Thursday, 16 June 2011
Seanad Éireann Debate
Senator Averil Power: I wish to raise the issue of the trials of medical personnel in Bahrain which started last Monday. The Minister of State will be aware that in recent months there has been particularly harsh and violent repression by the Government of Bahrain of the fundamental freedoms of association, expression, religion and speech of its citizens. In March, a large protest took place which was violently crushed. There are pictures on the Internet and gruesome accounts of unarmed protesters among the large crowds being shot in the back of the head in the middle of Manama.
The doctors were detained after the protests simply because they treated injured protesters. The Government claimed that they were seeking to overthrow the authorities but all they were trying to do was their job, as any medical practitioner would do, which is to help anyone who has serious physical injuries. Many human rights groups have stated that the real crime of the doctors was that they were in the hospitals and could bear witness to the brutality that had been unleashed on the protesters. The Government was worried about the fact that they were able to get photographs out from the hospitals showing the condition people were in and bodies in an incredible state lying on the floor.
The trials of 34 doctors and nurses began last Monday. They had been kept in captivity for weeks and were not given access to their lawyers or their families. They told the court that they had been tortured to make confessions. Bravely, these men and women walked out before the court and said that, despite what had been done to them, they would still plead not guilty. Some of the doctors concerned trained in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. Dr. Ali-Alekri, for example, has an Irish-born child who holds an Irish passport from the time he trained here and worked in Temple Street Children’s University Hospital. If found guilty, he faces execution in Bahrain simply for doing his job.
The Minister of State will be aware that a motion tabled in the Seanad last week by Senator John Crown, which was agreed by all sides of the House, called for action on this matter. What is the Government doing to raise this issue at EU level? I am aware that conclusions were adopted by the April meeting of the Foreign Affairs Ministers and that the EU raised the issue with the Government of Bahrain in May. Another Council meeting is due to take place next Monday and I am anxious that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade raises it again at that meeting.
What action is the Irish Government taking to raise the matter in the United Nations? These people face execution and the world must act now. It will be too late if the Government of Bahrain carries out its plans to put people to death simply for doing their job as medical practitioners. Has the Irish Government raised this issue directly with the authorities in Bahrain? Perhaps the Irish Government could ask the Irish ambassador to witness the trial or at least facilitate an independent medical delegation doing so. I hope, please God, that the people facing trial will be released. In that case we should consider providing them and their families with asylum in this State.
A number of Irish medical personnel have done an incredible job in the face of a great deal of silence in general among the medical community. Those who are publicly on record on this issue include Professor Damian McCormack, Dr. Ruairi Hanley, who wrote an excellent piece in the Irish Medical Times, and Senator John Crown. However, the silence of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, RCSI, has been deeply distressing. The college has huge commercial interests in Bahrain worth €70 million, but it has a moral responsibility to act in defence of one of the basic tenets of medicine, that one treats any patient without discrimination. That is what the doctors were doing in this case. It is a shame on the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland that it trained people in this country to act by those principles, but when those basic principles of medical practice are challenged in such a violent way in Bahrain, it has been silent. In fact, when the trials started, the RCSI held a conferring ceremony among members of the Bahraini authorities and celebrated its ongoing role in that country. The RCSI has the moral authority to act.
I hope the Government will do everything it can to help the people concerned. We have a general responsibility towards everyone concerned but especially in respect of people who were trained in this country before they returned to Bahrain.
Deputy John Perry: I thank the Senator for raising this important matter and wish her well in her political career. I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the House on the Government’s position on the important issue of the detention, torture, intimidation and trials of medical professionals in Bahrain.
The Government has taken a number of urgent steps in response to this worrying situation. First, we have repeatedly and robustly condemned all repressive actions by the Bahraini authorities during and after the recent protests, including those taken against medical staff following their professional obligations. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, made the Government’s position clear in his reply to questions in the Dáil on 2 June when he also expressed serious concerns about the broader human rights situation in Bahrain, particularly the death penalty sentences recently handed down to four protestors. The Government has expressed its grave concern about the quasi-military nature of this trial of civilians, as well as reports that detainees in Bahrain had very limited visits or contact with their families or lawyers since detention; that there have been serious physical and sexual assaults in custody; and that the detainees have been forced to sign confessions and make statements confessing their involvement in crimes. The Bahraini authorities should respect detainees’ fundamental rights, including their right to receive visits and have unimpeded access to their lawyers, in line with the country’s own constitutional and international obligations.
The Government is taking steps though our ambassador in Riyadh who, by a recent Government decision, is to be accredited also to Bahrain to make our grave concerns known to the Bahraini authorities. We also strongly support action taken by the European Union in this matter. The human rights situation in Bahrain, including the repressive actions taken against medical staff there, was formally raised with the Bahraini authorities in Manama on 15 May. The EU Foreign Affairs Council adopted strong conclusions on 23 May, which I fully support, calling for fair and transparent administration of justice in Bahrain. A further discussion may take place at next Monday’s Council in Luxembourg, which we would obviously welcome. Further urgent representations are also likely to be made locally by the European Union in the coming days to express our deep concern about the ongoing trials and to press for international and domestic observers to be allowed to follow the legal proceedings.
The Government has been active in raising this issue at the United Nations, including at the Human Rights Council last week in a national statement. The European Union has also made clear its grave concerns about the situation in Bahrain in the statements it has delivered at the current Human Rights Council session in Geneva. Such statements send a powerful signal of the international community’s abhorrence at the repressive actions taken in Bahrain. It is a welcome and positive development that the United States has also joined the European Union and others in expressing deep concerns, about the situation in Bahrain and the case of the detained medics, at the Human Rights Council yesterday.
Bahrain, like other countries in the Middle East and north Africa, is experiencing problems arising from the clear demand of people throughout the region for greater freedom and a greater say in how they are governed. In this regard, it is important that the case of those on trial should not be seen in isolation; rather, it is integrally linked with the wider choices Bahrain faces at this juncture in its history. Genuine dialogue, tolerance and reform are crucial if it is to emerge from its current difficulties. We strongly support those within the Bahraini system who are trying to move towards dialogue and reform rather than repression and injustice. In this context, we welcome King Hamad’s announcement that a national dialogue without preconditions will commence on 1 July. We hope this call will be fully supported and acted upon by all in Bahrain. We also welcome King Hamad’s ending of the state of emergency on 1 June.
The Government urges the Bahraini authorities to choose the path of justice and reconciliation rather than violence and division in the case of the detained medics and also in Bahrain as a whole. Releasing the medical staff who simply tried to help the wounded, as their profession insists they do and which they did in an entirely peaceful manner, would be an important step in that direction. This is an important matter which I hope will be resolved.
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