Committee on Education and Social Protection,
Houses of the Oireachtas,
Kildare Street, Dublin 2, Éire.
1 September 2014
Dear Committee Members,
We the undersigned representatives of Bahraini human rights organizations write to urge that steps are taken to ensure human rights standards are factored into the upcoming accreditation of Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI)-Bahrain by the Irish Medical Council. Since 2011, the hospital administration in Bahrain has been militarized, including those clinical facilities used by RCSI for training students. The clearest example of this is the establishment of the Supreme Council for Health under the aegis of the Bahrain Defense Forces (BDF). Managerial and even front-line staff are recruited on the basis of their religion and military connections. This practice has significantly altered hospital practice, including the manner in which patients are treated, recruitment practices, and the overall administration of hospitals. It has had a substantially negative impact on patient access and trust in the health system. As a result, many Shia specialists have moved to private and even underground facilities, causing a drop in the overall standard of health services and in the quality of medical education provided in public hospitals.
Furthermore these changes have undermined medical professionals’ ability to uphold the principles of medical impartiality. The hundreds of people who continue to be injured while exercising their right to express their opinions through protest are in fear of visiting RCSI-affiliated hospitals. Treating such persons often creates ethical dilemmas for doctors; because such treatments must be reported to authorities at the risk of punishment to the doctor, and medical professionals can feel pressured to refuse to treat injured activists. This environment is contrary to international humanitarian standards requiring that doctors treat all injured persons regardless of their affiliation. Treating protesters continues to be an imprisonable offence: Irish trained Dr. Ali Al Ekri, who is currently serving a 5-year sentence, is testament to this. Unlike in Ireland, speaking out or expressing ones opinion in Bahrain is also extremely difficult. Amnesty International recently declared Dr. Sa’eed Mothaher Habib al-Samahiji a prisoner of conscience after he was arrested on 1 July to serve a one-year sentence for “insulting for the King of Bahrain”. Bahrain now ranks 163rd out of 180 countries in the Press Freedom Index and it remains off-limits to most human rights groups.
Given this context, we do not accept the RCSI position that their continued silence on these matters is non-political. We see it rather as a betrayal of their ethical and professional responsibilities, which lends political cover and support to oppressive practices. We are extremely concerned by recent claims made by RCSI representatives to the Irish Parliament's Committee on Education and Social Protection where it was stated, in no uncertain terms, that torture did not occur in Bahraini hospitals. The RCSI position stands contrary to the findings of numerous international organizations and the report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Investigation, which reported that the Salmaniya Medical Complex saw the serious mistreatment of numerous individuals. The differences between Bahraini and Irish clinical training facilities should not be ignored or brushed under the carpet. We request that RCSI management are asked to clarify their position on this matter and fully describe the steps being taken to ensure that their training hospitals are not organised along sectarian lines as required by the Irish Medical Council's own standards.
Considering all of the violations visited on the medical profession and health systems in Bahrain since 2011, we respectfully urge that Committee to ask what proactive steps the Medical Council will take to ensure a meaningful visit capable of considering human rights issues relevant to the provision of medical education. We suggest that their visit should include doctors and ex-students who have been directly affected by human rights violations concurring since February 2011, including Dr. Al Ekri. Bahrain is a significantly different context to Ireland. Without actively contending with Bahrain's restrictive environment through prior engagement with human rights experts, the Council’s visit risks becoming a case of hear-no-evil, with status quo risks being legitimised through Irish accreditation. We believe that a robust accreditation, with a human rights focus, would provide a strong platform for reform and would strengthen Ireland's reputation as a transnational educator.
We look forward to receiving your response.
Husain Abdulla, Director of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Nabeel Rajab, Director of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
Mohamed Altajer, Secretary General of Bahraini Human Rights Observatory (BHRO)
Jawad Fairooz, President of Bahrain Salam for Human Rights
Mohammed Al-Maskati, Director of Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights
Hussain Jawad, Chairman of European-Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights (EBOHR)