Violence against Women in Bahrain

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Figures published in the local press give indications about the rising cases of violence against women in Bahrain, and raise questions about the extent of the phenomenon; how to deal with it; how to limit it legislatively, judicially and practically; and what practical measures taken by the Government to achieve effective justice for victims and survivors.

The Director of Batelco Care Centre for Victims of Domestic Violence, Dr. Benna Bosbon, reported that 6061 cases of battered women entered the Centre, and received treatment, since its opening in 2007 until the end of 2009. She said that the hotline service had played an important role in reporting cases of domestic violence. On the other hand, Baheeja Dailami from the Supreme Council for Women reported that the number of divorce cases had reached 427 cases between 2007 and 2009 for reasons related to violence, abuse, and infidelity.

A number of concerns in this area meet with ‘six-point checklist on Justice for Violence against Women’ issued recently by Amnesty International in a document based on international human rights norms and policies. The document aims to identify obstacles to achieving justice for women and girls victims of sexual violence and other forms of gender-based violence. The ‘six-points’ checklist represents a reference to help advocates of women’s rights to identify laws, policies and practices that need reform; as well as obstacles that prevent the successful application of the laws.

According to Amnesty International, it is important in each national context to ask the following main six questions:

1 - Are the existing laws adequate?

2 - Is it safe for a victim to report a crime of sexual or gender-based violence?

3 - Are collection of forensic evidence and provision of medical care appropriate and adequate?

4 - Are there specific obstacles preventing a victim from accessing appropriate services in a timely manner?

5 - Is investigation of crimes efficient and accurate?

6 - Are trials fair, competent and efficient?

From the outset it is clear that the whole issue depends primarily on the existence of adequate laws that can achieve justice for victims and survivors, this is the cornerstone. Addressing the availability of adequate laws will enable us to deal easily with the rest of the other questions, which should guide Bahrain in terms of application. It is difficult to cover all the six-points in view of the lack of information, so the focus will be on the first point.

1 - Are the existing laws adequate?

In the beginning it must be recognized that there is no sufficient laws to criminalize violence against women in Bahrain. But efforts are continuing to enact legislation to achieve that end. In this context it should be noted the following efforts:

• Last February, the Legislative and Legal Affairs Committee at the House of Representatives began discussion of a bill to protect Bahraini family from domestic violence. The Committee met with delegations representing governmental agencies and women NGOs to exchange views. On the other hand, on 10 February 2010, the Committee to Combat VAW at the Women›s Union presented a memorandum to the House of Representatives, in which it stated its views on the draft law.

The latest development came on 22 April 2010 when the House of Representatives approved in an extraordinary session the draft law on the protection of the family from domestic violence and referred it to the Shura Council for urgent adoption.

The Bahrain Human Rights Monitor hopes the legislation to combat domestic violence to come in line with Amnesty International’s definition of rape and other forms of sexual violence that: ‘sexual conduct in which the victim involved was coerced, by violent or non-violent means, and therefore her agreement to engage in sexual acts was not truly and freely given. There should be no assumption in law or in practice that a victim gives her consent because she has not physically resisted the unwanted sexual conduct’. Furthermore, criminal law should identify rape and other forms of sexual violence as a crime against the physical and mental integrity of the victim, and not only as a crime against morality and honour.

According to Amnesty International, the law should not contain exceptions for certain offenders, and should not expose the victim who reports sexual or gender-based violence to danger of being charged with a crime such as adultery or violating immigration laws or the like. Furthermore, the victim should not be exposed to the risk of losing the right to custody of children.

• Bahrain has sought to codify personal status, and, on 14 May 2009, the House of Representatives passed the Sunni section of the Personal Status Act, while the Shia clerics rejected the Shia section under the pretext that more constitutional guarantees are required. The debate is still continuing to persuade the Shia scholars and MPs to approve it.

The Personal Status Act is seen by many observers and activists as a very important legal development to protect of women’s rights, and to address cases of violence and prejudice against women.

In the context of legislative efforts, the Shura Council member Dr. Fawzia Saleh presented in March 2010 a paper entitled: (the role of the legislative institution in the fight against domestic violence). She explained the Council’s role in revising existing laws on discrimination and violence, and legal proposals made to put an end to them. She recommended that the problem of domestic violence should be studied in-depth, Bahrain be guided by international conventions, in addition to the need for a genuine partnership between the relevant parties to reduce domestic violence.

