Case study: Bahrain – progress on reform implementation
Latest update: 30 September 2013
There have been improvements and setbacks in the human rights situation in Bahrain between March and September 2013.
The independent Ministry of Interior Ombudsman’s Office in Bahrain, the first in the Gulf, is now operational. The Ombudsman Secretary-General, Nawaf Al Ma’awdah, has said his priority is to build trust and mutual respect between the community and the police. At the beginning of September, the Ombudsman released his first report, evaluating the conditions and provisions in Jaw prison. It noted concerns of overcrowding and a lack of surveillance cameras across the entirety of the facility, and submitted a list of recommendations for the Interior Ministry to take forward. We welcome the Royal Decree for an independent Prisoners’ and Detainees’ Commission and we encourage the revamped National Institute for Human Rights to play its part in investigating allegations of human rights violations. Sustained practical support and technical assistance from the international community remains essential to success.
Despite experiencing greater violence from some protestors, the police generally handled protests with more proportionality and restraint. However, we are still concerned about allegations of mistreatment and torture in places of detention. We urge the Bahraini authorities to investigate any allegations of mistreatment promptly, thoroughly and impartially.
We are also concerned by the Supreme Criminal Appeals Court’s decision to reduce the jail sentences of two policemen found guilty of causing the death of Ali Ebrahim Saqer on 8 April 2011. While the UK welcomed the government of Bahrain’s decision to review some cases involving allegations against security forces, as recommended by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), questions remain on the level of accountability for deaths. We continue to urge the government of Bahrain to ensure due legal process is followed in all cases.
We are disappointed that the planned visit of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, was postponed again in April. We urge the government of Bahrain to reinstate the visit by the UN Special Rapporteur and enhance its cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The UK was one of 47 countries to sign a joint statement during the 24th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva in September, which called for the visit to be reinstated and for continued progress on reform.
We were concerned to learn of the amendment to the law on political societies’ contacts with international organisations, including diplomatic missions. We urge the government of Bahrain to allow political societies the space to engage.
We continue to encourage all sides to remain constructively engaged in the National Consensus Dialogue (NCD) and welcome the commitment shown to the NCD during this period. We are concerned by the temporary withdrawal of Al Wefaq (Bahrain’s largest political society) from the NCD following the arrest of Al Wefaq member Khalil Al Marzooq on 17 September. The NCD is critical to Bahrain’s long-term stability and prosperity and ensuring equal rights are afforded to all.
10 April 2013
The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) exposed a number of flaws across the Bahraini government and rule of law systems. Our main goal for 2012 was to encourage the implementation of reforms based on BICI recommendations, something the Bahrain government has undertaken to do in full. We did this through close engagement at the highest level from the Prime Minister down and hosted a number of Bahraini Ministers to the UK in 2012 in order to identify areas where the UK might be able to offer support.
The commission observed that the use of torture by the security forces was a deep-rooted problem, and that there was a lack of accountability for such acts, despite Bahrain being a party to the Convention against Torture. The Bahraini government took several steps to address this in 2012, including installing audio-visual equipment in detention centres and making amendments to the Penal Code to make the use of torture by officials a punishable offence. A Special Investigations Unit (SIU) was also established to look into allegations of unlawful or negligent acts by rule of law officials, resulting in the deaths, torture or mistreatment of civilians. The current number of officials being investigated is low, and actual convictions even lower; a lack of reliable evidence is a major obstacle and, as a result, the work of the SIU has so far had mixed results.
With funding from the FCO–DFID Arab Partnership, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons will be working with the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Interior to share best practice on National Preventive Mechanisms against torture in detention centres and to give advice on implementing the Optional Protocol of the Convention against Torture (OPCAT). Our success in lobbying the Bahraini government on OPCAT was shown when they agreed at the Universal Periodic Review to ratify it. In addition, the National Policing Improvement Agency visited Bahrain in late 2012 in response to the Bahraini government’s request for forensics training. Increasing the investigative techniques available to the police and reducing reliance on confessions will contribute towards preventing torture. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture is also due to visit Bahrain in 2013.
There is a risk of deterioration in certain human rights areas in 2013. Due to the lack of progress on a genuine political dialogue, there has been a rise in extremist activity and violence. Despite coming under violent provocation from protesters, the police generally responded with more restraint and more proportionately in 2012. We did, however, have reservations about some of the actions taken by the authorities, such as the temporary ban on protests in October and the revocation of Bahraini citizenship of 31 individuals, leaving several stateless. The parameters of freedom of expression continued to be tested too, with numerous convictions of individuals on the grounds of inciting illegal activity, notably through the use of social media. Civilian re-trials of cases that were first heard in National Safety Courts continued throughout the year, and although some sentences were reduced or overturned, there are several cases that remain contentious and some inconsistencies in the lengths of sentences given. We made representations to the government of Bahrain on all of these issues including the “13 political activists”.
Read and comment on the case study on Bahrain in the Human Rights and Democracy report 2012 in English
Read and comment on the full Human Rights Report 2012 in English