Torture in Bahrain

Torture in Bahrain

In 2005, the United Nations Committee Against Torture reported in a judgement that "there is no systematic torture in Bahrain" since it had started the implementation of reforms in 2001. []

The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)'s director general Erick Sottas said in September 2005 at a press conference at the Bahraini Foreign Ministry after a three day visit that his organisation "have been condemning for years the cases of tortures in Bahrain. However, after the reforms, the issue of torture has been dealt with." []

Torture was endemic in the period 1974 to 1999, during the time that the State Security Act 1974 was in effect, especially during the 1990s Intifada (as documented several international human rights organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch). Along with political reforms, King Hamad in 2001 scrapped the notorious State Security Act 1974 which had allowed many of the abuses to take place.

The royally appointed prime minister, Shaikh Khalifah ibn Sulman al-Khalifah (uncle of the present King), was head of government during all the period that the alleged torture took place and continues in his office to the present day.

The issue of immunity over past violations has remained a point of concern. In 2001, the King pardoned all those involved in political violence in the 1990s freeing hundreds of prisoners. Following 2001's general amnesty, in 2002 the King issued Royal Decree 56, which clarified that amnesty is also granted to all state security officers who may have committed human rights abuses prior to 2001. As a result, the Public prosecutor of Bahrain has refused to accept any complaints of torture lodged against security officials, and no individuals have yet been charged or tried by the state, despite pleas by international human rights groups. Most of the officers have continued their employment and some have been promoted to higher government positions.

Among the individuals alleged to have committed, or overseen, the torture are: Ian Henderson, Adel Flaifel, Khalid Al Wazzan, Abdulaziz Ateyatallah Al-Khalifa, Alistair Bain McNutt.

Period of the State Security Act

Torture was endemic in Bahrain between 1974 and 1999, when the State Security Act 1974ref|SSL was in force, but prior to the accession of King Hamad. The State Security Act, formally scrapped in 2001, contained measures permitting the government to arrest and imprison individuals without trial for a period of up to three years for crimes relating to state security. Other measures relating to the 1974 Act were introduced, (namely the establishment of State Security Courts) which added to the conditions conducive to the practice of torture.

Torture appears to have been most prevalent during the 1990s Uprising, between 1994 and 1997 when civilians sought the return of the liberal Constitution of 1973 and their Parliament by presenting two public petitions to the Emir.ref|Hansard Individuals who were connected to this petition were deemed to be acting against the regime and were subsequently detained under the State Security Laws, subjected to torture and a number were forced into exile.ref|USState See also: History of Bahrain.

Bahrain’s past track record for gross violations of human rights, in particular torture has been frequently raised in a variety of UN fora; it was one of the countries subjected to the 1503 procedureref|UNHCHR and has been the subject of a resolution by the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minoritiesref|subcomission as well as urgent appeals from the Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.ref|UNdoc The Special Rapporteur summed up the practice of torture during this period in his 1997 report to the UN Human Rights Commission:

“most persons arrested for political reasons in Bahrain were held incommunicado, a condition of detention conducive to torture. The Security and Intelligence Service (SIS) and the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) were alleged frequently to conduct interrogation of such detainees under torture. The practice of torture by these agencieswas said to be undertaken with impunity, with no known cases of officials having been prosecuted for acts of torture or other ill-treatment. In cases heard before the State Security Court, defendants were reportedly convicted solely on the basis of uncorroborated confessions made to political or security officials or on the testimony of such officials that confessions had been made. Although defendants often alleged that their "confessions" had been extracted under torture, impartial investigations of such claims were reportedly never ordered by the court. In addition, medical examinations of defendants were rarely ordered by the court, unless the defendant displayed obvious signs of injury. Such outward displays of injury were said to be uncommon, since torture victims were usually brought to trial well after their injuries had healed.
In addition to its use as a means to extract a "confession", torture was also reportedly administered to force detainees to sign statements pledging to renounce their political affiliation, to desist from future anti-government activity, to coerce the victim into reporting on the activities of others, to inflict punishment and to instil fear in political opponents. The methods of torture reported include: falaqa (beatings on the soles of the feet); severe beatings, sometimes with hose-pipes; suspension of the limbs in contorted positions accompanied by blows to the body; enforced prolonged standing; sleep deprivation; preventing victims from relieving themselves; immersion in water to the point of near drowning; burnings with cigarettes; piercing the skin with a drill; sexual assault, including the insertion of objects into the penis or anus; threats of execution or of harm to family members; and placing detainees suffering from sickle cell anaemia (said to be prevalent in the country) in air-conditioned rooms in the winter, which can lead to injury to internal organs.”ref|rapporteur

