NIHR’s Report:

Implementing the recommendations is a Government Task

NIHR (the National Institution for Human Rights) of Bahrain issued its first annual report for 2013, in accordance with the Decree establishing it, which stipulates that ““NIHR shall prepare an annual report on its efforts, activities and other works. This report shall incorporate its proposals and recommendations that fall within its mandate, and shall define performance constraints and the solutions adopted to overcome such constraints”.

The report was notably bold in addressing various human rights issues with a high level of transparency, and was also bold in its characterization of the human rights conditions in Bahrain, prior to the submission of its recommendations to the government.

In 150 pages, the Report covered all topics including those related to the Institution itself, in terms of its inception, organizational structure, strategy and action plans. It also covered the civil and political rights, economic and social rights, the rights of groups that are most worthy of care as well as the issues of national dialogue and corruption.

At the outset, the report pointed out the government bodies, such as ministries and institutions, which cooperated with NIHR by responding to its letters requesting clarifications or information, as well as those government bodies that failed to cooperate with NIHR. Likewise, the report mentioned by name those civil society institutions which were addressed, indicating which ones cooperated and which ones failed to do so, whether in respect of releasing the report or else.

The Right to Life and to Physical and Moral Integrity

The second chapter of the report addressed the civil and political rights that have faced challenges in practice. The Chapter referred to ‘The Right to Life and the Right to Physical and Moral Integrity’, indicating that the death penalty was issued against only one person in 2013. The Report also noted that Bahrain’s Government adopted a voluntary moratorium on the application of the death penalty or its complete abolition.

With regard to ‘the right to physical and moral integrity’, the Report pointed to the establishment of the Special Investigation Unit, concerned with investigating allegations of torture, and explained that “ the said Special Investigation Unit, in its current form, does not have the aspired independence and impartiality to ensure effective investigations. The Report attributed this to the fact that the Investigation Unit has been assigned to the public prosecution because “it is the authority that undertakes the investigation with an individual who combines the mantle of being accused of committing acts of criminal law with that of a victim who was subjected to torture or other forms of ill-treatment.”

The Report considered that the Special Investigation Unit was not transparent enough, because the reports it issued were “brief and do not rise to the level of public reports which must include the minimum information referred to in the Istanbul Protocol”. The report said that the NIHR has submitted inquiries to the public prosecution office about the nine deaths cases that were referred to the courts, where 37 members of the security forces were accused including six officers “However, NIHR has not obtained confirmed information about the nature of the judgments awarded on those cases, whether acquittal or conviction, or about the length of the sentences the convicts received, since the Institution has not receive any response to its communications“.

The report added that NIHR “ noticed a discrepancy between the judgments awarded against the accused persons in security cases, such as enticement to violence, riots, or other similar acts, in which the terms of imprisonment are usually long, and the sentences issued against those accused, among the employees of the Ministry of Interior, in cases of torture and other forms of ill-treatment. The judgement in the latter’s cases is, if not an acquittal, usually diluted, and does not commensurate with the offense committed. Such approach, if proven, does nothing but encourages the culture of impunity”.

On the other hand, NIHR’s Report acknowledged the efforts of the Ombudsman Office of the Ministry of Interior with respect to allowing its visit to the Reform and Rehabilitation Centre (Jaw Prison) which enabled the Institution to issue a report on the extent of the application of the International standards regarding the humane treatment, the conditions of the place of detention and the rights and legal safeguards for detainees, as well as their health care.

While the Report refers to the government efforts concerning ‘the Right to Physical and Moral Integrity’, it states, however that, this right “is still subject to, a more or less, frequents violations. The security events taking place in the Kingdom have brought these violations to light, given the improper use of force by the public security forces, such as using shotguns, tear gas inside houses and confined places, and stun grenades, in addition to allegations of assault by beating during the arrest of suspects. The monitoring process carried out by NIHR revealed the existence of cases where this right has been violated, which resulted in physical injuries, some of which are classified as severe”.

The report pointed to the government‘s establishment of the National Fund for the Compensation of the Affected People, with the purpose of the redressing and reparation of the victims of violations. The Government established alternatives to resolve the situation of the affected people as soon as possible through the ‘Civil Settlement Initiative’. The Report said that since March 2012 the Ministry of Justice has received nearly 84 settlement requests for death cases, and 420 settlement requests relating to injuries. All the death cases mentioned in Bassiouni’s report (35 cases) were compensated, in addition to four other cases which were not mentioned in the report.

