Attacks against health workers and services

October 29, 2013

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The United Nations General Assembly and Human Rights Council should act on the recent report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health about attacks against health workers and services, the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition states. The report was presented to the General Assembly on October 24, 2013. It describes a wide range of abuses occurring against health workers and highlights the need for better monitoring and accountability.

“The Special Rapporteur’s report shows how attacks on health workers and medical facilities imperil health workers and disrupt access to health care,” said Leonard Rubenstein, chairman of the coalition, which contains human rights, health, health professional, and other nongovernmental groups. “This is a call to action for the General Assembly and Human Rights Council to press governments to put a stop to these attacks and punish those responsible.”

Protect health workers

The special rapporteur’s report is the first UN human rights analysis to describe comprehensively the responsibilities of countries to provide and protect health workers and services in conflict. The report also addresses the practice of using criminal laws and other punitive measures to threaten or arrest health workers for providing care to disfavored groups.

Issues addressed, among others, in the report are:

  • Health workers and health-care services under attack by non-state armed groups.
  • The responsibity of governments for assuring accessible, affordable, quality, and non-discriminatory health services, even when resources are constrained by conflict.
  • Denying health services, obstructing humanitarian aid, or interfering with the underlying conditions that affect health as a strategy to target specific communities based on their ethnic, religious, or political affiliation.
  • The use of checkpoints and roadblocks that restrict access to aid or health care.
  • The lack of thorough investigation when attacks occur, and the absence of systematic data collection to determine the global frequency of attacks.

Expanded monitoring and reporting

The Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition urges the UN high commissioner for human rights to support expanded monitoring and reporting of attacks on health workers and services, and for the Human Rights Council to pass a resolution reaffirming the obligations of countries never to attack health workers and to ensure that they are protected. “Too often, when health workers, ambulances, or hospitals are attacked, there is no accountability,” said Joe Amon, health and human rights director at Human Rights Watch, a member of the coalition. “The special rapporteur’s report should shame governments into ending impunity for these outrageous and unlawful attacks.”

The Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition consists of the following organisations: Alliance of Health Organizations (Afghanistan), Doctors for Human Rights, Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Friends of the Global Fund Africa (Friends Africa), Global Health through Education, Training and Service, Insecurity Insight, International Council of Nurses, International Health Protection Initiative, International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, Karen Human Rights Group, North to North Health Partnership (N2N), Pakistan Medical Association, and University Research Company.

Source: UN: Act to end attacks on health workers. Expert’s report urges expanding monitoring, ending impunity, website, 24 October 2013