medical MISTREATMENT in bahrain
In 2011, protests broke out across Bahrain as part of the wider Arab Spring movement in which demonstrators called for democratic reforms. This led to a violent crackdown by Bahrain’s security forces where injured protesters and medics were subjected to torture and abuse. Numerous other medics were handed long prison sentences including numerous Irish trained doctors who worked in the Bahrain programme of the royal College of Surgeon's in Ireland (RCSI-Bahrain).
One of the Bahraini authorities’ main strategies has been to leverage healthcare delivery as a means to repress the pro-reform movement by identifying and persecuting protestors and mistreating prisoners. The list of specific tactics that the security forces and medical facilities under their control are known to employ:
the arrest, prosecution and torture of medics who treat protesters;
requiring all public and private hospitals to report the attendance of protesters or suspected protesters at their facilities, and waiting at hospitals to intercept injured protesters pursuant to a circular issued by the Bahraini authorities in 2012;
ensuring that treatment of political prisoners is denied or restricted;
intentional mistreatment of prisoners in need of medical care including the shackling of prisoners for medical visits, the refusal to provide prescribed medications to prisoners or allow their families to supply such medications, and hostility towards prisoners once the reason for their detention is known, and rough treatment.
Since them the problem’s facing RCSI affiliated Bahraini hospitals have been reported on in the media and by Bahraini human rights NGOs. Amnesty also noted in May, 2017 that people who are injured by the Bahraini authorities at protests “are not going to hospital out of fear that they would be arrested and are instead choosing to receive assistance from first aid trained volunteers".
In November 2018 the UN Human Rights Committee highlighted on-going human rights issues in Bahrain:
“The Committee notes with concern reports indicating a recent increase in the use of violence by law enforcement officials during peaceful demonstrations, including reports of 6 fatal incidents during demonstrations and 10 other extrajudicial killings in 2017. The Committee also notes with concern reports that demonstrators injured during demonstrations were questioned in medical facilities about their participation in demonstrations and denied medical assistance.”
The doctor at the BDF hospital said he would be in trouble if he helped me further.
Mr E, medic
In Bahrain, medics following the principle of medical neutrality are detained and often tortured by government officials for providing treatment to those involved in protests.
Through medical neglect, Bahraini hospitals regularly violate the principle of medical neutrality when treating protesters and ‘prisoners of conscience’.
Students of RCSI-Bahrain, whose degrees are accredited by the Irish Medical Council, undertake training in Bahraini hospitals implicated in human rights abuses and violations of medical neutrality.
The Irish Medical Council ignored these abuses in its 2014 accreditation of RCSI-Bahrain.
GLAN has joined ADHRB and BIRD in bringing the situation in Bahrain to the attention of the UN, in advance of this year’s re-accreditation of RCSI-Bahrain by the Irish Medical Council.
In filing a submission detailing witness testimonies with the UN Special Rapporteurs on health, torture, and human rights defenders, we aim to shine a light on human rights violations in several Bahraini hospitals, including those affiliated with RCSI-Bahrain.
Special Rapporteur Submission
The submission details the experiences of three witnesses; two medical professionals arrested for treating injured protestors and a human rights defender who has been involved in documenting the abuse, torture and deaths of activists in Bahrain. All three witnesses suffered torture upon their arrest and detention, and were further denied adequate medical treatment in hospital.
Role of the Irish Medical Council
One particular issue which has received significant international attention following the Arab Spring protests is the campus of an Irish education institute in Bahrain operated by the ‘Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland’. Many Bahraini medical students graduate from RCSI-Bahrain with an Irish medical degree.
The Irish Medical Council is responsible for accrediting Irish medical education programmes including those operating outside of Ireland. Despite the egregious abuses perpetrated against patients and doctors in the training facilities of the RCSI-Bahrain, in December 2014 the Irish Medical Council granted that university unconditional approval for a five-year period. In the report outlining the basis for its decision, the Council failed to even mention the human rights abuses which had taken place in these facilities.
Internal documents secured by GLAN under Ireland's Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2014 reveal the accreditation of RCSI-Bahrain in 2014 was narrowed to exclude human rights and ethical concerns. Previously released documents also showed how the Council rejected an offer from the former president of RCSI-Bahrain, Prof Tom Collins, to share his concerns on the human rights situation in RSCI-affiliated hospitals. Prof. Collins resigned from his position in 2012 in the aftermath of the crackdown. The Medical Council made no effort to speak with imprisoned medic or imprisoned former students like Ahmed nor a patient who was imprisoned for tweeting about conditions in an RCSI-linked hospital in the lead up to their site visit in 2014.
GLAN has communicated to the Medical Council significant legal implications for excluding human rights concerns from accreditation. In particular, the Medical Council, and indeed RCSI’s, failure to take steps to ensure that human rights are respected in the facilitates used by RCSI-Bahrain undermines the ability of graduates of RCSI-Bahrain to work in Europe, as EU law makes the recognition of overseas medical degrees conditional on degree holders having received “suitable clinical experience in hospitals under appropriate supervision."
In September 2019, GLAN, REDRESS and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) wrote to the Irish Medical Council regarding human rights violations in Bahraini hospitals. The letter called on the Council to confirm that, contrary to its previously adopted position, any human rights abuses which take place in the training hospitals and clinics used by RCSI-Bahrain are relevant to the accreditation of that university.
While all Irish-trained medics were eventually released are serving significant sentences others have been less fortunate. In 2012 RCSI nursing student Ahmed AlArab (26) was arrested during demonstrations to mark the first anniversary of the Arab Spring protests in Bahrain. It is alleged that he was subjected to severe violence during questioning and convicted in abstentia. Ahmed is currently serving a life-sentence.