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Physicians for Human Rights makes recommendations to the U.S. government at hearing on Bahrain

Yesterday, the Tom Lantos Commission for Human Rights heard testimony from representatives from nonprofit organizations and activists concerned about the lack of progress on human rights reforms in Bahrain.  Richard Sollom, Deputy Director for Physicians For Human Rights, presented testimony to a standing-room-only audience of legislators, journalists, activists, and concerned citizens.

Physicians for Human Rights Identifies Human Rights Concerns in Bahrain

In his statement to the Congressional Commission (read the full statement here), Mr. Sollom identified multiple areas of concern that have arisen over the past 18 months, including

  • The targeting of doctors, including 48 medical specialists who were detained, tortured, and forced to sign false confessions.
  • The militarization of Bahrain’s health system, including the ongoing presence of government security forces inside the nation’s largest hospital, the systematic interrogation of incoming patients and visitors, and the abuse and detention of Bahrainis suspected of participating in protests.
  • The excessive use of force against Bahrainis, including the unlawfully excessive and indiscriminate use of tear gas.

Important Report Release Coincides with Testimony

On the same day as Sollom’s testimony, Physicians for Human Rights issued the report, Weaponizing Tear Gas: Bahrain’s Unprecedented Use of Toxic Chemical Agents Against Civilians.  Sollom and co-author Holly Atkinson, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and former president of PHR, interviewed more than 100 Bahraini citizens during their investigation. Their 60-page report documents the nonprofit organization’s findings, based on physical examinations and medical records.  The report found numerous injuries, miscarriages, and fatalities associated with the Bahrain government’s excessive use of tear gas.

Recommendations from Physicians for Human Rights

In his testimony, Mr. Sollom recommended that Congress support the Medical Neutrality Protection Act, H.R. 2643, legislation introduced by Representative Jim McDermott (D, Washington).

The principle of medical neutrality ensures

  • The protection of medical personnel, patients, facilities, and transport from attack or interference;
  • Unhindered access to medical care and treatment;
  • The humane treatment of all civilians; and
  • Non-discriminatory treatment of the injured and sick.

The proposed legislation would

  • Suspend non-humanitarian assistance to countries violating medical neutrality;
  • Prevent officials from receiving visas who ordered or engaged in any violation of medical neutrality;
  • Add reporting of medical neutrality violations to the annual State Department country reports;.
  • Encourage U.S. missions in foreign nations to investigate alleged violations of medical neutrality.

Mr. Sollom also recommended that the United States

  • Withhold all military assistance to Bahrain until the Government of Bahrain makes measurable progress on human rights and demilitarizes its public health care system.
  • Deny export licenses for tear gas to Bahrain until the Government adheres to U.N. guidelines for its use, investigates the weaponization of tear gas, and holds law enforcement officials accountable for the excessive use of tear gas.
  • Work with the U.N. to seek the appointment of a U.N. Special Rapporteur on Medical Neutrality.
  • Ensure that policy decisions related to Bahrain support human rights protections.
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Congressional Hearing on BICI to take place Wednesday, August 1

Public Congressional hearing on Bahrain

The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission will hold a hearing this Wednesday in Washington, DC to hear witnesses report on the extent to which the government of Bahrain has implemented the human rights protections recommendations made by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry in November 2011.

The hearing is open to the public and will take place in Room 2237 of the Rayburn House Office Building (second floor) on Wednesday, August 1, from 1 pm to 3 pm.

The Rayburn Office Building occupies a site southwest of the Capitol bounded by Independence Avenue, South Capitol Street, C Street S.W., and First Street S.W. (View map) in Washington, DC.

Witnesses will appear in three panels.

The witness for the first panel will be Ron Wyden, U.S. Senator for Oregon.  Senator Wyden was one of 24 senators and congressional representatives to oppose the sale of arms to Bahrain.

The witness for the second panel will be Michael Posner, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.  Mr. Posner has visited Bahrain five times in the past two years, the most recently on June 12 of this year, when he spoke to the press at the U.S. Embassy in Bahrain.

Four witnesses will testify on the third and final panel.  They will be

Matar Ebrahim Matar, former member of Bahrain’s parliament and leading member of Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, the largest political party in Bahrain.  Mr. Matar recently appeared on Al Jazeera’s television news program, The Stream (video link) to opine about the state of reforms in Bahrain.

Leslie Campbell, Senior Associate Director and Regional Director of Middle East and North Africa Programs, National Democratic Institute.  Headquartered in Washington, DC, the National Democratic Institute was formed by the U.S. government to foster movements toward democracy in foreign nations, and is funded both by taxpayers (through the State Department and other agencies) and by contributions from foreign governments (including, notably, the Kingdom of Bahrain) and donations from others.  The organization’s work in Bahrain has focused on encouraging citizen participation in elections.

Tom Walinowski, Director of Human Rights Watch.  Human Rights Watch is a New York-based nonprofit organization that has advocated for human rights in Bahrain.

Richard Sollom, Deputy Director of Physicians for Human Rights.  This organization has advocated for dismissal of charges against the Bahraini medics and has called for a cease of the indiscriminate and excessive use of tear gas in Bahrain, which has been linked to fatalities and miscarriages.  The nonprofit is based in Massachusetts.

Directions from Metro

From Union Station:

Start off going around Columbus Circle and joining 1st Street Northeast, going south. Take a left onto D Street, and shortly afterward a right onto 2nd Street Northeast.  Follow 2nd Street South until it becomes 2nd Street Southeast, then take a right onto C Street Southeast.  Follow C Street down the hill.  The Rayburn House Office Building will be the fourth large building on your right, at the bottom of the hill.

From Capitol South Station:

Start off walking north on 1st Street, and cross C Street. Take a left and walk down the hill, following C Street. The Rayburn House Office Building will be the third large building on your right, at the bottom of the hill.

From Federal Center Southwest Station:

Start off walking north on 3rd Street, and take a right at C Street.  Follow C Street to 2nd Street, then cross the road and the park. Stay on C Street across the roads, and you will see the Rayburn House Office Building on your left.

The Tom Lantos Commission is co-chaired by James P. McGovern and Frank R. Wolf.