Seven Human Rights Groups Call for the Adoption of a Package of Urgent Measures: Continuing Armed Attacks on Hospitals Reveal State Failure in Protecting Lives

Press Release

20 June 2011

Seven human rights organizations have sent a letter to the Minister of Health in the caretaker government, expressing their fears about the deteriorating level of security in hospitals, which has been revealed by a campaign of new attacks on these institutions. News of 'an assault on a hospital' by so-called thugs has been a familiar and frequent occurrence since around the time of the outbreak of the revolution.

Despite statements by Minister of  Health  almost a month and a half ago in which he promised to secure all medical establishments, describing security of hospitals as a matter he is 'not neglecting', the issue has taken a completely different course.

On 3rd June, almost a hundred armed individuals attacked al-Arish general hospital using automatic weapons, firing into the air in the hospital yard in order to intimidate the workers. They broke windows and entered an operating room for minor surgery, beating one of the nurses with their weapons, and abducted a patient during his treatment, taking him hostage with the aim of retrieving their children who had been kidnapped by the tribe of the wounded man.

In his testimony to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), one of the doctors present said: 'During the attack, there were only two police officers present, and naturally they did not counter the attack as they were only two individuals, facing dozens of armed men.'

The doctor added: 'They had to protect everyone whilst letting the tribesmen out of the hospital with only the injured abductee, so any violent reaction would have had grave consequences for the patients and workers in the hospital and resulted in chaos.'

The doctor had seen that the level of protection was not enough, and added: 'We had asked the director several times to increase hospital security, in view of the location, size, and tribal nature of the al-Arish area, and he promised to respond to our demands, but we are still waiting for him to carry out what he promised.'

Despite the ugliness of the incident at the al-Arish hospital, an even uglier incident took place at Minya hospital on 23rd May, when two gunmen carried out a horrific attack which led to the killing of a wounded man who was receiving treatment. This was linked to a dispute with a brother of one of the attackers, who it appears had masterminded the assault.

After killing the citizen who was receiving treatment, the two men proceeded to remove his stomach and parts of his liver as an 'example ' to others. They then paraded them through the streets, right under the noses of the military policemen responsible for guarding the hospital.

In his testimony to the EIPR, one of the doctors at Minya hospital said: 'The military police are unarmed and therefore essentially unable to repel any attack, and as for the police they did nothing to arrest these criminals.'

Dr. Nabil Garhi, in his speech reported by the Medical Association of Minya, said: 'The current protection is a formality and not enough to secure hospitals, just as these guards say they have not received the order to fire in order to repel attacks.'

He added: 'How can you ask a doctor to work in this environment? We have reached an unprecedented level of violence in hospitals.'

The organizations who signed the letter emphasized that the security of medical facilities is an urgent need and not to be delayed, as it is unreasonable for a doctor to carry out his duties or the patient to receive health care amongst an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. Moreover, attacks on hospitals have serious consequences which lead to the closure of vital departments – such as emergency medicine – for several days during which patients cannot access medical care. This is in addition to the scaring away of citizens from government hospitals for fear of being attacked, detrimentally affecting their medical, psychological, and social lives.

The organizations are therefore appealing to the Ministry of Health to take swift and effective steps to secure medical establishments and to take the necessary measures to supply those charged with the security of hospitals with guidelines to be followed in the event of an attack. This is within the context of a comprehensive guide for dealing with dangerous situations, according to what is prescribed by conventions for the security of hospitals and medical centers in a 'risk environment', in line with the degree and nature of the risk, and the surrounding circumstances.

Signatories to the letter:
1. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
2. El Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence
3. Hisham Mubarak Law Center
4. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
5. Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
6. New Woman Foundations