Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in Bahrain: Speak Out or Get Out

UPDATE, 19 October 2011: This week, The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) admitted that staff in Bahrain took ‘‘wholly inappropriate’’ actions following Bahrain’s February protests, and RCSI’s chief executive professor ‘‘unreservedly apologized’’ for forcing students to swear loyalty oaths to Bahrain’s royal family.

The apology comes in response to a British Medical Journal article published earlier this month that cited PHR (pdf), which charged that RCSI would be open to charges of complicity in the detention and torture of Bahrain’s doctors if its administration did not take a public stance.

PHR reiterates the call for an end to the egregious and systematic attacks on doctors in Bahrain and under all oppressive governments. For more information, see PHR’s documentation of gross violations of medical neutrality and human rights in its report Do No Harm: A Call for Bahrain to End Systematic Attacks on Doctors and Patients.

UPDATE, 25 June 2011:  According to the Irish Times, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland has expressed “deep concernsfor the rights of detained medical personnel” in Bahrain in its firstpublic statement criticising the actions of the ruling regime in thekingdom.

Ireland has a long history of promoting human rights at the international level; the former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, later became the top human rights official at the United Nations. But the country’s leading medical institution, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), has been conspicuously absent in the global call for the Kingdom of Bahrain to stop its relentless and systematic attack on medical workers. Since mid-February, reports of human rights violations in Bahrain have increased significantly as Bahraini authorities have attempted to suppress anti-government protests. Given the close ties of RCSI to the Bahraini government, its lack of response should come as no surprise.

This relationship dates back 20 years: the Royal College has run post-graduate courses and exams in Bahrain, and many Bahraini medical students have studied in Ireland.

Several RCSI members have disappeared during the crackdown in Bahrain and targeting of medical professionals, including Ghassan Dhaif, Baser Dhaif and Ali Al Ekri, who was arrested while performing surgery at Salmaniya Medical Complex. The RCSI sent a fact-finding mission from Ireland which met with Deputy Prime Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa. However, the mission did not meet with any of the families of the missing medics. After the trip, the RCSI declined to comment on their findings or release a report despite criticism coming from England’s Royal College of Surgeons. Amnesty International Ireland has since spoken out against RCSI, demanding they use their influence to pressure the Bahraini government to release the medics.

The families of the missing have speculated that the reason for the RCSI’ refusal to criticize the government is financial. RCSI Bahrain represents an important starting point for expansion into the Middle East, and the RCSI has invested millions of Euro to bolster their relationship with the Bahraini government.

Medical professionals and the facilities in which they operate provide essential services and receive heightened protections under international law. Amidst violence, medical professionals and institutions must remain firmly dedicated to their duty to provide medical care to those in need regardless of nationality, ethnicity, political affiliation, or other social division. This concept of “medical neutrality” is firmly grounded in international humanitarian law, professional codes and ethics, and international human rights law.

Physicians for Human Rights documented gross violations of medical neutrality and human rights in its recent report Do No Harm: A Call for Bahrain to End Systematic Attacks on Doctors and Patients.

PHR joined the American College of Physicians, the American College of Emergency Physicians, the American Medical Association, Doctors for Human Rights-UK, the International Federation of Health and Human Rights Organizations, and the National Arab American Medical Association in petitioning the Crown Prince of Bahrain to cease attacks on hospitals, patients, and medical professionals.

The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland has an ethical responsibility to call for an end to the egregious and systematic attacks on doctors – some of whom are their own alumni — who face trumped up charges of medical malpractice and treason. The Royal College must speak out, if not — get out of Bahrain.

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