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For Immediate Release

Militarization of Bahraini Health System Causes Widespread Fear and Avoidance of Treatment

Cambridge, Mass. - 05/21/2012

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today released a report that details the impact of the ongoing militarization of Bahrain’s public health system on the country’s citizens especially the sick and wounded. The report, Under the Gun: Ongoing Assaults on Bahrain’s Health System, is based on 102 interviews, the examination of medical records and radiographic images, and site visits by PHR investigators in April 2012.

According to the report, over the past 14 months, the Government of Bahrain has denied a large segment of the population safe access to impartial medical care, resulting in widespread fear among civilians seeking medical treatment. An ongoing presence of State security forces inside Salmaniya Hospital, systematic interrogations of incoming patients and visitors, and beatings, detentions, and prosecutions of suspected protestors have forced many patients to go untreated or seek care from an ad hoc community network run by medics and civilians.

“For more than a year, the Government of Bahrain has succeeded in intimidating and subduing a vulnerable population—the sick and wounded. What we are seeing now is the result of this continued campaign of fear and brutality against the country’s medical system and its patients,” said Richard Sollom, Deputy Director of Physicians for Human Rights. “When a government terrorizes patients and intimidates the injured into not seeking medical care, it not only cripples the country’s healthcare system, but destroys a vital part of the community.”  

PHR’s report reveals that the Ministry of Health issued a “circular” on January 31, 2012 stating that all private hospitals and clinics were now obligated to report to Government security authorities all incoming patients “with injuries due to suspected criminal activities and/or accidents irrespective [of] their causes.... Violation of these requirements shall constitute collaboration with such activities and is criminalized by law.”

This Ministerial law further militarizes the Bahraini health care system by forcing medical workers to be agents of the state and creating a dual loyalty conflict. A dual loyalty conflict arises when health professionals are torn between their duties to their patients and their obligations to an employer, government, insurer, or the military.

“A medical professional’s first priority must always be a loyalty to their patients,” said Dr. Holly Atkinson, PHR’s Immediate Past President of the Board and co-investigator. “This principle lies at the heart of medical ethics. When medical providers are threatened by the government, it creates an environment of fear that will certainly have far-reaching negative impacts for patients that are in their care.”  

The report includes the following recommendations:

  • The Government of Bahrain should drop all politically motivated charges against each of the 48 medical workers.
  • The Government of Bahrain must immediately allow open access to health care facilities for all those in need of medical care.
  • The Government of Bahrain must repeal the 2012 circular requiring medical professionals to report all patients suffering from injuries to Government authorities.
  • The Government of Bahrain should ensure that police trainings on human rights and use of force are substantive and appropriate in scope.
  • The US Government should withhold all military assistance to Bahrain until the Government of Bahrain makes measurable progress on human rights, including an end to the militarization of its public health system.
  • The US Government should ensure that policy decisions regarding Bahrain support human rights protections and progress toward democracy.
  • The International community should support the establishment of a UN Special Rapporteur on Medical Neutrality.

PHR also renews calls to void the convictions of four medical workers currently imprisoned in Bahrain.

In April 2011, PHR released the report Do No Harm, which first detailed Bahrain’s attacks on physicians, medical staff, and patients.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is an independent organization that uses medicine and science to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. We are supported by the expertise and passion of health professionals and concerned citizens alike.

Since 1986, PHR has conducted investigations in more than 40 countries around the world, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, the United States, the former Yugoslavia, and Zimbabwe.

  • 1986 — Led investigations of torture in Chile gaining freedom for heroic doctors there
  • 1988 — First to document the Iraqi use of chemical weapons on Kurds providing               evidence for prosecution of war criminals
  • 1996 — Exhumed mass graves in the Balkans and Rwanda to provide evidence for               International Criminal Tribunals
  • 1997 — Shared the Nobel Peace Prize for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines
  • 2003 — Warned US Policymakers on health and human rights conditions prior to and               during the invasion of Iraq
  • 2004 — Documented genocide and sexual violence in Darfur in support of international               prosecutions
  • 2010 — Investigated the epidemic of violence spread by Burma’s military junta
  • 2011 — Championed the principle of noninterference with medical services in times of               armed conflict and civil unrest during the Arab Spring
  • 2012 — Trained doctors, lawyers, police, and judges in the Democratic Republic of the               Congo, Kenya, and Syria on the proper collection of evidence in sexual               violence cases
  • 2013 — Won first prize in the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention with MediCapt, our               mobile app that documents evidence of torture and sexual violence

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