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Human rights

Dadaab Refugee Camp in Somalia

Human rights and medical practice are rooted in fundamental principles including respect, dignity, fairness and equality.

The BMA has always advocated the highest standards of human rights in healthcare, both for clinicians and patients.

We typically intervene in cases in which doctors are involved. For example, where there has been interference with medical impartiality or where doctors themselves have become victims or human rights violations.

We will also intervene on behalf of patients where they have been prevented from accessing health care or where there are serious infringements on patients' right to health.

Our procedures for human rights interventions were drawn up with advice from Amnesty International and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

'Doctors are in a special position in regard to human rights...[w]e're the first to witness human rights abuses wherever they take place around the world and there are many states that attempt to co-opt doctors and the exercise of medical authority to justify the political ends they're pursuing. We have to remember at all times what our duty is as doctors. The primary occupation of any doctor is to promote the well-being of their patients...[r]espect for patients must be at the heart of healthcare."

Dr Mark Porter, Former BMA Council Chair, August 2014.

Most recently, we have spoken out against:

  • Continuing attacks on medical personnel and facilities in areas of conflict
  • The continuing assaults on the medical profession in Turkey
  • The attacks on medical personnel and medical facilities in Sudan
  • The prevention of access to healthcare in Israel
  • The prevention of access to healthcare and breaches of medical neutrality in Nicaragua
  • Raising awareness of the health implications of the refugee crisis

In addition, our Ethics and Human Rights team publishes advice and guidance on health-related human rights issues. For example, the report 'Locked up, locked out: health and human rights in immigration detention' explores the role of doctors in protecting and promoting the health-related human rights of detained individuals. The Ethics and Human Rights team also engages with and lobbies on health-related human rights issues.

Access our Ethics and Human Rights publications.


BMA action on human rights

Find out more about our human rights advocacy: 

  • Doctors as victims

    Turkey: Imprisonment of doctors 

    Egypt: Canadian doctor begins hunger strike in custody

    Iran: Death penalty for doctor

    Sudan: Death penalty for pregnant doctor

    Read more


  • Medical impartiality

    Nicaragua: Persecution of physicians for providing care to certain groups

    Sudan: Attack on Omdurman hospital 

    Afghanistan: Coalition bombing of MSF hospital

    Syria: Deaths of doctors in custody

    Bahrain: Breaches of medical neutrality

    Gaza: Shelling of medical facilities

    Turkey: Breaches of medical neutrality

    Read more


  • Patients as victims

    Nicaragua: Prevention of access to healthcare by security forces

    Gaza: Prevention of access to healthcare

    France: Refugees denied basic aid supplies

    Iran: Mistreatment of prisoners, prevention of access to healthcare

    Uganda: Anti-homosexuality law

    Read more


  • Doctors' involvement in human rights violations

    Iran: State affiliated doctors participate in executions

    United States: Medical involvement in force-feeding at Guantanamo

    Vietnam: Health Ministry sources drugs for lethal injections

    Read more