End of the State Security Law and a new ruler

Since, the Emir, Sheikh Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa succeeded his father, Sheikh Isa Bin Sulman Al Khalifa in 1999, the occurrence of torture has apparently dramatically dropped. Only isolated incidents have been reported and the conditions of detention have improved.ref|USstate2 This can be attributed to the introduction of some crucial reforms.ref|reforms In October 2001, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention visited Bahrain for the first time. Although it confirmed the condemnatory decisions and opinions it had previously made in relation to the state security laws with further investigations, it congratulated Bahrain on “the decisive scale and scope of the reforms that have been undertaken and the accompanying acts of clemency” following the repeal of the State Security laws and the release of political prisoners.ref|wgad It viewed the repeal of the state security laws “amount to a major political shift in favour of human rights”.ref|wgad2 However it also recognised that : “Not all the instruments currently in force are flawed, the problem lies rather in their practical application”.ref|wgad3 Much remains in the will of the relevant authorities to continue with the reform process and to ensure that existing safeguards are effectively implemented in practice.

The Amnesty Decree

The obligation on the state to provide an effective remedy and the needs of the torture survivors to receive compensation and other forms of reparation was stressed by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.ref|wgad4 The views of civil society have also placed emphasis on the need for effective and enforceable remedies for torture survivors: “that mainstream opinion puts the highest priority on victims’ right to compensation inter alia for torture, and in particular to the medical care with specific physical and psychological attention.ref|wgad5

However, to date, no alleged perpetrator has been tried for torture or ill treatment even though the practice of torture in Bahrain during the 1980s and 1990s has been well documented.ref|USstate3 There have been reports of one case in 2001 where an individual who suffered torture while in police custody was personally compensated by the Emir,ref|USstate4 and in November 2002, 8 torture victims lodged complaints relating to their treatment with the Directorate of Public Prosecutions for an effective investigation,ref|redress and requesting that charges be laid against one of the alleged perpetrators, Adel Felaifel, who was already being investigated on relation to fraud and embezzlement charges. There have also been numerous demonstrations and calls from the public for such a prosecution to be initiated. Additionally, more than 30,000 people werereported to have petitioned the King to repeal Decree No. 56. At the time of writing, no known investigation has been opened in relation to these cases.

The calls for an investigation with a view to prosecuting such crimes has been met with stiff opposition from the Government. Decree 56 of 2002, which purports to grant a blanket amnesty for any case (civil or criminal) lodged by persons accused of or convicted of “offences that endangered or pose a threat to state/national security” which fell within the jurisdiction of the State Security Court, effectively extends Decree 10/2001, the general amnesty of February 2001, to cover human rights violations committed by government and security officials as well as offences by political opponents of the government.ref|law56 It appears to be in direct contravention with the provision in article 89 of the Penal Code that only allows amnesty laws which do “not affect third party rights,” and counters the prohibition of torture in the National Charter which provides that:

“No person shall in any way be subjected to any kind of physical or moral torture, inhumane, humiliating indignant treatment… Law ensures punishment of those who commit an offence of torture, a physically or psychologically harmful act”.ref|charter

"Sections of this article have been taken from the [ Submission Of THE REDRESS TRUST To The House of Lords meeting On Bahrain, Aug 17 2004] "

List of individuals killed under torture in Bahrain

The table below shows the names of Bahrainis who are thought to have died under torture of state security officers. The list has been compiled from reports documented by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.