The NIHR, after examining dozens of complaints concerning torture and ill-treatment, has expressed its legal opinion and referred them to the concerned authorities, but received no responses. An NIHR delegation also visited the Dry Dock Detention Centre to verify allegations of ill-treatment and submitted a report to the competent authorities, which denied the occurrence of abuse without giving any details. Another delegation visited the detention centre in order to investigate after the occurrence of inci?ents of chaos and riots. The delegation met officials at the centre as well as a number of detainees and concluded by referring to “the existence of marks consistent with severe assault on different parts of the bodies of those arrested, in a manner that can be described as collective punishment”. NIHR submitted its report to the Ministry of the Interior together with the recommendations.

The Report’s recommendations to the Government called for: the independence of the Special Investigation Unit (SIU), in conformity with the Istanbul Protocol; and called for the SIU’s compliance with the Protocol, including the issuance of public reports; accession to the optional Protocol annexed to the Convention against Torture; the issuing of legislations to ensure that rehabilitation and detention centres conform to international standards, which means putting them under the supervision of the Minist?y of Justice. The report urged the government to speed up the disbursement of compensations; subject those in charge of law enforcement to comprehensive training programs; limit the use of solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure; consider setting a date for the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and apply a process of legal accountability for all decision-makers among the security leaders with regard to cases of death due to torture or other forms of ill-treatment.

The Right to Liberty and Security

The NIHR’s Report of 2013 dealt with the local and international legislative background regarding this right, and explained the legislative and legal safeguards, and the Ministry of Interior’s procedures relating to the preservation of this right. The report concluded that the government has succeeded in developing a substantive legal and procedural fence in activating the recommendations of the Bassiouni Commission (Article No. 1722/d), which recommends the adoption of all possible steps “To avoid detention without prompt access to lawyers and without access to the outside world. In any event, all detention should be subject to effective monitoring by an independent body. Moreover, every person arrested should be given a copy of the arrest warrant”

Despite this, the Report says that:” the right to liberty and security was prejudiced, to an extent that it was almost eliminated in certain cases. The security measures in place showed many cases in which the individual’s right to freedom and personal safety was exposed to violations. These violations consist of the arrests carried out by the authorities in violation of due process, accompanied by assaulting the sanctity of homes and their inhabitants”... and ”the use of force to break through the doors and destruct property. The right to physical and moral integrity was violated in certain cases”.

In this regard, the report recommended several measures. These include conducting effective and intensive training and awareness programs for members of the public prosecution and the staff in its executive arm, to Instil and enhance among them the human rights culture, the respect for the rights of the accused, the adoption of alternative measures to remand. The Report called for the activation of the supervisory authority of the public prosecution office in relation to violations committed by law enforcement officers while conducting arrests, search, or entering houses or others. It also urged the legislative authority to expedite the issuance of the necessary amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code regarding granting the accused the right to effective grievance, and the reduction of the duration of remand, putting an end to the individual actions by law enforcement apparatus that constitute human rights violations, the establishment of an effective and transparent system to hold accountable those deemed responsible for violations. The Report further recommended the removal of obstacles to the freedom of movement; the cessation of illegal practices at security checkpoints and finally to consider allowing the Arbitrary Detention Team to visit Bahrain.

Other Issues

Regarding the right to a fair trial, the report criticized many government bodies which violated the constitutionally inscribed guarantees by publishing the names and photographs of suspects in the official media and some local newspapers, which constitutes a breach to the principle of the presumption of innocence, and prejudices the human dignity of the accused.

Regarding the right to a citizenship, the report referred to the revoke of the Bahraini citizenship of 31 people, and expressed the view that the state has the right to do so, provided it does not lead to the emergence of the phenomenon of (stateless) individuals. The report added that the decision of forfeiture has caused the said individuals to become stateless persons; therefore it recommended re-instatement of citizenship to them.

Regarding the right to freedom of expression, the report recommended the rapid issuance of a law on the press, printing, publishing and audio-visual media and electronic media, in line with international conventions. It also recommended that all licensed political associations be allowed greater access to television and radio broadcasting, as well as print media. The report urged the public prosecution not to resort to arrest warrants on media issues; and urged the government to ease censorship and restrictions on the media, and to lift the ban on political associations issuing bulletins. Finally, the report called on the government to allow the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression to visit Bahrain.