Muiris Fitzgerald on Bahrain

The Irish Times – Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Treatment of medics in Bahrain

Madam, – Prof Damian McCormack’s recent letter (June 17th), as well as his other media interviews, raise serious and deeply troubling questions about the circumstances of the arrest, interrogation, detention and legal representation of Bahraini doctors and nurses – some of whom worked and trained in Ireland.

Already, there has been widespread international condemnation of the manner of their detention by organisations and agencies – such as Physicians for Human Rights, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, Human Rights Watch and the Office of the UN Commissioner on Human Rights.

Here in Ireland, protests about their treatment have been articulated by our Minister of Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore, and Seanad Éireann passed a strongly condemnatory motion proposed by Senator John Crown. At a professional organisational level, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has issued a public statement of protest at the plight of their fellow-professionals in Bahrain. In various statements, the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland indicated that it was involved in back-channel representations in Bahrain.

However, given the major international concerns being expressed and the compelling testimony of Prof McCormack, it is difficult to understand the muted response- or even silence – of the professional medical organisations in Ireland. Perhaps the naive view is being taken that these events are “political” and do not warrant involvement – given the fraught adversarial conflict between religious and political factions in the Middle East and where healthcare professionals can also engage in polarising political roles.

This stance ignores the reality that virtually all serious human rights abuses take place in similar highly-charged political environments and especially in countries and with regimes where democratic freedoms and due legal process are greatly curtailed.

A possible further reason for remaining silent is the greatly mistaken notion that back-channel diplomacy might be compromised by publicly-voiced criticism. But all the evidence of past similar human rights campaigns is that vigorous public and professional protests about human rights violations almost always augment the effectiveness of behind-the-scenes diplomacy.

Now, unfortunately, the silence of the medical organisations in Ireland runs the risk of being interpreted abroad as – at best – a reluctance to get involved in vindicating the human rights of fellow health professionals, some of whom trained in Ireland. For the sake of securing fair due-process for those doctors and nurses involved, and for the sake of Ireland’s acclaimed record in human rights advocacy – of the kind exemplified by our former president Mary Robinson – it is time that Irish medical organisations added their voices to the international concern for the plight of fellow-professionals in Bahrain. – Yours, etc,

Prof MX FitzGERALD, MD
FRCPI,
Rock Road,
Blackrock,
Co Dublin.