Bahrain: the Way to Uncover Torture Claims

Most governments in the world, including democratic ones, do not feel comfortable with the idea of being constantly pursued by human rights organizations regarding any abuses that may occur in their countries, even if in principle, these governments support human rights and helps organizations deliver their message. But when there is a knock on their doors, politicians fear that human rights reports could undermine their political or electoral positions.

Any human rights abuses either in democratic countries or in those in the process of democratization are single events that can not be completely eradicated, while this is obviously not the case in authoritarian regimes, in which the violation of citizens' rights is a basic principle.

The question is why democratic countries (as well as emerging democracies) have reservations against human rights organizations' interference, and sometimes refuse to grant them permission to visit or investigate the allegations of abuses or meet with detainees in prisons? And why do these reservations exist when the general policy of these governments is to criminalize both torture and denial of detainees’ rights, and despite the fact that these abuses are illegal and are punishable by law?

It could be argued that these reservations are not in the governments' interest, and could confirm the allegations against them which are by far worse than any outcome resulting from cooperation with international and local human rights organizations.

Two justifications for this reservation are made: firstly, the fear of politicization and defamation. Secondly, the encroachment on the sovereignty of the State concerned. For these reasons some governments resort to adopting local mechanisms to monitor their own prisons which undoubtedly prove to be highly effective.

In Bahrain the Red Cross visits are constant and regular, and the Bahraini government does not feel uncomfortable towards them nor with the outcome of their visits. This is obviously because the Red Cross does not publicly release any reports and instead prefers to discuss its findings directly with the government concerned, which means that media defamation and politicization of Red Cross reports are unlikely. There has been an increase in local and international allegations of abuse inside Bahraini prisons which is denied by the government and confirmed by local organizations. In this case how can the truth be uncovered? As a government, Bahrain has allowed its prisons to be inspected by Bahraini human rights organizations, and indeed the Bahrain Human Rights Society has made several visits to the prisons. However, the Government has decided to cease its cooperation with the Society in this matter, which again can be attributed to the fear of politicization and defamation, but that truth has yet to be uncovered from the Society's point of view, so what is the solution to this dilemma?

First: to resort to the judiciary in order to solve the issue and to accept the decisions that are reached.

Second: to accept the findings of the medical committees investigating the allegations (two independent medical committees have been established in two separate cases, but there decision was inconclusive).

Third: the authorities in charge of prisons should conduct constant investigations. The Minister of Interior has announced before the Parliament that some abuses have taken place and that those responsible were held accountable for their actions in accordance with the law.

Fourth: the Government could ask an independent international human rights body known for its expertise in the field to conduct an investigation – although this can be regarded as a threat to the State sovereignty. If the Government did so, this will prove that it does not fear any inspections to its prisons and is also willing to take strict measures if abuses are proven.

Hasan Moosa Shafaei
President - Bahrain Human Rights Monitor