ADHRB Director Husain Abdulla, Dr. Rula al-Saffar, Jehan Matooq, and Richard Sollom from Physicians for Human Rights. Credit: ADHRB
On April 12, Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA), in collaboration with Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain and Physicians for Human Rights, hosted “Critical Condition: Bahrain’s Ailing Healthcare System Two Years After the Uprising.” The panel featured Dr. Rula al-Saffar, President of the Bahrain Nursing Society, who was jailed for treating injured protesters in 2011; Jehan Matooq, Medical Coordinator for the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights; Richard Sollom, Director of Emergencies and Special Initiatives at Physicians for Human Rights. Moderating the event was Husain Abdulla, Director of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain.
Panelists at the event discussed the concept of medical neutrality, the principle of non-interference with medical services during times of conflict. Medical neutrality requires all sides of a conflict to obey the following principles: civilians must be protected from the conflict and not targeted; medical professionals must provide care to the sick and wounded, regardless of affiliation; and medical facilities, transport, and personnel must be permitted to tend to the wounded without interference
Violations of medical neutrality during the 2011 uprising in Bahrain have been well documented by Physicians for Human Rights and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. Unfortunately, citizens and medical professionals continue to suffer due to breaches of medical neutrality by the Bahrain government. For example, injured citizens refrain from seeking treatment at Salmaniya Medical Complex, Bahrain’s only public hospital, out of fear of being detained and interrogated by security forces that continue to occupy the facility.
Although the principle of medical neutrality is not enshrined in international law as a distinct concept, certain tenets of medical neutrality are protected by the Geneva Conventions, which apply to international armed conflict, as well as international human rights treaties, which apply during times of civil unrest. However, these conventions are limited in scope and do not cover all potential medical neutrality violations, particularly by countries not engaged in a full-fledged civil conflict or by countries not party to applicable international rights treaties. Because of this, some US Members of Congress, including Congressman McDermott, have in the past sponsored legislation that would deny military assistance to countries that violate medical neutrality. Panelists at the Capitol Hill briefing on April 12 noted that Congressman McDermott plans to re-introduce similar legislation during this congressional session.