In February 2011, the Government of Bahrain began targeting health professionals who treated protesters. In April 2012, PHR’s Richard Sollom, Deputy Director, and Holly Atkinson, MD, FACP, past President of PHR’s Board and volunteer expert, authored a report showing the devastation on Bahrain’s health system that have resulted from the Government of Bahrain’s continued assault on doctors, patients, and the healthcare system.
Thousands of protesters in the small island Kingdom of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf took to the streets calling for government reform in February and March 2011. The Bahraini government’s response was brutal and systematic: shoot civilian protesters, detain and torture them, and erase all evidence.
On the frontline, treating hundreds of these wounded civilians, doctors had first-hand knowledge of government atrocities. As a result of their efforts to provide unbiased care for wounded protestors, the government initiated systematic and targeted attacks against medical personnel. This assault on healthcare workers and their patients constitutes extreme violations of the principle of medical neutrality and are grave breaches of international law.
PHR went to Bahrain to investigate and document these attacks. Our investigators spoke with eyewitnesses of abducted physicians, some of whom were ripped from their homes in the middle of the night by masked security forces. Our report, Do No Harm, documents other violations of medical neutrality including the beating, abuse, and threatening of Shi’a physicians at Salmaniya Hospital; government security forces stealing ambulances and posing as medics; the militarization of hospitals and clinics, thus obstructing medical care; and rampant fear that prevents patients from seeking urgent medical treatment. Other key findings in the report include the use excessive force against unarmed civilians and violent assaults on civilian detainees by government authorities and security forces.
Medicine and delivery of health care should unite rather than divide a country. There are immeasurable long-term consequences of these atrocities. For each doctor, nurse, or medic that the government disappears, many more civilians’ lives are impacted as patients go untreated. Bahrain’s abuses in the spring of 2011 are the most extreme violations of medical neutrality in the past half century, and history will remember them as such.