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.