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Legislation In Congress Is ‘Good Start’ To Raising Awareness Of, Preventing Attacks On Medical Workers

Attacks, kidnappings, and the murders of health care workers in the uprisings taking place across the Arab world violate principles held in the Geneva Conventions and international human rights treaties, Richard Sollom, deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights, writes in this Global Post opinion piece. “Recently I briefed the U.S. Congress on eight proximate causes — which I describe below — for the recent rise in such abuses across the Arab world,” he says. The eight causes include the unaccountability of military forces; medical workers have first-hand knowledge of the extent and responsible party of attacks; health care workers sometimes are viewed as “helping the enemy” and are attacked out of retribution; “perceived political activism”; “discrimination based on religious identity”; and “[o]f course error is a possible cause for violations of medical neutrality,” he notes.

“To address the issue of medical neutrality globally and thwart future attacks on doctors by rogue governments, Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) and Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) recently introduced the Medical Neutrality Protection Act of 2011 (H.R. 2643),” which would “mak[e] the protection of medical personnel a global policy priority for the U.S. government and [establish] accountability for violations of medical neutrality,” Sollom writes. “Such a law would require the Secretary of State to compile a list of governments that violate these international norms” and “would also trigger targeted sanctions on the sale of military equipment to these countries and visa bans for individual perpetrators,” he notes, concluding, “H.R. 2643, along with a future companion piece of legislation currently being ironed out in the Senate, is a good start to highlighting and preventing the spread of such egregious attacks against medical workers” (4/6).