Beyond the HRW Report

The latest report issued by Human Rights Watch (HRW) last month under the title ‘the Revival of Physical Coercion during Interrogation in Bahrain’ has not covered the whole truth. Despite the fact that the report received many criticisms, it contains some positive aspects that were lost during the heated debates which followed between journalists, human rights activists, official bodies and MPs.

The report contained many weaknesses such as the absence of the official response to the allegations, and its reliance on the testimony of former detainees involved in violence and rioting, most of whom have political affiliations and oppose the reform project. Also, some of the information contained in the report was not only inaccurate but was clearly false, such as the names of some of the civil servants in the Ministry of Interior. Later on it became evident that there is no connection between these individuals and the report content.

We do not believe that HRW intended to defame the political system in Bahrain. Thus the unfounded accusations put forward by some writers and commentators, such as the claim that the organization is an agent of foreign intelligence, is unacceptable. We assume that the report was published in good faith aiming to improve the human rights situation, and hence we should benefit from it.

On a positive note, it is important to remember that the report was published from inside Bahrain, and specifically from the headquarters of the Bahrain Human Rights Society: the first human rights society founded in the reform era. The report was also thoroughly discussed in the media and was debated in Parliament and by Government officials. Furthermore, launching the report in Bahrain highlighted the margin of freedom available in the country and the confidence of the system in its abilities and its reforms. The report has also yielded impressive political and human rights activism, as well as positive discussions at the official, public and legislative levels. It raised human rights awareness, and reflected unlimited aspirations of what the status of human rights should be in the country.

It is also expected that the report will reinvigorate the country’s official apparatus, especially the Ministry of Interior, and will push it to investigate torture allegations. Additionally, it will encourage it to put forward mechanisms, which prevent such breaches from taking place. The official institutions concerned with human rights should have learnt a lesson from the report namely; by delaying their response to the enquiries of international human rights bodies, these latter will issue their reports even if official responses are not included.

We are confident that torture in Bahrain is not systematic, but at the same time we cannot say for certain that there are no breaches of the law, since many doubts still exist due to the lack of transparency on the Government’s part. On the other hand, it seems that the torture cases mentioned in the report were exaggerated by witnesses. Obviously, the report is unable to uncover the full circumstances of allegations of torture.

Both the Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Interior should fulfill their promises to study and investigate these cases professionally and with transparency. It is worth noting that the Ministry of Interior has admitted that breaches have taken place when it referred some of its employees to the courts for trial a few months ago. The Ministry of Interior confirmed this again after HRW issued its report, but it did not reveal the nature of these breaches to the public, or the reasons behind the referral of some of its employees to courts. Also, it did not declare the outcomes of these trials or the results of previous investigations. We hope that the report will put an end to the controversy and debates regarding allegations of torture. Moreover, there is need for a mechanism for investigation that is acceptable, transparent, professional and impartial. This mechanism will deal with all torture cases, rumours and allegations in a manner acceptable to all parties.