HRW: Torture of Detainees Continues
Official Response: We Build on Human Rights Successes
Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) report on torture allegations
in Bahrain has been based on interviews, conducted by telephone
and Skype with 14 individuals, who had been in police detention
or in prison, and with several Bahraini defence lawyers. According
to HRW, the interviews were conducted in this manner because Bahraini
authorities refused to grant visas to HRW team.
The report reviewed the outcome of the activity
of the Office of the Ombudsman and the Special Investigations Unit
(SIU) concluding that they have both failed to provide proof of
their effectiveness, a fact already illustrated when the SIU was
sharply criticized in the 2013 annual report of the National Institute
for Human Rights (NIHR), which described it as lacking “ the aspired
independence and impartiality”.
The appendices of the report included answers and
responses from the ombudsman and the Ministry of Interior, most
recently in November 2015, to HRW’s questions and inquiries. Apparently,
HRW has deemed such responses inadequate due to their failure, in
its opinion, to include sufficient data to refute HRW’s allegations
on the lack of independence of those institutions.
The main focus of HRW report, issued in November 2015, is what
it describes as Bahrain’s failure in the commitment to implement
the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry
(BICI) regarding combating torture, despite the establishment of
three bodies for this purpose, namely: the Office of the Ombudsman,
the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) and the Prisoners and Detainees
Rights Commission (PDRC). The report cites the lack of available
information on investigations and prosecutions, and the fact that
there have been no prosecutions for torture, as an indicator supporting
its view on the failure to tackle the “culture of impunity”.
The bottom line, according to Human Rights Watch, is that Bahrain
still experiences the continuation of both the practice of torture
and the culture of impunity and non-accountability.
On the other hand, the report relied on the testimony of ten
detainees, who claimed exposure to coercive interrogation, and that
of four former inmates of Jaw prison who also claimed to have endured
Here, the report reviews what it describes as manifestations
of the failure of the government institutions, established in response
to the recommendations of the Bassiouni Commission, regarding combating
torture. These include:
The Office of the Ombudsman:
- No transparent reports are available on its activities and
there is no information on the cases it referred to SIU, numbering
only 83 of the 561 complaints it received.
- The Ombudsman’s affiliation to the Ministry of Interior
is inappropriate, because the Ministry, according to the report,
is implicated in the violations.
Special Investigation Unit (SIU): The
report says that SIU has so far failed to hold senior security officials
accountable for abuses against detainees.
Criticism against the Government and demands
for practical steps: On the other hand, according to the
report, the Bahraini government has not allowed impartial review
of the performance of these institutions to ensure their effectiveness.
The report notes that the Government has cancelled the scheduled
country visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture after postponing
an earlier visit in 2013. It also added that the government has
not ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture
(OPCAT), which stipulates the setting up of a transparent and fully
independent inspectorate (National Preventive Mechanisms).
Given their lack of independence, according to the report, the
previously mentioned Bahraini institutions fall well short of the
basic standards that OPCAT requires. Moreover, the Bahraini government,
refused to allow HWR to visit Bahrain.
HRW report has specified practical steps to be undertaken by
the Government of Bahrain and other agencies:
- To Issue an immediate invite to the UN Special Rapporteur
on torture to conduct a country visit with unfettered access
to freely carry out his tasks;
- To ensure the complete independence of the three institutions
(ombudsman, SIU and the PDRC) from any link to any executive
authority such as the Ministry of Interior;
- Ombudsman reports should detail the nature of the complaints
received and responses thereto; specify the reasons for any
case’s dismissal, and disclose the sanctions imposed as well
as offenders’ names and ranks;
- The nomination of candidates to both the ombudsman and PDRC
and subsequent appointment should be carried out by a committee,
drawn from a broad cross-section of the Bahraini society;
- The establishment of an independent civilian oversight committee
to scrutinize the work of the SIU and ensure its independence;
- Amending the Code of Criminal Procedure to stipulate the
necessity of a medical examination by an independent physician,
in addition to the Public Prosecution Office’s medical examiner,
for any suspect who claims to have been subjected to torture
or ill-treatment and requests such an independent examination;
- To allow human rights groups, including HRW, access to the
country and to places of detention; and
- To Call upon the ombudsman and PDRC to conduct an investigation
into allegations related to the use of excessive force and torture.
The Bahraini government has acted correctly by issuing a preliminary
response the following day, on November 24, 2015, following HRW’s
torture report, indicating that it is in the process of “reviewing
its content, including the allegations it contains”.
The response issued by the Bahraini Foreign Ministry noted that
the report acknowledges “many of the reforms Bahrain has implemented
over the past few years. These include the setting up of the Bahrain
Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) and the establishment of
independent watchdogs, namely the independent police Ombudsman,
a Special Investigations Unit (SIU) within the Public Prosecution,
and a Prisoners and Detainees Rights Commission (PDRC). It also
recognizes the alignment between Bahrain’s national legislation
on mistreatment with international standards. On several occasions,
the report mentions initiatives taken by the independent police
Ombudsman to inspect places of detention and investigate allegations
of misconduct, including Jaw prison.”
