Human Rights Day Statement

The Human Rights are an intrinsic part of our daily existence. They are the principles that are keeping us alive and in the future they will be our purpose when we start to work as doctors. However there isn’t a single day that passes in which we don’t take them for granted and unfortunately we don’t realize how privileged we are compared to the majority of the world’s population: 21 million are modern day slaves [1], 783 million people do not have access to clean water [2], almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation [3], an estimated 10 million are stateless [4] and 22,200 children under 5 years die each day due to poverty [5]. The list of underprivileged people is never-ending and the net effect is always to decrease the quality of life and increase the amount of global health problems.

Often the cause of these problems is the belief that human life can be sacrificed for the upholding of an ideal. Conflicts occur because people are obstinate or narrow minded, unable to co-exist with someone who appears physically differently or behaves culturally different to the majority, or because they use a belief as an excuse to exploit others or dominate others based on political ideologies, cultural beliefs, religion, gender and gender identity, orientation, race or ability.

As IFMSA we believe that a medical student is not training to become any doctor, but that he or she is training to become a good doctor. A good doctor treats their patient with respect and dignity. The level of care for the patient will not be affected by who they are. A human being will always remain a human being in whatever circumstance and the diversity of the human race just helps break the monotony of our profession. If we lose this value then we lose the very reason we are enrolled in the course.

By adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the international community has taken on itself to ensure that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood, and today after more than six decades we IFMSA members want to express that we reaffirm and repeat our commitment to promoting, protecting and insuring its fundamental principles and values being acted upon through our actions and education worldwide.

Turning this vision into a reality requires both the persistent protection of such rights, increasing the awareness that they are fundamentally ours and giving space for active participation as global citizens. Setting aside a day to commemorate, educate and reflect on the principles that form the UDHR means celebrating the rights we exercise everyday as human beings, and acknowledging that enjoying those rights carries with it the responsibility of promoting these rights for all people.

For the past 31 years our Standing Committee on Human Rights and Peace does not just celebrate this event but it acts upon the principles that lead to the creation of the UDHR throughout the entire year. Our actions depend on the target groups but whatever the project organised we are directly or indirectly contributing to the reinforcement of the UDHR in the community. On this special day I invite members worldwide to join in our efforts to promote the UDHR and to continue working on SCORP projects throughout the year (as highlighted also in the UN’s 2014 theme: Human Rights 365 [6]). The World Human Rights Day League of Extraordinary SCORPions has created this manual as an easy to use tool to guide you in activities that can be organized at the local and national level to commemorate this special day [7].

Matthew Valentino
Director of the Standing Committee on Human Rights and Peace (SCORP)

2., 3.
5. State of the World’s Children, 2010 PDF formatted document, UNICEF, p.18-19.


Interview with Moa, IFMSA Liaison Officer for SCORP

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) recently interviewed Moa Herrgard, IFMSA Liaison Officer for Human Rights and Peace Issues (SCORP) about medical ethics. It was originally published online on Health Care in Danger Project Page:

IFMSA represents more than 1, 2 million medical students. We are the medical professionals of tomorrow, future global health leaders and change makers of today. We empower and assist our members to implement their dreams and thereby create a change in the community around them during a crucial period of their careers. We have recently with support from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Health Care in Danger project recognized the need of enhanced actions to adders the violence towards health care workers and facilities within conflicts.

IFMSA is a very active NGO representing medical students in more than 100 countries. Why do you think it is important that medical students are involved in the Health Care in danger project?

Within the medical curriculum worldwide, the issue of health ethics while under threat of violence or legal action has little or no inclusion. The knowledge regarding threats and violations of health relate aspects of international humanitarian law, human rights and health ethics, are typically poorly understood by medical students. In order to ensure that future health care personnel are fully aware about their professional ethics and the corresponding rights and responsibilities, it is important that students not only are given knowledge but also are presented with opportunities to discuss and reflect upon health ethics and its implications.  It is crucial that future medical professionals possess the insight in the medical behaviors important for ensuring health equality, and violations of health ethics in today’s and tomorrow’s society.  IFMSAs members will be the future physicians dealing with these issues, but the fact is that the situation is already affecting medical students around the world. There have been attacks, for example mentioned in Central Africa, on students who stayed to help in medical emergencies. These students had to take refuge in safe locations.

With necessary knowledge and skills medical students worldwide are natural actors in advocating for enhancing health ethics in the medical curriculum, with special attention to violations of health ethics in today’s society. This is a long term and sustainable but still concrete action in order to create the necessary change within the health care system and regain the respect for medical ethics, as well as equip health care workers with knowledge and skills on how to effectively act within scenarios of violence towards health care workers and facilities.

