse to change their practices.

Bangladesh: Arsenic poisoning of drinking water

Bangladesh again failed to address its decades-long problem of arsenic in drinking water, with the World Health Organization estimating that 40 million people in the country are affected by arsenic poisoning. In February, three United Nations special rapporteurs published a joint letter raising their concerns which they had sent to the government the previous year, and to which the government had not responded. In 2017, the government finally began to relocate about a third of the approximately 300 tanneries out of Hazaribagh, a residential area of Dhaka, to a dedicated industrial zone in Savar just outside the capital. The tanneries produce environmentally hazardous waste containing chemicals such as sulfur, ammonium, and chromium. However, many continue to operate in Hazaribagh, in contravention of multiple High Court orders, most recently in March. In November, the government announced that the move to Savar had been delayed again and would not be completed until 2019.

Armenia: Discrimination and ill-treatment of people with disabilities

Following its March review, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities commended the government’s commitment to inclusive education by 2025 and other steps, but raised concerns about lack of accessibility; discrimination; institutionalization of children with disabilities; neglect, inhuman treatment, and deprivation of liberty of persons with disabilities in institutions; deprivation of legal capacity; inadequate support for living independently in communities; and barriers to accessing inclusive education.

Source: World Report 2018. Events of 2017. Human Rights Watch, January 2018

Read more on these issues and the right to health in our Topics section:   | discrimination |  | people with disabilities


Kenya: Doctor demands legalization of female genital mutilation

A female doctor in Kenya has filed a court case to demand the legalization of female genital mutilation (FGM), as she claims the ban on FGM is discriminatory. Dr Kamau argues that the outlawing of female circumcision is against the culture of many African communities and should be reviewed. She said all females, especially adults, should be allowed to make choices regarding their bodies without being restricted by legislation.

Dr Kamau also wants the Kenyan Anti-FGM Board, which has been spearheading the campaign against the practice, to be abolished. After filing her petition on January 17th, she said: “Female circumcision is practised differently from one community to another, but it can be made safe. It is a minor surgical procedure that does not require anaesthesia or being put into a theatre.”

Counterproductive to women’s rights

Many organizations and individuals have objected to Dr Kamau’s opinions, and several organizations have offered to fight her case in court. The case will be heard at the Machakos High Court on February 26th.

In response, Adriaan van Es, Secretary of IFHHRO | Medical Human Rights Network said:  “IFHHRO strongly opposes any form of female genital mutilation. In our opinion, the court case initiative of Dr Kamau to have FGM legalized is counterproductive to protect the human rights of girls and women.”

WMA Statement

In the WMA Statement on Female Genital Mutilation (last revised in October 2016), the World Medical Association strongly condemns the “practice of genital mutilation or cutting of women and girls, regardless of the level of mutilation”, stating that “performing FGM is a breach of medical ethics and human rights, and involvement by physicians may give it credibility.” Thus, no physician should participate in these practices, and all National Medical Associations should prohibit any involvement by physicians in the practice of FGM, including re-infibulation after childbirth.

With regards to the medical and psychological consequences of FGM, the Statement reads: “FGM has no health benefits and harms girls and women in many ways, regardless of which procedure is performed.  Research shows grave permanent damage to health, including: haemorrhage, infections, urinary retention, injury to adjacent organs, shock and very severe pain. Long-term complications include severe scarring, chronic bladder and urinary tract infections, urologic and obstetric complications, and psychological and social problems. FGM has serious consequences for sexuality and how it is experienced, including the loss of capacity for orgasm. There are also many complications during childbirth including expulsion disturbances, formation of fistulae, and traumatic tears of vulvar tissue.”

Main source: News article Daily Nation, 18 January 2018