The official statement added that since the “Cases mentioned
in the Human Rights Watch report fall within the mandate of the
independent police Ombudsman, the Government of Bahrain again urges
Human Rights Watch to lodge all complaints with these institutions
and provide them with sufficient information to enable them to conduct
effective investigations. Efforts to safeguard and bolster human
rights are not served by criticizing these institutions publicly
before they have had the opportunity to receive and investigate
The statement pointed out that the anonymous allegations contained
in the report are “based on a very limited number of interviews,
including interviews with some activists with a political agenda”,
stressing that the Kingdom of Bahrain “continues to bolster the
capabilities of its national institutions to carry out their mandates
effectively. The awarding of the European Union’s Chaillot Prize
to the independent police Ombudsman and the NIHR in 2014, and the
Ombudsman’s admission to the International Ombudsmen Institute as
a full voting member, are testament to the success of these efforts.
These national institutions continue to build on their successes
and play a vital role in safeguarding human rights in Bahrain.”
The official statement expressed the Government of Bahrain’s
concern that “allegations of torture from specific individuals in
the report have in many cases already been responded to on previous
occasions. For instance, the Ministry of Interior has responded
publicly to one case on two occasions when Amnesty International
investigated his case. The allegations may have changed, but the
government’s position does not; no mistreatment occurred during
arrest or detention of the case highlighted in the report.”
Finally, the statement noted that “It is also of concern that
two of the recommendations made by Human Rights Watch call for the
suspension of cooperation programmes from the United Kingdom and
technical assistance from the United Nation’s Office of the High
Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR). Human Rights Watch should
applaud and support the cooperation and technical assistance of
other entities that are assisting in Bahrain’s reform progress.
HRW is invited to take a look at the report issued by the National
Institution for Human Rights (NIHR), for a more holistic approach
towards addressing human rights developments.”
How to respond to the report?
Since the Bahraini Government has promised a comprehensive response
to HRW report, and an investigation into the allegations of torture,
we propose the following:
- Bahrain needs to provide adequate data on the cases presented
by the report, and the action taken in respect of verified and
authentic cases. Otherwise, Bahrain should declare the initiation
of an inquiry, if it has not already done so. Bahrain also needs
to provide enough evidence to refute the argument claiming lack
of independence of the three institutions involved (SIU, the
ombudsman and PDRC) both in terms of their composition or the
exercise of their functions.
- Perhaps the greatest doubt cast over these institutions,
in terms of seriousness and credibility, is what international
human rights circles describe as ‘the culture of impunity’.
Unless these institutions provide proof to the contrary, this
suspicion will persist. Such proof should include peremptory
evidence of transparent investigation of all torture accusations,
and bringing the alleged perpetrators to justice.
- Bahrain needs to give clear answers on the issue of the
pending invitation of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to
Bahrain, and the issue of Bahrain’s accession to the Optional
Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT). The answer
should clarify the reasons preventing the complete resolution
of these two issues as soon as possible.
- The issue of the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture
to Bahrain will remain a persistent demand of the international
human rights community.
- Bahrain is also required to clarify the reasons for denial
of visas to HRW and other international human rights organizations
seeking to investigate the human rights situation in Bahrain.
The imposition of such restrictions invariably leads to accusing
Bahrain of failure to cooperate with the international community
and of lack of transparency, as well as raising suspicions that
Bahrain has issues it does not wish to disclose.
- Bahrain’s request for technical assistance from the OHCHR
and the international community in general, should have been
construed as a reflection of a genuine desire on Bahrain’s part
to address the shortcomings, and improve performance in the
field of human rights. Such pursuit is worthy of support and
encouragement, rather than alienation and calls for boycott,
as demanded by Human Rights Watch. We at Bahrain Human Rights
Monitor believe that HRW’s call for boycott has not been appropriate
and does not serve the cause of human rights reforms in Bahrain.
- HRW’s call for boycott poses the question: Why should Bahrain
be required to cooperate with the international human rights
community, when international human rights organizations such
as HRW, issue reports claiming that cooperation with Bahrain
is futile, and calling on the international community to refrain
- Bahrain’s response to HRW’s report should explain the complexities
of the internal situation in Bahrain, where certain elements
are inclined to adopt the methods of violence, vandalism and
sectarian incitement. International human rights organizations
ultimately wish to see results on the ground, but unfortunately
do not care much for reading the difficulties and challenges
that delay the emergence of results or lead to incomplete results.
The exposure of these organizations to the situation on the
ground, with all its complexities, would undoubtedly help them
to better understand the full picture of the human rights situation
and its entanglement with the political and social conditions.
This should allow a more accurate appreciation of the situation
and its implications, as well as enabling a better assessment
of the performance of key human rights players, and the extent
to which their tools conform to the major human rights goals