Bahrain Authorities Putting Doctors and Nurses on Trial for Caring for the Wounded

Between Syria, Libya and the killing of Bin Laden, very few media people seem to be paying much attention to the increasingly brutal crackdown on protesters in Bahrain. Since a Saudi-led military incursion several weeks ago, the street protests have basically stopped.  Now that the streets are free of protesters, authorities are hunting them down in their homes, work places —  and even hospitals.

The UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay just released a statement that reveals this very disturbing trend.

The Justice Ministry announced on Wednesday that 23 doctors and 24 nurses from the Salmaniya Medical Complex are due to be tried in a military court on charges including participation in unlicensed protests and inciting hatred against the Government. This comes after four protestors were last week sentenced to death and three to life imprisonment for the alleged killing of two policemen. Prior to their sentencing, they were reportedly held incommunicado, without access to their families and limited access to lawyers. There are also allegations that some defence lawyers have been subject to intimidation.

“The trial of civilians before military courts is always a cause of concern. The application of the death penalty without due process and after a trial held in secrecy is illegal and absolutely unacceptable,” Pillay said. “The defendants are entitled to fair trials before civil courts, in accordance with international legal standards and in keeping with Bahrain’s international human rights obligations.”

Hundreds of individuals reportedly remain in detention for their alleged participation in the protest movement, including teachers, lawyers, journalists and bloggers, medical professionals, artists, activists and members of political bodies. The Government has put the number of people in detention at 400, but OHCHR has received information that the figure may be higher than 1,000, the whereabouts of more than 50 of whom are unknown. Another 312 were reportedly released after questioning, according to the Government. Many of the detainees are alleged to have been arrested while undergoing treatment at Salmaniya Medical Complex for injuries sustained during protests.

Protests like this from UN officials don’t make much of a difference if they land on deaf ears. UN officials can’t impose penalties on countries for violating human rights. Only UN member states can do that. Unless member states raise the stakes on countries committing these kinds of human rights abuses, a regime like the one in Bahrain will deduce that there is little cost to cracking down on protesters.

This is a human rights catastrophe on its own terms.  But it also has the making of a foreign policy blunder for the United States. Despite maintaining a giant navy base in very small country, the United States is seemingly unable to dissuade the Bahraini authorities from abusing their citizens in this way. This means that the United States is not trying hard enough, or despite the Americans’ best efforts, the Bahraini authorities are simply ignoring the United States. Either way, the United States is really not looking good right now.