World Medical Association demands Fair Retrial of Health Professionals

(12.10.2011) The state of Bahrain must prove to the watching world that the retrial of 20 physicians, nurses and other health professionals sentenced to prison last month follows fair process, the World Medical Association demanded today (Wednesday).

At its Council meeting in Montevideo, Uruguay, the WMA passed an emergency resolution saying that so far the trials had failed to meet international standards for fairness and that in treating patients without considering the circumstances of their injury these health care professionals were honouring their ethical duty as set out in the Declaration of Geneva.

The WMA, which represents almost 100 national medical associations, demanded in the strongest terms that all states understood, respected and honoured the concept of medical neutrality. This included providing working conditions which were as safe as possible, even under difficult circumstances, including armed conflict or civil unrest.

The Council welcomed the announcement by the government of Bahrain that the 20 health professionals, who had been sentenced to fifteen, ten or five years' imprisonment, would be re-tried before a civilian court.

In its emergency resolution, adopted on the first day of its four-day General Assembly, the WMA said that the trial had so far failed to meet international standards for fairness, including the accused not being allowed to make statements in their own defence, and their lawyers not being allowed to question all the witnesses. Allegations from the accused and their lawyers of mistreatment, abuse and other human rights violations during arrest and while in detention had not been investigated.

Dr. Mukesh Haikerwal, chair of the WMA, said: ‘It appears that these physicians and health professionals have been sentenced simply for treating all those patients who presented to them for care, including leaders and members of the rebellion.

‘I want to make it clear that the WMA requires that no doctor or other health care professional be arrested, accused or tried for treating patients, regardless of the origins of the patient's injury or illness.

‘The WMA expects that if any individual, including health care professionals, are put on trial that there is due process of law including during arrest, questioning and trial in accordance with the highest standards of international law.

‘We now want to see independent international assessors allowed to observe the trial and allowed to meet privately with the accused, so that the state of Bahrain can prove to the watching world that the future legal proceedings follow fair process.'

The resolution added: ‘The WMA recognises that health care workers and health care facilities are increasingly under attack during wars, conflicts and civil unrest. We demand that states throughout the world recognise, respect and honour principles of medical neutrality and their duty to protect health care institutions and facilities for humanitarian reasons.'