Young people have in the past repetitively proven strength of creating behavioral change in our local, national and global society. We have a unique capacity to raise awareness in our communities and amongst fellow peers and our federations multicultural and multinational platforms provide a basis of cultural and behavioral change. The current violations of human rights, medical ethics and international humanitarian law the on-going violence towards health care workers and facilities result in need this change as one action of creating a sustainable and long term end of the current problem. 

As future medical professionals our thoughts and opinions in discussions are important, as we are the inheritors of plans of actions to handle the situation

What is the role that IFMSA can play to raise awareness about this yet underestimated issue and promote concrete solutions?

IFMSA have a vision of a world where health care systems, health care personnel and patients, in conflict zones as well as in non-combat zones, enjoy the fullest respect in accordance with the principles stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is a world where health care personnel have the possibility to work in accordance with health ethics and are encouraged by society to do so without risk of personal threats or legal reprimands. There are an increased number of actors in international society recognizing the violence towards health care workers and facilities. Together we all share this vision.

Medical students are young people, ready and willing to take our responsibilities of addressing this problem based upon our resources. Young people and students have proven a unique capacity to raise awareness in our communities and amongst fellow peers and also lead cultural and behavioral change through our multicultural and multinational networks.

Can you explain us a little bit more in details your initiative “Ethical Principles of Health Care in Conflict and Other Emergencies “?

By initiating the project “Ethical Principles of Health Care in Conflict and Other Emergencies” IFMSA will take its responsibility in reaching the vision. This project is a platform for medical students worldwide to bring attention to one of the largest threat to medical ethics in history. We aim to take the attention from aspirational policy development to on-the-ground actions. 

Through the platform the project provide we will address the lack of knowledge of health ethics, including current threats against it as well as law set to protect it. It takes standpoint from ICRC’s project Healthcare in Danger and uses material produced by ICRC. We see the need to call upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Humanitarian Law and the Declaration of Geneva to raise awareness on threats toward health ethics among medical students, medical professionals as well as society. By this project we intend to create a behavioral change where health ethics have the fullest respect and health professionals are not hindered in its implementation.

The project “Ethical Principles of Health Care in Conflict and Other Emergencies” is expected to integrate components of delivering advocacy and building capacity amongst medical students through workshops, trainings and symposiums. The workshop is directed to medical students, providing basic knowledge on the topic and introducing participants to possibilities of further involvement in the project. The thematic symposium will in addition to this enhance the political focus on the issue of violence towards health workers, and the importance of medical professionals being aware of the current threat to health ethics, International Humanitarian Law and Human Right to Health. The training will more comprehensively increase medical students’ knowledge about health ethics, International Humanitarian Law and Human Right to Health, and threats concerning their implementations. Focus on and exemplified by violence towards health workers.

After perusing capacity building the medical students are fully prepared to deliver meaningful advocacy, create awesomeness campaigns and educated peer-to-per.

What are the achievements (linked to this specific initiative) that you foresee for the upcoming years?

Within the coming years we, the IFMSA, aim to achieve the following and thereby make a meaningful contribution to one of the largest threat to medical ethics in history.

  1. Future medical professionals have increased knowledge about health ethics, the medical behavior is important for ensuring health equality, and violations of health ethics in today’s society. Future medical professionals will have an appreciation of the challenges posed by violations of health ethics when medical professionals are either threatened by or the victims of violence.
  2. Medical students worldwide are equipped with skills and knowledge in order to advocate for enhancing health ethics in the medical curriculum, with special attention given to violations of health ethics in today’s society. Special attention has been given to the violations of health ethics when medical professionals and health care personnel are the victim of violence or threat of violence.
  3. A natural platform for medical students to discuss health ethics, obstacles in implementing it and the danger if it is not fully respected and maintained has been created.
  4. A natural platform for medical students to develop and implement peer-to-peer education of health ethics and violations of health ethics, including knowledge on the increasing violence towards health workers has been created.


Do you want to take actions toward a long term-solution of the violence towards health workers and facilities? Do you want to enhance the knowledge of this threat against health ethics amongst your fellow peers and equip them with capacities to make contribution in the global movement addressing this topic?

-> Contact Chiara Zanette (  at International Committee of the Red Cross Health Care in Danger Project and she will invite you to the Health Care in Danger platform. 

-> Contact the IFMSA Liaison Officer of Human Rights and Peace, Moa M Herrgård, to learn more about the IFMSA project Health Care in Danger – “Ethical Principles of Health Care in Conflict and Other Emergencies”. 


Time to Act – Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict

From 10th to 13th June 2014 in London (UK), government representatives from 120 countries together with over 1,000 experts, faith leaders, youth organisations and representatives of civil society, military and jurisdiction came together aiming to create an irreversible momentum against sexual violence in conflict and deliver practical actions that impact those on the ground. This gathering was chaired and hosted by the Right Honorable William Hague, British Foreign Secretary, and Angelina Jolie, UNHCR Special Envoy. The IFMSA considers the prevention of sexual violence in both conflict and peace, through education and empowerment of both women and men, to be of crucial importance.

