RCSI and plight of medics in Bahrain


Sir, – In her excellent article “Why Bahraini human rights matter in Dublin”, Mary Fitzgerald (Education Today, May 8th) outlines the proposed charter for human rights for Irish universities operating overseas.

It is notable that the charter is welcomed by Prof Cathal Kelly, the chief executive of the Royal College of Surgeons (RCSI) but such sentiment is unlikely to alleviate the fate or stress of the doctors in Bahrain who are presently under trial, three of whom are fellows of RCSI. After I resigned my fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI) (which as a sister college of RCSI awards degrees in Bahrain) in protest at the colleges’ failure to support medical colleagues and prior to visiting the families of the imprisoned doctors in Bahrain in June 2011, I met the president (Eilis McGovern) and the vice-president of RCSI (Patrick Broe) to ask for the college’s support for its then imprisoned fellows and was told this would not be forthcoming until the activities of the doctors in question had been ascertained according to due process in Bahrain.

Since then the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which was appointed by the king of Bahrain, has found that the Public Security Forces violated human rights by forcibly entering and ransacking houses without arrest warrants, and subjecting detainees to blindfolding, enforced standing for prolonged periods, electrocution, sleep deprivation, and threats of rape, with the purpose of obtaining incriminating statements or confessions. Taken with forensic medical evidence, the commission adjudged that torture was common and that such practices were a flagrant disregard both of Bahraini and international human rights law.

However daunting these criticisms may be for the Bahraini government’s use of internecine practices, a more worrying aspect for the many doctors and others in Bahrain who still stand accused and who are being tried this week, is the serious criticism of the Bahraini judicial system by the commission, which must call into question the validity of sentences previously passed. The commission viewed the “lack of accountability” of the judicial and prosecutorial personnel in the National Safety Court as “a subject of great concern”, compounded by the acceptance of forced confessions in criminal proceedings in both special courts and ordinary criminal courts. The commissioners went on to recommend that sentences should be dropped, or at least reviewed, for those charged with offences involving political expression, or victims of torture, ill-treatment or prolonged incommunicado detention, and that victims of human rights abuse should be compensated, and that dismissed employees should be reinstated and compensated. This recommendation has not been enacted and the trials of doctors are likely to result in the imposition of prison sentences by a discredited and dysfunctional legal system.

Regardless of the aspirations of any future charter for universities, is it not now surely time for RCSI and RCPI to use their collective influence publicly to assist these doctors who now face trial and who have already suffered so much at the hands of a corrupt regime? ­– Yours, etc,

Prof EOIN O’BRIEN, DSc, MD, FRCP(Lond), FRCP(Edin),

Clifton Terrace,

Monkstown, Co Dublin.