Protection of Health Care in Armed and Civil Conflict
February 2, 2012
Written by Leonard S. Rubenstein
During recent uprisings in Bahrain, Syria, and Libya, security forces obstructed access to health facilities; harassed, arrested, and prosecuted medical personnel; and even assaulted patients within hospitals. Assaults like these have long been part of the landscape of armed and civil conflict. They jeopardize the lives and well-being not only of those directly attacked but of others who may never be able to access the health care they need. Yet, for decades, a paucity of regular reporting on the frequency, dynamics, and impacts of these assaults; lack of attention to strategies to prevent attacks; and absence of accountability mechanisms for those who perpetrate assaults has allowed these assaults to continue with impunity.
In the past year, though, action at the U.N. Security Council, the World Health Organization, and the U.S. Department of State, combined with a new campaign by the International Committee of the Red Cross and civil society mobilization, led to potential breakthroughs in three key dimensions of protection – documentation, prevention, and accountability. The opportunity to better protect health services during conflict is palpable.