A case study from the 2014 Human Rights and Democracy Report.
Throughout 2014, the government of Bahrain continued to take incremental steps to implement its human rights and political reform agenda, though there continued to be serious concerns related to political and civil rights. The UK continued to provide a package of technical assistance focused on strengthening human rights and the rule of law, in line with the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) and the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR).
In November, Bahrain held its fourth parliamentary and municipal elections, the first full elections since the unrest in early 2011. Turnout for the first round on 22 November was 52.5%, although no figures were publicly released for the second round on 29 November. The UK, along with other members of the international community, was disappointed by the decision of the main opposition societies to boycott the elections and to call for their supporters not to vote. This followed the breakdown of the political dialogue with the government of Bahrain. The election period saw acts of intimidation against candidates and voters and a spike in violence. However, overall, we judge the process to have been transparent.
The government of Bahrain continued its efforts to strengthen police accountability and build oversight mechanisms across the criminal justice system. The Ministry of Interior’s Ombudsman’s Office, the Prisoners’ and Detainees’ Rights Commission, and the National Institute of Human Rights (NIHR) released their inaugural reports this year. Some progress has been made in implementing their recommendations, and we encourage the government of Bahrain to move resolutely to address the remaining recommendations in all three reports.
In December, the Ministry of Interior’s Ombudsman and the NIHR received the EU Chaillot award for the Gulf region in recognition of progress made on promoting human rights.
We continue to raise our concerns over allegations of mistreatment and torture, and urge the government of Bahrain to ensure that all allegations are fully, independently and transparently investigated. In November, we registered concern at the death of an inmate at Bahrain’s Reformation and Rehabilitation Centre. An investigation by the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) led to six members of staff, including three high-ranking officers, appearing before the High Criminal Court on 25 November. All six defendants pleaded not guilty, and the case was adjourned until a later date. In November, the SIU investigated video footage showing a person being assaulted in a police car, and charged the police officer in question. The SIU also probed nine cases of alleged torture and four cases of alleged mistreatment in December, which remain under investigation. It is crucial that police officers are held fully accountable for their actions and are sentenced accordingly. Ombudsman’s Office figures in July 2014 showed that 14 officers had been charged with human rights violations. Of those, 12 are facing trial, one received a six-month sentence, and another faced disciplinary action. During his visit to Manama in December, the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, raised UK concerns about human rights issues with the King and Crown Prince of Bahrain.
The NIHR report, published in September, made recommendations on Bahrain’s judicial system. Some progress is being made. In November a Bahraini delegation carried out a study visit to Northern Ireland to learn about the juvenile justice system. SIU staff members also attended training sessions in the UK on forensic evidence, interviewing skills, and the rights of suspected persons. However, concerns remain about apparent inconsistencies in sentencing.
Freedom of speech and expression continued to be inhibited. In July 2014, the 2013 decree requiring the registration of contacts between political societies and foreign parties was enforced for the first time. Over the course of 2014, a number of individuals were convicted for inciting illicit activity, insulting ministers and/or ministries, and spreading false information. In December, Sheikh Ali Salman, the Secretary-General of the main opposition society Al-Wefaq, was charged under anti-terrorism and anti-coup laws. We encourage the government to ensure that due legal process is followed in all cases, and that sentencing is proportionate. In addition, Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, was arrested on charges of insulting the Ministry of Interior and the Bahrain Defence Force.
Although there is a de facto moratorium on carrying out the death penalty, three people received death sentences in 2014. All three still have the right to appeal, and we will continue to monitor any developments closely.
FCO Minister for the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood, hosted the fourth UK-Bahrain Joint Working Group on 4 December, which focused on reform and the UK’s technical assistance.
In 2015, the UK will continue to support the government of Bahrain in implementing its human rights and political reform programme through the provision of technical assistance, training, and best practice sharing. This will include support on reforms of the youth justice system, and court administration and further capacity building for key institutions such as the Ombudsman’s office.