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
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
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
• 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
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
• 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
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
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
• 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
• 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.