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Overall, there was progress on human rights in Bahrain throughout 2015, although challenges remain. The government of Bahrain continued to take steps to implement its human rights and political reform agenda. The government also has a programme of socio-economic reform to promote and contribute to greater social inclusivity and cohesion across all communities.
The UK’s package of technical assistance to support reform in Bahrain began in 2012. Much of it has focused on building effective and accountable institutions, strengthening the rule of law and police and justice reform, in line with the recommendations in the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) and UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR). This co- operation will continue in 2016.
Beneficiaries of the UK’s support include independent human rights and oversight institutions such as the National Institution of Human Rights (NIHR), Ministry of Interior Ombudsman, Prisoners’ and Detainees’ Rights Commission (PDRC) and Special Investigations Unit (SIU), who provide independent oversight of police behaviour and detention standards, and were established as a result of BICI recommendations. Whilst allegations of ill-treatment in detention continue, confidence in these organisations is increasing, and they are working more effectively. The NIHR’s 2014 Annual Report, published in December 2015, states that it registered 88 complaints. Of these, 36 were upheld.
The Ombudsman’s Annual Report, published in June, includes figures which indicate a 375% increase in the Ombudsman’s activity over the previous year. Although there has been no official report into the 10 March Jau Prison riots, we welcome the Ombudsman’s pivotal role in investigating the causes of the riots, the authorities’ response, and the aftermath (his having received 196 requests for assistance from detainees’ relatives).
The Special Investigation Unit (SIU) has increasingly investigated complaints of allegations of torture or ill-treatment. 70 police officers have been charged with mistreatment and/or torture/ assault. In some cases, the SIU appealed lenient sentences given to police officers, including the two found guilty in the case against Fadel Abbas (reported in the BICI).
There are continued concerns regarding freedom of speech and expression and peaceful assembly. Deprivation of nationality is also an area of concern, and Bahrain is not a signatory to either the 1954 or 1961 UN Conventions on Statelessness. 206 Bahraini citizens had their nationality revoked, with most of these individuals convicted of terrorism-related crimes.
Despite a de facto moratorium on the death penalty, 14 people (including three in absentia) have been sentenced to death by the Bahraini courts for their roles in the death of law enforcement personnel. Five of these convictions have been confirmed by the Supreme Court. We continue to raise our concerns over the death penalty with the Bahraini government.
FCO Minister for the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood, hosted the sixth UK-Bahrain Joint Working Group on 25 November, which focused on reform and the UK’s technical assistance.
Following its mid-term review in 2015, Bahrain will also undergo its third UPR process in 2017.