Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Bahrain Medical Detentions – A return to Jahilyya, the Age of Ignorance and Crimes Against Humanity.

doctor on trial by Feb14BH

On March 16 this year, following ongoing clashes between Shi’ite anti-government protesters and the Sunni King Al Khalifa’s Bahraini government forces backed up by an armoured division of the Joint Pennisula Shield that had crossed the causeway from Saudi Arabia on March 13, the biggest hospital in Bahrain, the Salmaniya Medical Complex, was put under military control and up to 50 medical and para-medical staff were arrested, interrogated, tortured, and detained for – what the King of Bahrain accused them of – ‘treating’ anti-government injured citizens and ‘protecting’ insurgents. Since then seven medical staff, mainly women, have been released but the remainder in detention now face trial by a military court.

In addition the medical licences of 30 doctors have been suspended and a further 150 doctors from across the island state are under ‘investigation’ by a ‘probe’ committee.

In an editorial in the British Medical Journal on May 4, 2011, Richard Sollom and Vince Lacopino of the organization Physicians for Human Rights, asserted that in a systematic fashion the Bahraini government has:

• Abducted medical professionals and detained them with no means of communication
• Attacked ambulances: removed ambulance medics, and forced them to give their uniforms to police who then posed as medics
• Prevented ambulances from reaching people who needed medical care
• Blockaded health facilities and obstructed delivery of care
• Destroyed medical records
• Militarised the country’s main tertiary care hospital, preventing medical staff and patients from entering or leaving
• Hunted down patients wounded in protests by searching medical centres and setting up police check-points
• Forcibly discharged patients, detained them, and held them with no means of communication
• Humiliated, beat, and abused patients while in medical centres
• Tortured patients to extract false confessions of subversive and illegal activity

This is absolutely outrageous, and for Bahrain it is a return to jahiliyya, the Age of Ignorance.

On the 30th October 1986 the Kingdom of Bahrain acceded to Protocol II, the June 1977 Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts.

Article 10 of that protocol concerns:

General protection of medical duties

1. Under no circumstances shall any person be punished for having carried out medical activities compatible with medical ethics, regardless of the person benefiting therefrom.

2. Persons engaged in medical activities shall neither be compelled to perform acts or to carry out work contrary to, nor be compelled to refrain from acts required by, the rules of medical ethics or other rules designed for the benefit of the wounded and sick, or this Protocol.

3. The professional obligations of persons engaged in medical activities regarding information which they may acquire concerning the wounded and sick under their care shall, subject to national law, be respected.

4. Subject to national law, no person engaged in medical activities may be penalized in any way for refusing or failing to give information concerning the wounded and sick who are, or who have been, under his care.

According to the Tadić Jurisdiction Decision (paras 66-70) in the Appeals Chamber of the ICTY, and subsequently adopted in the case law of the ICTY, ICTR, ICJ (International Court of Justice), and ICC (International Criminal Court – Bahrain like the USA is not a signatory of the Rome Statute) the recent actions of the Bahraini government are sufficient to trigger the application of International Humanitarian Law to the Bahraini crisis and more than enough to pass the threshold of Crimes Against Humanity.

It will be noted that the provisions of Article 10.3 and 10.4 are subject to national law (I am uncertain where national law in Bahrain intersects with military courts) but provisions 10.1 and 10.2 are not.

The Bahraini government actions have also irreparably split the Bahraini medical community with the current president of the Bahrain Medical Society, Dr. Nabeel Ansari stating that he completely trusts the ‘transparency’ of the commissions of inquiry and that medical staff who treated insurgents should ‘face severe action and be dealt with in a strict way.’ One of these ‘rogue’ doctors is his immediate predecessor as President of the BMS, Dr. Ahmed J Jamal, who is now one of those now detained incommunicado. In contrast to the bile of Ansari, Jamal had said in his presidential address,

‘I extend and open and sincere invitation to all physicians in this country to accept a responsibility for supporting the society and helping it to persevere in this country to accept a responsibility for supporting the society and helping it to persevere in its journey toward realization of its noble goals.’

And now Jamal is at risk of a military tribunal!!!

Bahrain's acting health minister Fatima al-Balooshi and Justice Minister Khaled bin Ali Al Khalifa,

announcing charges against doctors at a press conference on Tuesday, May 3, 2011, in Isa Town, Bahrain.

Finally, and to my shame as an Irish physician, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland have remained silent on the matter of colleagues – and former students – being tortured in Bahrain. The RCSI have a medical campus in Bahrain and obviously from a commercial perspective have decided, to publically at least, not antagonize the Bahrain government. I can only hope that privately behind the scenes good men and women are doing everything in their power to help resolve the barbarism. If not it makes a travesty of the Declaration of Tokyo concerning involvement in torture and degrading treatment, which is enshrined in the Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Irish-registered Medical Practitioners (Section 13.2).


Bahrain unrest
Breaches principles of medical neutrality and international law
BMJ2011;342:d2768doi:10.1136/bmj.d2768 May 4,2011

International Federation for Human Rights, Judicial harassment against 47 medical staff and incommunicado detention of Dr. Ahmed Jamal, Dr. Raja Hassa Khadim and Dr. Nidal Khalifa, 5 May 2011, BHR 005 / 0511 / OBS 073, available at: [accessed 11 May 2011]

World Medical Association, Declaration of Tokyo, revised 2006.

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