July 25, 2014

Make Bahrain Live Up to Commitments, CCS Asks President Obama in Open Letter

In spite of past promises to provide due process to Bahraini health care professionals who were arrested, tortured and sometimes disappeared, the Government of Bahrain has continued to prosecute many of the doctors and nurses who assisted protesters in 2011. Together with other human rights organizations, CCS has been advocating on behalf of these professionals and the principle of medical neutrality in wars and civil disorders. Nine of the professionals recently received felony convictions in cases that allegedly lacked due process. CCS asks the President to pressure Bahrain, a US ally, to dismiss these convictions.

Dear President Obama:

We are an independent organization of scientists, physicians, engineers and scholars devoted to the protection and advancement of human rights and scientific freedom for colleagues all over the world. We write now in concern for nine health care professionals in Bahrain sentenced to felony terms for exercising their professional duty to assist those injured during protests.

According to reliable media reports, in 2011 the Government of Bahrain brutally cracked down on its health care system in response to health care providers’ role in peaceful protests. The Government stationed tanks outside the main public hospital and sent armed and masked security forces inside hospital wards, where they beat and tortured wounded protesters and the medical workers treating them. Together with Physicians for Human Rights, the American Medical Association, the International Council of Nurses, and other human rights organizations we protested these actions as violating well-established customary international law and practice concerning the duty to treat injured people in civil disorders.

After arresting, jailing, and occasionally “disappearing” 82 or more of the health care professionals, Bahrain’s military courts sentenced them to long prison terms, often on the basis of evidence obtained by torture. Eventually, responding to international outcry, the Government of Bahrain established its own investigation of how it responded to the protests (the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, BICI).

Following the issuance of the BICI report, in June of 2012, Bahraini authorities ordered new civilian trials for the health care professionals who had been tried by military courts. While many of the defendants were acquitted in those second trials, the international health care community continues to be concerned by lack of due process evidenced by Bahraini authorities. In particular, the prosecutors have not agreed to exclude evidence obtained under torture. (For a list of health care professionals and the outcome of their civilian trials, see Medics on Trial in Bahrain on physiciansforhumanrights.org)

We understand that, throughout these events, your administration, through the State Department and other agencies, continued to advocate with Bahrain for due process and compliance with international law. We do not doubt that in many cases your efforts bore fruit. However, much remains to be done. We believe that previous steps did not always apply effective pressure on Bahrain. To quote your own Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, Michael Posner’s August 1 testimony before Congress:

The United States was deeply disappointed that, despite assurances to the contrary, the government [of Bahrain] sought and received convictions in nine of 18 felony cases against medical professionals before the appellate court, with sentences ranging from one month to five years.

Bahrain is a close ally of the United States. A number of steps have been suggested, for example by Human Rights Watch, to induce the Government of Bahrain to respect its undertakings, such as blocking the bank accounts of certain officials and denying them visas to the US. The principle of medical neutrality in wars and civil disorders is of profound importance to all nations. We urge you to order substantial efforts to put pressure on Bahrain dismiss all charges against health care professionals who were exercising their professional obligations.

Sincerely yours,

Eugene Chudnovsky
Alexander Greer
Joel Lebowitz
Walter Reich
Paul Plotz

Co-Chairs, Committee of Concerned Scientists