Highlights of Bahrain’s Reform Progress 2015

Regarding National Dialogue:

Bahrain’s parliamentary system saw major reforms in 2012 that increased the scope of its legislative and oversight powers by granting parliament the power to approve the state budget and the Government’s action plans.

The newly elected parliament encompasses a moderate majority of independent parliamentarians that are not aligned with any political or religious group. The Government of Bahrain regrets the opposition’s decision to boycott the last elections in November 2014; their participation would have provided them with an institutional method of voicing their concerns and contributing towards further reform. Bahrain reaffirms that parliament is the legitimate space for an all inclusive dialogue that reflects the will of Bahraini citizens.

Regarding the implementation of the BICI recommendations:

The Government of Bahrain reiterates its commitment to implement the recommendations of BICI report; the Government of Bahrain has fully accepted the recommendations and has since incorporated them into its reform vision. The assigned follow-up unit issued a report in 2014[1]enumerating the major reform initiatives that Bahrain undertook in light of the BICI recommendations. These initiatives include the dropping of charges related to freedom of expression and opinion, transferring cases from the National Security Courts to regular courts, reinstatement of workers and students dismissed during the events of 2011, and the rebuilding of places of worship, to name but a few.

Out of 26 recommendations, 19 were fully implemented, 6 are still in progress, and one is inapplicable .

Regarding accountability for human rights violations:

There is no culture of impunity in the Government of Bahrain. In fact, a culture of accountability exists as a result of continuous education and training, the creation of a Police Ombudsman Office and the arrest or discipline of officers who have engaged in misconduct.

When any misconduct is brought to the attention of relevant agencies within the government, an investigation is conducted and, when warranted, either disciplinary action is taken or criminal charges are filed with the Public Prosecutor.

Regarding allegations that the Ombudsman is not impartial, transparent, independent and effective:

In 2012, a Royal Decree established a wholly independent Police Ombudsman’s Office, set up entirely outside of the Ministry of Interior, led, and staffed by non-Ministry personnel. The Ombudsman was given full control over his work and his budget, which established a system of independent civilian oversight of complaints and investigations that goes beyond the BICI recommendation. The Ministry has also established a separate internal investigation unit that works exclusively with the Ombudsman to investigate complaints. The Ombudsman Office is the first of its kind in the region and was, together with Bahrain’s National Institute for Human Rights, the recipient of the Chaillot Prize for the Promotion of Human Rights in the GCC in 2014.

Recommendations from the Ombudsman Office, which were detailed in its 1st and 2nd annual reports[2], have resulted in significant reforms and accountability safeguards within the Ministry of Interior, including:

· Ombudsman complaint boxes are now in all police stations. The contents of these boxes are only accessible by Ombudsman personnel.

· Unique identification numbers are being installed on the sides of police vehicles.

· Overcrowding in prisons was relieved with the addition of 8 new buildings. One is dedicated specifically to 15 to 17 year olds while another is dedicated to 18 to 21 year olds.

· The Ministry is currently coordinating with the Ministry of Education to increase class offerings in prisons and detention centers.

· Prison medical staff was increased and medical clinics are now open 24 hours a day. A full supply of medicine is kept in stock.

· Special on-the-job training has been given to security guards regarding the handling of prisoners with special needs. Further training is being designed with help from representatives of the Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons in the UK.

· The Royal Police Academy is now providing human rights training specifically for prison personnel.

Similar to the work of the Ombudsman, the Prisoners and Detainees Rights Commission (PDRC) was established in 2013 as a national preventative mechanism in line with the Optional Protocol of the Convention Against Torture. The PDRC conducted several inspection visits to police stations and detention facilities and published 9 reports[3] addressing the conditions of facilities as well as health and education needs of the detainees.

Pursuant to paragraph 1716 of the BICI report, the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) was established in 2012 as an independent body to investigate any allegations involving death, torture, mistreatment and/or degrading treatment made against officials within the MOI. As of April 2015, 73 members of the security forces, including eight officers, were transferred to court on charges of mistreatment. 38 cases were referred to the courts following investigations. The SIU appealed 12 cases to the court, calling for harsher sentences against officials.

While these mechanisms are new, they are gaining wider public trust through their transparency, public interaction, professional conduct and effectiveness.

Regarding allegations of torture and ill treatment in detention facilities:

The Ministry of Interior has a zero tolerance policy for torture. For instance, this policy was evident in the handling of the two significant cases of misconduct to occur in the past two year. Several anti-narcotics policemen (including high-ranking officers) were immediately arrested after they were found to have played a role in the death of a prisoner in Jau prison on drugs charges in 2014. The case was completely unrelated to the political unrest. Additionally, when an online video surfaced of a policeman appearing to use unnecessary force against a man holding up a photo of an opposition figure, the policeman was immediately arrested. Both cases are currently working their way through the court system.

Regarding fair trial:

The Judicial authority in Bahrain guarantees a fair and equal trial for all litigants as per Article (18) of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bahrain (2002), pursuant to articles (14) and (15) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

To guarantee the financial and administrative independence of the judicial system, the Government of Bahrain created the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) and appointed HE Counselor Salim Al-Kawari as the President of the Supreme Judicial Council as per decree 42/2013. The SJC guarantees the rights and freedoms of all citizens and residents in Bahrain, in addition to public and private property. It also trains judges so that they are capable of applying international standards and treaties related to Human Rights.

