Bahrain: Indiscriminate Use of Chemical Gas as Weapon against General Population
PHR concerned about possible increase in miscarriages due to prolonged tear gas exposure
PHR – Cambridge, Mass. – 19 April, 2012
Upon returning from an investigation in Bahrain, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today criticized the Government’s indiscriminate and systematic use of tear gas against civilian protesters and densely populated Shia neighborhoods. PHR calls for the immediate suspension of the use of this toxic gas because of its suspected severe health impact on the population.
“Despite promises of reform since our investigation to the Kingdom last year, the Government’s excessive use of force has only increased. Security forces now strategically use tear gas –its innocuous-sounding name belies its deadliness – as a potentially lethal weapon against men, women, children, and the elderly alike,” said Richard Sollom, Deputy Director of PHR. “More troubling is the Government’s pattern of attack. Not only do security forces target street protesters, they go out of their way to shoot or throw tear gas into civilian homes. We may be beginning to see serious longer-term health consequences among people routinely exposed to high doses of this toxic gas. Based on our findings, PHR is concerned about possible increased rates of miscarriage and birth defects in Bahrain.”
According to recent reports, the Government of Bahrain has arrested about 60 leading democracy activists in an attempt to contain anti-government protests ahead of this weekend’s Formula One Grand Prix race.
“When all eyes turn to Bahrain this weekend to watch the Formula One race, we cannot forget the protesters who are being constantly attacked by their own government,” said Dr. Holly Atkinson, PHR’s Immediate Past President and co-investigator. “Last week, I saw young children regularly exposed to tear gas and spoke with women who had suffered miscarriages, which might be due to prolonged tear gas exposure. Even worse, many of these vulnerable people are afraid to go to a hospital for care.”
PHR investigators found continued militarization of Bahrain’s healthcare system, including systematic interrogation of suspected protesters arriving at Salmaniya Hospital. In April 2011, PHR released the report Do No Harm, [pdf] which detailed Bahrain’s attacks on physicians, medical staff, and patients.
“By militarizing the country’s medical system, the Government of Bahrain has succeeded in intimidating and subduing a vulnerable population—the sick and wounded. Many patients are afraid to seek care and instead are utilizing private hospitals or an ad hoc community network of care provided by medics and civilians,” said Dr. Atkinson.
Patients and medical staff alike are protected under the principles of medical neutrality, and PHR calls on the Government of Bahrain to respect these principles and cease intimidation of the medical community and those who seek care. …more