2014.06 Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in conflict, IFMSA delegation

[The IFMSA Delegation in the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict]

Strengthening investigation, documentation and prosecution

Currently many legal systems, especially those in geopolitically-insecure areas, face a grave lack of avenues for the investigation, documentation and prosecution of gender based violence (GBV), particularly rape. For this reason involvement of the international community is of great importance. The available expertise and trained professionals can assist in those countries where technical assistance in investigation and documentation is mostly needed. Furthermore, training medical professionals, law enforcement and policemen to adequately collect evidence and document this in ways understandable to all professions greatly increases the chances of successful prosecution of the perpetrator. Especially, the physicians are crucial in in the evidence collecting process and consulted first by survivors of sexual violence. This double role of examining the patient to collect and document evidence, as well as providing psychosocial support throughout the entire process results to often in conflict of interest, which hamstrings the prosecution process . Next to support on the ground, the implementation of national laws should be stimulated, in order to support the local prosecutors.

Therefore, the international community was called upon to support the active participation of women in legal systems especially as prosecutors, judges and lawyers and, moreover, to assist developing countries in tapping into the wealth and expertise on the international level.  This may be helpful to mobilize professionals from across the globe, that are ready to rapidly deploy the areas where technical assistance in investigation and documentation in conflict is greatly needed. Utilising this expertise will in turn produce a good outlet and strengthen the prosecutor’s abilities to bring successful cases against perpetrators. National law framework should be actively promoted.  When national laws fail to prosecute adequately, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has the privilege and also obligation to intervene. In accordance to the ICC Rome Statue of 1998 this can be done, because GBV can be (and was) categorised as torture and, thereby, as crime against humanity and/or war crime. Truth and reconciliation commissions can be also a powerful tool for this.


“The key is eliminating impunity and having consequences up and down the chain”

John F. Kerry, US Secretary of State

The difficulties we are facing now in conflict areas regarding recognition of rape as a crime and prosecution of the perpetrators is something we have also seen in the western world. Both the paternalistic image of women dominated by men and the association of shame & victim-guilt has hamstringed the development of legal frameworks around the world. To cease GBV sustainably we have to shift the guilt from the victim to the perpetrator by establishing the right legal framework. Stronger accountability to perpetrators will end the impunity and send the message that perpetrators will be brought to justice. It will restore the dignity of survivors and lay the foundation, on which safe communities can be rebuild in the aftermath of a conflict. An “up-and-down”-approach should be applied, which ensures that for example an army general tolerating his men raping women, will brought to justice too (as is normal for any other war crime). Thereby, the essential outcome of any accountability reform should be non-recurrence. Furthermore, reparations to victims were discussed as a mean to simplify recovery. Therefore, some countries assured extra funds for the ICC Victims Trust fund.

Post2015-Development Agenda

One in three girls worldwide is affected by Gender Based Violence. It is no matter of inadequate dressing or the behavior of women, as studies proof. It is a barbarous crime against humanity often instrumentalized to misuse a vacuum of power and held people away from revolutions. Therefore, it is in any way a major obstacle against full empowerment of women and their full participation in society. Knowing this and our shared responsibility for global human rights, the delegation of Sweden and USA have pushed forward to establish GBV as one, separate development goal in the the post2015-Agenda, demanding full empowerment of women and the rapid stop of impunity on all levels by creating a binding international legal framework.  Also the youth should be heard in this process as they have mayor and direct influence on the reduction of GBV in communities.  The UK administration lead by good example and launched a National Action Plan on Women, Peace & Security. This joint venture of the Secretaries of Defense, International Development, and Foreign Affairs outlines clear action and legal requirements to achieve the abolishment of GBV sustainably.

John Kerry’s speech

“No team can succeed leaving half the team on the bench”

J. F. Kerry, US Secretary of State

The question “Why now?” was often raised understandably enough. One of the big achievements, that earmarks the 21st century so far, is the full empowerment of women in all areas. As shown above, any kind of violence against women undermines these efforts substantially. We do achieved to eradicate Anti-Personnel Mines as legitimate mean of war. So why not write Sexual Violence out of the lexicon of war. It´s just #TimeToAct.

“Do not go silent. Raise your voices. Use your influence

to inspire the next generation of men to honor women.”

Angelina Jolie, UNHCR Special Envoy

IFMSA and Sexual Violence in Conflict

As an outcome of the attendance in this summit IFMSA members from different NMOs have mobilized and joined hands and dedication to assure that IFMSA enhance its involvement in addressing this issue, both through internal capacity building as well as external advocacy. If you as member with any of the IFMSA NMOs wish to participate and take an active role in this working group please contact Liaison Officer of Human Right and Peace for further instructions,

For further information / Related Documents:

IFMSA Delegation: Zartash Javaid, Kimberley Bennemeer, Fabian Falkenbach, Moa M Herrgård