Torture in Bahrain: Political and Social Environment

On 8 February 2010, Human Rights Watch launched a report about

Bahrain under the title: (Torture Redux: the Revival of Physical Coercion during Interrogations in Bahrain). The report confirms the disappearance of torture in Bahrain since the beginning of the reform project in 2001 and until the end of 2007 where cases of torture began to emerge once again.

Many issues related to the report have been officially discussed and explained. Though the officials have categorically denied the occurrence of systematic torture, they, however, have promised to investigate the information contained in the report assuming that there may be individual cases of abuses. This article discusses the reasons that the report believes they lead to abuses, including torture. This approach goes beyond discussing individual violations to examine the political, social and legislative environment in Bahrain. This is the area that the report did not examine thoroughly though it was very useful to understand the context of torture allegations. The reasons will be examined one by one with some observations, explanations and solutions that may help Bahrain to close this file.

The report attributes the emergence of torture in Bahrain to increasing (political tensions ... in Bahrain. Street demonstrations involving young men from the country’s majority Shia Muslim community protesting alleged discrimination by the Sunni-dominated government deteriorated with increasing regularity into confrontations, sometimes violent, with security forces). Thus, this quotation refers to the following reasons: 1/ the growing political tensions; 2/ using young people in street demonstrations; 3/ protests against discrimination; 4/ confrontations between demonstrators and security forces.

Increasing political tensions

Democratic political transformation in any country passes through transitional period. The transition from one phase to another is always coupled with obstacles and immense difficulties. According to current analysis of the matter, there is a political process

Stork: No return
to square one

On 08 February 2010, Joe Stork, Deputy Executive Director of the Middle East and North Africa of HRW, stated at a news conference in Manama that: (obviously, since the beginning of this century, Bahrain has shown the world that political will can stop torture, which was evident in the period between 2001 and 2006. During this period it was clear that there were serious human rights issues, but torture is not one of them). He added: (it can not be said that Bahrain is back to square one, but when talking about the return of torture, there are serious issues in this regard). He pointed out that the (government reports and medical documents do not mean a return to square one. Today we are talking in a public place and the press conference is allowed without a license, and, therefore, there is no similarity between the way things were ten years ago and now).

in place, involving active political actors. This process is not facing deadlock, although its momentum is slowing down, and at the same time the process does not face strong opposition from within the political system to hinder its performance. Additionally, the period covered by the report (2007-2009) is characterized by relatively good relations and cooperation between legislative and executive branches. Therefore, it can be said that there is no (political tension), but rather there is (security tension) created by a minority that rejects the political process and does not even recognize the ruling system. This minority creates tension in the street, violence, riots and destruction of property. This radical minority in particular, is largely responsible for slowing the momentum of the political process and contributes to human rights violations, either directly or indirectly through excessive reactions by the security forces to its practices.

Two political blocs are competing since the launch of the reform project. One bloc is working towards a smooth democratic transition, while the other bloc is striving to impede this transition under various grounds. These contradicting/adverse positions lead to a conflict and security tension between the two sides and eventually to human rights violations. This situation poses a challenge for everyone and puts the reform project to a test from two sides: the need to continue the democratization process; and at the same time the need to maintain security and order without committing human rights abuses.

It is, therefore, necessary to continue to try to absorb the radical opposition within the political process, while recognizing the fact that the opposition rejects this approach since it is apparent that the radical opposition is not against the reforms and the political process only, but also against the political system altogether. It is also incumbent on the Government to reaffirm its commitment to human rights standards while countering street rioting and violence including good treatment of detainees involved in such events and the prosecution of human rights abusers without delay. Moreover, the reform project always needs to renew itself and blood. It needs to be brought to the fore once again taking into consideration the current transformations at all levels in order to translate its objectives to a dynamic and genuine acts so the citizen can feel that the principles of the National Action Charter and the Constitution have been translated into reality.

Demonstrations by young people

Frequent street demonstrations and protests by young people should not be confronted, prevented or looked at as a negative phenomenon. The burden of studying this phenomenon is largely on the media, social workers, academics, officials of social welfare, youth and sports department, legislators, enlightened clergymen, and student associations. The question is: Why do many demonstrations and sit-ins take place in Bahrain, and why large numbers of young people participate in them? Obviously, there are political, social and living conditions that should be addressed from the roots. There is need to organize events and activities for the youth in order to convert their energy into development projects through which young people can express themselves and contribute positively in nation building. But until then, the demonstrations, if organized peacefully and according to the law, will not necessarily lead to security tensions. There is a margin of freedom that any citizen can use according to law.

Protests against discrimination

The problem of discrimination exists in all countries of the world. It also exists in Bahrain in relation to women, foreign labour and other social groups. The Human Rights Watch report refers to discrimination against the Shiites only. The Bahrain Human Rights Monitor believes that there is no systematic discrimination against the Shiites during the era of reforms, and that there are real efforts to get rid of the legacy of the past in order to balance the political and social condition. There are many ways to fight discrimination, for example through (positive discrimination/affirmative action). However, it can not be accepted today, with the political process going-on, that discrimination is the cause of security tension as there are no new discriminatory actions taken by the authorities. In the final analysis, street violence and rioting is not a logical solution to get rid of the legacy of the past.

On the other hand, while reaffirming that discrimination leads to tense situations in many cases, it is clear that the texts of equality contained in the Constitution and the National Action Charter, are not enough to put an end to all forms of discrimination. Therefore, it is important to have in place legislation outlawing all forms of discrimination. Legislative Council should play its role to study discrimination and develop legislative solutions to it. Protests against discrimination should be staged in a civilized and peaceful manner, and the State should allow peaceful protests without compromising national security.

Confrontations between demonstrators and security forces

The State must respect all components of society without restricting the rights of any one to express their political views peacefully. The organization of demonstrations requires the procedures to be followed, including obtaining a license and determining the location and time. Demonstrations organizers should be vigilant and careful for the safety of everyone as well as the facilities of the State. The State should ensure the safety of demonstrators and other protesters in addition to State facilities. Therefore, there is need for coordination between the organizers of any demonstration and the authorities that grant license to demonstrate. If each party sticks to its boundaries, there will be no confrontation, on the contrary security forces will protect the protesters, and protesters will thank the security forces for providing a healthy environment for demonstration. This is the ideal way for the organization of peaceful demonstrations, where everyone avoids any confrontations between protesters and security forces.

There is no need to impose a fait accompli, by demonstrating without a permit from the competent authorities, as is happening now from the radical parties who incite their followers to destroy properties, burn power transformers, and attack the security forces. These acts are against human rights, and the excessive response to these acts by security forces also constitutes human rights violations. The cause of the clashes between demonstrators and security forces, and the subsequent arrests and the allegations of torture, is attributed to those who do not want to comply with the law by obtaining the required license and commit themselves to peaceful demonstration. We stand by peaceful and civilized demonstrations as well as by legal, humane and civilized reactions by security forces.