PHR Report Provides First Forensic Evidence of Attacks on Physicians, Medical Staff, Patients and Unarmed Civilians with Weapons, Beatings, and Tear Gas

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Megan Prock Senior Press Officer mprock [at] phrusa [dot] org Tel: +1.617.301.4237

Mob: +1.617.510.3417

Cambridge, Mass. – Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today released an emergency report which documents and decries systematic human rights abuses in Bahrain. For the first time, the report, Do No Harm: A Call for Bahrain to End Systematic Attacks on Doctors and Patients, provides forensic evidence of attacks on physicians, medical staff, patients and unarmed civilians with the use of bird shot, physical beatings, rubber bullets, tear gas and unidentified chemical agents.

“The excessive use of force against unarmed civilians, patients in hospitals and medical personnel that PHR’s investigators documented is extremely troubling and is cause for an immediate international investigation,” said Hans Hogrefe, Washington Director of Physicians for Human Rights. “Attacks on hospitals, ambulances and medical clinics are attacks on the very fabric of the community and harm the health of the whole country. Physicians have an ethical responsibility to care for and treat all people, and must be afforded the right to perform these duties.”

The report details systematic and coordinated attacks against medical personnel, as a result of their efforts to provide unbiased care for wounded protestors. These attacks violate the principle of “medical neutrality” and are grave breaches of international law; international humanitarian law dictates noninterference with medical services in times of civil unrest.

“While in Bahrain, I spoke with several eyewitnesses of abducted physicians, many of whom were ripped from their homes in the middle of the night by masked security forces,” said Richard Sollom, Deputy Director of Physicians for Human Rights and author of the report. “Although every attack we documented is troubling, attacks on medical professionals are particularly disturbing because they also impact the five, 10 or 15 people that could have been helped or treated by that doctor, nurse, or medic.”

The report also includes documentation of other violations of medical neutrality including the beating, abuse, and threatening of six Shi’a physicians at Salmaniya Hospital; egregious abuses against patients and detainees including torture, beating, verbal abuse, humiliation, and threats of rape and killing; government security forces stealing ambulances and posing as medics; the militarization of hospitals and clinics which has resulted in the obstruction of medical care; and rampant fear that prevents patients from seeking urgent medical treatment.

Other key findings of the report include:

Security forces deploying excessive use of force including high-velocity weapons and shotguns, while using birdshot, rubber bullets, and tear gas against unarmed civilians – often at a close range. One story highlighted in the report details attacks on guests at a wedding.

Bahraini forces releasing tear gas in enclosed spaces, including homes.

Security forces’ use of unidentified chemical agents which cause disorientation, aphasia and convulsions.

Attacks on patients including one story of the beating, torture and interrogation of a dozen patients in the hospital by masked security forces.

Forensic evidence indicating detainees were violently assaulted while in custody.

The report concludes with policy recommendations for Bahrain, the Unites States and the international community. Among other calls for action, PHR demands for Bahrain to immediately cease and desist all attacks on medical personnel and facilities. PHR also calls on the Obama Administration to lead an international effort to appoint a Special Rapporteur on Violations of Medical Neutrality through the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The findings of the report are based on a one-week investigation which included 45 interviews with patients, physicians, nurses, medical technicians, and other eyewitnesses to human rights violations. The report was written by Richard Sollom and Dr. Nizam Peerwani, a senior forensic pathologist and chief medical examiner.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is an independent, non-profit organization that uses medical and scientific expertise to investigate human rights violations and advocate for justice, accountability, and the health and dignity of all people. 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, Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, the United States, the former Yugoslavia, and Zimbabwe.

1988 — First to document Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against Kurds
1996 — Exhumed mass graves in the Balkans
1996 — Produced critical forensic evidence of genocide in Rwanda
1997 — Shared the Nobel Peace Prize for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines
2003 — Warned of health and human rights catastrophe prior to the invasion of Iraq
2004 — Documented and analyzed the genocide in Darfur
2005 — Detailed the story of tortured detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo Bay
2010 — Showed how CIA medical personnel sought to improve waterboarding and other interrogation techniques that amount to torture

Date posted: April 22, 2011

Last updated: April 22, 2011