Joining the OPCAT:
Bahrain’s Concerns and Aspiration
Hasan Moosa Shafaei
|Hasan Moosa Shafaei
In September 2012, Bahrain decided to consider the recommendation
of the Human Rights Council to join the OPCAT. This attracted local
and international attention and raised many questions regarding
the objectives and work tools of the optional Protocol as well as
the appointed bodies in charge of implementing it and their relation
to the concerned country.
What is the purpose of OPCAT? Why has it become
a centre of attention for human right defenders locally and internationally?
In other words, what can OPCAT add since concerned countries such
as Bahrain have already become party states to CAT?
The only purpose of this Protocol is to prevent the occurrence
of torture. What makes it special is the fact that it concentrates
on preventative measures and depends on the cooperation of three
parties, the country concerned, the Subcommittee on Prevention of
Torture (SPT) which is a UN body, and a national preventative mechanism
(NPM) which bears the most responsibility in the implementation
of the articles of the Protocol.
Despite the fact that joining the CAT is important and beneficial,
it is not enough to practically eliminate torture, as it focuses
on the theoretical elements necessary in the prevention process.
The Protocol is designed to compliment CAT and follows practical
steps in order to make a change on the ground.
Regular unannounced visits to detention centres can to some extent
deter the occurrence of torture and the Protocol participates in
directing and reforming the criminal justice system and the transitional
process aiming at the promotion of the rule of law.
Why does Bahrain need to join this Optional Protocol?
This is because Bahrain is facing increasing allegations with
regard to violating detainee’s rights and even the Government has
acknowledged several cases which resulted in the death of citizens
in detention centres. The Government says that torture is a crime
punishable by law and that what take place are individual breaches.
But how can we prevent these inhumane practises? And how can we
convince the International Community that these violations will
not take place again and that there is a political wil? to confront
them? Up to this point, there are no mechanisms for confronting
such practices, although a law that criminalises them exists. Hence,
an independent national committee with proper mandate is needed
to make regular visits to detention centres and communicate with
the authorities in order to set up procedures that deter the use
Through visits to detention centres, the committee can determine
the reasons behind torture, analyse systematic mistakes and the
reasons behind failure. By doing so it will then be possible to
present recommendations in order to address the real reasons behind
the use of torture and reduce its occurrence.
But why is there a need for signing the Optional
Protocol, since any country can establish a national committee to
take on the role mentioned above?
Most countries do not set up local committees for investigating
and monitoring torture. In the cases when they do so, it is established
in an arbitrary fashion, does not follow international standards
and therefore becomes ineffective. The purpose of the Protocol is
not only to establish an investigative national committee to combat
torture, but to provide it with help through the expertise and experiences
of the SPT. Through the SPT, the Optional Protocol makes sure that
the establishment of the national?committee is within international
standards and that it strives to develop the capabilities of its
Most importantly, the Optional Protocol helps the Government
regain the trust of the public following crisis characterised by
human rights violations relating to detainees. It also gives the
Government the opportunity to prove its commitment to protecting
all members of society including the detainees.
Are the objectives of SPT limited to cooperating
with the national committees and providing them with the necessary
SPT and NPM share the same goals including:
1- Conducting regular visits to detention centres and inspecting
and improving their conditions in order to reduce the occurrence
of torture. The national committee bears the lion share of the responsibility
as it is present within the country and thus able to communicate
with local authorities.
2- Presenting recommendations to the concerned authorities so
that they can take preventative measures.
3- Helping the concerned country in implementing these recommendations.
Why then do some countries hesitate to join the
This hesitation can be attributed to three factors:
Firstly: some countries are not sincere in their desire to prevent
the use of torture especially when dealing with political prisoners.
Torture is seen as a good tool for obtaining information and deterring
Secondly: some countries are very sensitive and see international
monitoring as interference in their internal affairs, or even undermining
their national sovereignty.
Thirdly: most countries fear condemnation and defamation when
torture cases are discovered. They also fear that these cases will
be used to exert political pressure even if they are sincere in
preventing torture and criminalising those responsible.
The UN who designed this Protocol is aware of these issues and
also understands that whoever joins it has to have good intentions
and a sincere political will in preventing torture.
The Protocol has made it clear that its purpose is not to condemn
and defame but to cooperate and encourage constructive dialogue.
This is in order to help State members achieve the real changes
necessary to prevent the occurrence of torture. It also affirmed
that the reports of the national committee would be made public
whereas the SPT reports would remain confidential and can only be
published if the concerned country allows it.
The work of the SPT is similar to what other international organisations
do when allowed by the Bahraini government to work inside the country
and visit detention centres such as has been the case with the Red
Cross which does not issue public reports. In December 2011, Bahrain
signed a memorandum of understanding with the Red Cross which has
been conducting regular visits to detention centres.
How is it possible to guarantee the establishment
of a national preventative mechanism in accordance to international
There are several conditions that need to be met when establishing
national mechanisms including the following:
- Guaranteeing its independence with regards to its activities
and finances, and also the independence of its members.
- The members of these committees should be competent and professional.
They should also have the right to benefit from foreign expertise
and all social segments should be represented.
- The national mechanisms should have access to all detention
centres through sudden and regular visits and meet any detainee
without restrictions or surveillance.
- The national mechanism should also be allowed to access all
information with regards to places of detention and the detainees’
medical and dietary reports.
- The staff of the national mechanism should have immunity from
investigation and arrest and should be allowed to work freely. They
also should have the right to protect the information they have
and not disclose them. Also immunity should be given to all individuals
and bodies contacting these mechanisms.
- The national mechanisms should present reports and recommendations
in order to improve the conditions of the prisons and detainees
based on their visits. The authorities on their part should study
these recommendations and meet the officials of the national mechanisms
to discuss their implementation. The Protocol stressed that the
national mechanisms should issue an annual report explaining their
activities in preventing torture. Also, these mechanisms have the
authority to present proposals and comments?regarding legislations
and bills relating to the prevention of torture.
- Finally, all kinds of facilitations should be provided for
these mechanisms in order to communicate directly with SPT. This
can take place in the shape of training courses, meeting or information