Regarding the exercise of freedom of opinion and freedom of peaceful assembly and association:

Peaceful assemblies and gatherings are held regularly in Bahrain. Police do not disperse peaceful protests and abide by regulations and international norms for the handling of protests and demonstrations. However, violent actors who pose a danger to themselves, others, or to public or private property are dispersed using necessary and proportionate force.

As for freedom of opinion, the Ministry of Information Affairs is currently working on a new draft media law in coordination with the legislative and executive authorities. This new law will encompass a wide range of media and journalism related issues and will be geared toward expanding the scope of freedom of press and safeguarding it. The Government of Bahrain established the High Authority for Media and Communications as a supervisory and monitoring body of media content insuring that all media communications abide by international standards of press.

While freedoms of speech and the press are constitutional rights for all citizens and residents of the Kingdom, Bahrain reiterates the fact that freedom of speech has internationally recognized limitations and is not absolute. Accusations of harassment or arbitrary limitations of freedom of expression and opinion support a false narrative that manipulates national law put in place to curtail incitement, hatred and sectarianism.

Regarding reprisals:

The Government of Bahrain does not engage in nor does it tolerate reprisals against persons. Any substantiated claims of reprisal should be sent to the relevant authorities in Bahrain for immediate investigation. Complainants are guaranteed full anonymity and confidentiality.

Regarding the detention of minors:

Any person, regardless of age, who is found to be engaging in criminal behavior, is arrested. The majority of juveniles (under 15 years of age) who are arrested are released, without further legal action, into the custody of their parents. However, in the minority of cases where the child is found to be at-risk in their home, the child’s case is processed through the juvenile court system, which embraces the guiding principle that focuses on what is best for the child. This is the same practice that is used in the majority of western countries. In fact, no children under 15 have ever been tried as adults in Bahrain.

At the same time, the Government of Bahrain is extremely alarmed by extremist factions that are actively recruiting minors, sometimes using them as child soldiers in their political war. In 2014, four young men under the age of 21 blew themselves up while handling IEDs that were intended to target police officers. 2 boys, aged 10 and 11, were also injured when an IED they were given by adults to plant down the street accidentally detonated. Another young man accidentally blew himself up in the summer of 2015 while handling an IED. These distressing incidents are clear indicators that extremist opposition factions are radicalizing and endangering Bahraini youth.

Regarding deprivation of nationality without due process:

All cases involving the revocation of citizenship in Bahrain were the result of terrorist activity that posed a threat to Bahrain’s national security. Each of the affected individuals is guaranteed the right to appeal the decision in a court of law. For example, nine separate individuals have successfully appealed their case (the appeal was successful due to the fact that they committed the terrorist acts prior to the adoption of the terrorism law that allows for the revocation of citizenship).

Regarding allegations of excessive use of force by the police:

In the last 15 months, no one has died in unrest related violence due to police action. During that same period, four policemen and one innocent citizen were killed in IED attacks and one person accidentally blew himself up while planting an IED meant to target police.

These statistics are not illustrative of a police force that uses excessive use of force or engages in illegal acts of violence. In fact, police in Bahrain use less-than-proportionate force in the face of deadly attacks from rioters and terrorists armed with Molotov cocktails, guns and IEDs. To equate terrorist attacks with the legal, necessary, and typically less-than-proportionate force used by the police is extremely disturbing.

Regarding engagement and cooperation with the OHCHR:

Bilateral discussions between the Government of Bahrain and the OHCHR are on-going with the mutual desire to launch a technical cooperation program that provides assistance and capacity building to the relevant stakeholders in Bahrain.

The discussions have not and shall not involve establishing a permanent OHCHR presence in Bahrain, as such an office is not deemed necessary at this stage and level of cooperation.

Regarding organizing a visit for the Special Rapporteur on Torture (SRT):

Due to scheduling difficulties after an invitation was extended to the SRT in 2012, the visit did not take place. The Foreign Minister then met with the SRT on the sidelines of the 25th session of the Human Rights Council to convey the Government’s dismay over the SRT’s prejudiced statements regarding the situation in Bahrain. He also stated that a visit by the SRT at such a critical time, while sessions of the National Dialogue were being held, would undermine efforts of the government’s implementation of the BICI report and would contribute to further polarization of the Bahraini society.

The Government of Bahrain remains open to extending invitations to Special Rapporteurs. However, it retains its sovereign right to choose when to extend such an invitation.

Regarding cooperation with UN mechanisms:

The Kingdom of Bahrain continues to cooperate fully with the UN’s multiple special procedures mechanisms and responds in a timely manner to questions brought to the Government’s attention by Special Rapporteurs or thematic working groups.

Bahrain has also recently submitted its national report to the UN Committee Against Torture, and is diligently working on submitting a number of reports to their respective treaty body committees.

Bahrain also remains committed to the Universal Periodic Review and recently presented a voluntary interim report on the implementation of recommendations received during the mechanism’s second cycle. The Government of Bahrain is working closely with all national stakeholders to prepare its third national report to be submitted to the Human Rights Council in 2016.