Turkey: UN, global experts warn against criminalizing independent medical care in emergencies

Anand Grover, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

9 December 2013 – A United Nations human rights expert and the World Medical Association (WMA) today urged the Turkish parliament to reconsider a draft law that would criminalize the provision of medical care by qualified independent practitioners during emergencies after the arrival of a state ambulance.

“If adopted, Article 33 will have a chilling effect on the availability and accessibility of emergency medical care in a country prone to natural disasters and a democracy that is not immune from demonstrations,” UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Anand Grover, said in a news release.

“Enacting laws and policies criminalizing provision of medical care to people challenging State authorities, such as political protestors, will certainly deter healthcare workers from providing services due to fear of prosecution,” he warned.

“Sanctioning such laws and policies will also discourage other segments of the population from seeking health services due to fear of being suspected in the involvement in protests,” he added.

Both Mr. Grover and the WMA have written individually to the Turkish Government expressing their grave concern about the requirements of Article 33 of the draft health bill, and called on parliamentarians to “scrap it.”

WMA Secretary General Otmar Kloiber pointed out that “in times of urgency, from earthquakes to floods to protests and demonstrations, the international standards for emergency medical care are based on the medical need of the wounded and sick rather than the presence of official medical transport.”

The two experts noted that international medical and human rights standards make it clear that it is a humanitarian duty of doctors, nurses, paramedics, and other health workers to give emergency care to those in need.

“They must be able to carry out their professional responsibilities without interference or fear of reprisal,” they said.

UN independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.


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