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Brussels: Protecting health services requires good laws

31-01-2014 News Release

Brussels (ICRC) – Domestic legislation must reflect medical ethics, according to leading experts attending a workshop on legal protection for medical services during armed violence.

Participants advocated ensuring that domestic legislation in every country protects health care. The specialists maintained that this would be more effective than drawing up one standard set of rules. Concrete steps could include better protection for traditional medicine, expanded mental health services and improved care for the victims of sexual violence.

The Brussels event brought together leading members of military medical services, lawyers, academics and government specialists from more than 20 countries, together with representatives of such major international bodies as the World Health Organization, the World Medical Association and the International Council of Nurses.

"It is very impressive to see so many different professions in the same room, and such a high level of representation," said Benjamin Goes, advisor to the Belgian prime minister and co-chair of the workshop. "Violence against health care is a complex issue and we need this diversity of views if we are to find real solutions."

The workshop was co-organized by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Belgian Interministerial Commission for International Law and the Belgian Red Cross, as part of the Health Care in Danger project, a global initiative to promote safe access to health care.

"There is enough international law on protecting health care, but there are still gaps in the laws of individual countries," explained Pierre Gentile, who heads the Health Care in Danger project. "Fortunately, many countries do have good legislation, and we can use that as a starting point."

Workshop participants highlighted the importance of having legal measures that govern the use of the red cross and red crescent emblems.

They recommended that national legislations should not only prohibit direct attacks on medical personnel and facilities, but should also outlaw obstructions to health care, such as interfering with ambulances.

The Health Care in Danger project is due to release a report containing detailed recommendations in June this year.


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