To conclude, the legal loopholes that can be used to abuse women, violate their rights and commit violence against them still exist. Laws and legislation that were issued are not enough, coupled with a slow process to issue them. However, it remains that a significant legal development ca be seen in combating domestic violence and gender-based violence.

2. Safe and timely reporting by a victim of a crime
of sexual or gender-based violence

There is a set of parameters and guidelines established by Amnesty International in this area, including:

• States must ensure that the police and other law enforcement officers in no way intimidate, threaten or humiliate victims of sexual or gender-based violence, either when they file their complaint or during the subsequent investigation.

• There should be enforceable codes of conduct guaranteeing that police officers work professionally with victims of sexual or gender-based violence.

• Victims should be allowed to bring an advocate into any meetings with the police or other investigators.

• Police officers should be trained in best practice methods of interviewing and supporting victims who have been subjected to sexual violence.

In the regards, on 2 February 2010, the Batelco Care Centre for Victims of Domestic Violence organized a training programs for community police officers. The training programs included a number of courses such as: listening and advising victims of domestic violence; home visits; discussing family problems; addressing problems of adolescence and ways to deal with them; violence against children; behaviour modification. 

• Victims should be interviewed in a secure and private environment. In no case should a complainant be put in “protective custody”.

• Victims who are in any form of state custody or other institutional settings must have a secure means of making a complaint to an appropriate entity outside the institution.

•In no case should the investigation be handled internally. Such cases to police who specialize in investigating sexual and gender-based violence

3. Collection of forensic evidence and the provision
of medical care must be done appropriately

Here, medical professionals should be trained in the World Health Organization (WHO) protocol on the collection of forensic evidence in cases of sexual and gender-based violence. They should take notes and collect samples in a way that ensures that the evidence can be used in criminal trials.

4. Victims should access appropriate health services in a timely way

According to international human rights standards:

• Victims of sexual or other gender-based violence must have immediate access to appropriate health services.

• Victims seeking health services after an act of sexual or gender-based violence should be able to see a medical practitioner of their choice (a woman or a man).

• Health services should provide a woman or girl who has been raped with appropriate medical care and initial psychological support.

• Medical professionals attending survivors immediately after an act of sexual or gender-based violence should be trained to deal with survivors’ needs professionally and supportively, and treat them confidentially and with no discrimination.

5. Investigations of crimes must be efficient and thorough

In this framework, there are some important observations:

• The investigating authorities should protect the identity of the survivor if that is what the survivor wants.

• The police must not pre-judge the evidence before the investigation has even started for example, by disbelieving the complainant’s version or by informally encouraging them to drop the complaint “for their own good”.

• There should be clear criteria defining when the police must refer a case to the prosecutor.

• The police should not mediate agreements between perpetrators and victims, they should not facilitate informal payment of compensation and they should not encourage resolution through a parallel legal system such as a tribal court.

• Statistics on the resolution of investigations should be gathered and published.

• Prosecutors must initiate proceedings against the suspects where there are reasons for this.

• If prosecutors take the decision to discontinue a case, they should record the reasons for this and promptly inform the complainant. Prosecutorial discretion should not be used to dismiss cases in which there is sufficient evidence to proceed and if the complainant wishes to go forward.

• The training of lawyers and investigators working in the prosecutor’s office on ways of dealing with victims of sexual violence or other forms of gender-based violence. With regard to Bahrain, and in this particular issue, the Director of Batelco Care Centre for Victims of Domestic Violence, Dr. Benaa Bosbon, explained that the Centre had provided such training to community police officers on how to deal with women subjected to domestic violence. The Centre is planning to do six sessions on how to deal with victims of violence, particularly adolescents and children in addition to organizing specialized courses for community police on the principles of dealing with all forms of domestic violence. In the past, the Centre provided awareness workshops for police officers, prosecutors and judges on domestic violence issues.

• Prosecutors should ensure that witnesses are properly protected from further violence through witness protection measures. Under no circumstances should protection take the form of “protective” custody in a jail or prison.

• Prosecutors should preserve the dignity of victims and witnesses in the courtroom by ensuring that defence lawyers cross-examine witnesses professionally, without using bullying tactics to undermine the credibility of witnesses.

6. Trials must be fair, competent and efficient

• Trials must be fair, free of discrimination and the rights of the victim and defendant must be protected.

• Judges are responsible for maintaining the privacy of the victim’s identity if the victim so chooses.= Judges and lawyers should be trained in understanding crimes of sexual and genderbased violence.

• Sentences imposed on perpetrators found guilty of rape and sexual violence should be proportionate to the crime.