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“All human beings are born free and equal

in dignity and rights.”

- Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Protecting Health Care During Armed Conflict

Wednesday, October 30, 2019 - 10:00am
2200 Rayburn House Office Building


Please join the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission for a hearing on the protection of health care in armed conflicts and other situations of collective violence.

In conflicts and situations of violence around the world, doctors and health practitioners often face attacks while trying to save lives. Attacks against medical workers, hospitals and health facilities, or against the wounded and sick, undercut the delivery of urgent medical care when people need it most.

Sometimes, state militaries or non-state armed groups specifically target doctors or hospitals, a brutal war tactic that is prohibited by international humanitarian law (IHL) or the laws of armed conflict. Other times hospitals and health workers are not purposefully targeted, but are nevertheless harmed because of the failure of a belligerent actor to take precautions required by international law, or due to an operational mistake. In either case, an attack on one health facility can have devastating consequences. In addition to the immediate injury and death they may cause, these attacks can deprive thousands of people of life-saving care and may have far-reaching and long-lasting effects, leading to public health crises like the 2017 cholera epidemic in Yemen.

Three years ago, the United Nations Security Council passed a landmark resolution, UNSCR 2286, that condemned attacks on health care, exhorted compliance with international laws protecting health care, and called upon states to take steps to prevent such attacks and ensure accountability for those that occurred. Unfortunately, many independent observers argue that states have not done enough to implement the resolution or curb the disturbing pattern of attacks on health care. In 2017 Peter Maurer, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), observed that “[w]e are at risk of creating a ‘new normal’: too many actors are legitimizing attacks [on health care] as "collateral damage" rather than outrageous violations.”

The hearing will examine the scope of this global problem, take stock of what has been done to address it, and explore practical solutions, including policy recommendations for Congress and the U.S. government.

The hearing will be open to Members of Congress, congressional staff, the interested public, and the media. The hearing will be livestreamed via the Commission website and will also be available for viewing on Channel 53 of the House Digital Channel service. For any questions, please contact Kimberly Stanton at 202-225-3599 (for Co-Chair McGovern) or Piero Tozzi at 202-225-3765 (for Co-Chair Smith).

Hosted by:

James P. McGovern
Member of Congress
Co-Chair, TLHRC
Christopher H. Smith
Member of Congress
Co-Chair, TLHRC

Opening Remarks


  • Leonard Rubenstein, Director, Program on Human Rights and Health in Conflict, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, and Chair, Safeguarding Health Care in Conflict Coalition
    Written testimony
  • Alexandra Boivin, Head of Regional Delegation for the U.S. and Canada, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
    Written testimony
  • Randall Bagwell, Senior Director, International Services, American Red Cross (ARC)
    Written testimony
  • Susannah Sirkin, M.Ed., Director of Policy and Senior Advisor, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR)
    Written testimony  
  • Dr. Larry Lewis, Research Director, CNA
    Written testimony 


Submitted for the Record




116th Congress