# This led the government to dissolve the assembly in order to enact the State Security Laws. In essence this was the root cause of human rights violations within Bahrain during the last 20 or so years. US Department of State, [ Bahrain Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2001] supra, p. 1; Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Foreign Policy: Regional Country Profiles – Bahrain, p. 2; Amnesty International report: “ [ Bahrain Violations of Human Rights] ” 9 May 1991, p. 4.
# Hansard 3 June 1997, [ Motion concerning Bahrain: question posed by George Gallaway and responded to by Derek Fatchett, Minister of State] , Foreign and Commonwealth Office, pp. 1, 3; HRW: ‘ [ Routine Abuse, Routine Denial Civil Rights and the Political Crisis in Bahrain] ’, p. 29.
# US Department of State, [ Bahrain Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2001] ; Amnesty International report: “ [ Bahrain Violations of Human Rights] ” p. 3; US Department of State, [ Bahrain Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1996] , p. 3.
# From 1991 to 1993, 47th-49th session, see Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, [ States examined under the 1503 procedure] by the Commission on Human Rights (as up to 2003).
# [ Situation of human rights in Bahrain] , Sub-commission resolution 1997/2, adopted at the 24th meeting, 21 August 1997, in which the Sub-Commission noted “the information concerning a serious deterioration of the human rights situation in Bahrain, including discrimination against the Shi’a population, extrajudicial killings, persistent use of torture in Bahraini prisons on a large scale as well as the abuse of women and children who are detained, and arbitrary detention without trial or access by detainees to legal advice” and expressed “its deep concern about the alleged gross and systematic violations of human rights in Bahrain.”
# See e.g. [ UN Doc. E/CN.4/1996/35] , 9 January 1996, para.33; [ UN Doc. E/CN.4/1998/38] , 24 December 1997, para.24 and [ Opinion No.15/1997 of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention] , UN Doc. E/CN.4/1998/44/Add.1, 3 November 1998.
# Fifty-third session, Item 8(a) of the provisional agenda UN Doc. [ E/CN.4/1997/7] , 10 January 1997, para 26; see also US Department of State, [ Bahrain Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2001] , p. 1; Amnesty International report: “ [ Bahrain Violations of Human Rights] ” Summary, p. 2; and [ Report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention – Visit to Bahrain] , para 90 according to which prisons are no longer overcrowded and conditions of detention are satisfactory. UN Doc.E/CN.4/2002/77/Add.2.
# US Department of State, [ Bahrain Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2001] , and [ Working group on arbitrary detention] , para 90.
# The most significant change has been the repeal of the State Security Law. This has included the abolition in February 2001 of the State Security Court which held secret trials with few procedural guarantees. In addition to this, the Emir granted an amnesty to all political prisoners held under the State Security laws other than life-threatening offences pursuant to articles 333 and 336 of the Criminal Code. This resulted in the release of a large number of detainees and the return of many Bahrainis living in exile and the cancellation of international search warrants. For further information on reforms, see, REDRESS. Reparation for Torture: A Survey of Law and Practice in 30 Selected Countries (Bahrain Country Report), May 2003, available at: [] .
# See [ Report of Working Group on Arbitrary Detention] , in particular paras. 9 to 13.
# Ibid para. 18.
# para. 56.
# para 28.
# Ibid, para 24.
# [ US State Department Report 2001] .
# [ US State Department Report 2001] .
# Open letter to the Ambassador of Bahrain dated 17 December 2002 from REDRESS, OMCT, APT FiACAT and IRCT.
# Decree 56 provides that: “No lawsuit related to or result from crimes that were subject to general clemency will be heard in front of any judicial panel irrespective of the plaintiff’s person or position and the accused person, whether he was civilian, a civil employee, or a military officer who was directly involved in the crime or was a partner to the crime that occurred during the period the preceded the issuance of this decree.”
# Second – Protection of individual freedoms and equality of Chapter 1 Basic principles of society of the National Charter (para 2).

ee also

* Human rights in Bahrain
* Ian Henderson
* Adel Flaifel
* Khalid Al-Wazzan
* Abdulaziz Ateyatallah Al-Khalifa
* Royal Decree 56 of 2002
* State Security Law of 1974
* 1990s Uprising in Bahrain
* History of Bahrain

External links

Documentary videos

* [ "Blind Eye to the Butcher"] (2002) ITV documentary about Ian Henderson
* [ Channel 4 report on British complicity in torture and human rights abuses in Bahrain]
* [ "A Living Martyr"] (2004) Interview with Bahraini torture victim Abbas Ahmed Yousif

NGO Reports

* Amnesty International: [ Amnesty International hails recent positive human rights developments] (Feb 20, 2001)

* Amnesty International: [ Concerned that new legislation allows impunity for human rights offences] (Nov 28, 2002)

* [ Human rights developments and Amnesty International's continuing concerns] (Nov 20, 2000)

* Amnesty International: [ Women and Children Subject to Increasing Abuse] (Jul 15, 1996)

* Amnesty International: [ A human rights crisis] (Sep 25, 1995)

* Amnesty International: [ Banned from Bahrain: forcible exile of Bahraini nationals] (Dec 15, 1993)

* Amnesty International: [ Violations of human rights] (May 8, 1991)

* Human Rights Watch: [ Human Rights Developments 1999: Bahrain]

* Human Rights Watch: [ Routine Abuse, Routine Denial: Civil Rights and the Political Crisis in Bahrain] (June 1997)

* Redress Trust: [ Submission Of THE REDRESS TRUST To The House of Lords meeting On Bahrain] [pdf 154KB] (Aug 2004)

* Redress Trust: [ Reparation for Torture: A Survey of Law and Practice in 30 Selected Countries (Bahrain Country Report)] [pdf 74KB] (May 2003)

* World Organisation Against Torture: [ Rights of the Child in Bahrain] [pdf 831KB] (October 2001)

* National Committee for Martyrs and Victims of Torture in Bahrain: [ Address to London seminar] (Dec 2004)

* [ Report submitted by the Bahrain Human Rights Society to the Committee against Torture] [pdf 64KB]

UN Documents

* [ Conclusions and recommendations of the Committee against Torture: Bahrain] (21/06/2005)

* [ Report submitted by the government of Bahrain to the Committee Against Torture] [pdf, 125KB]

* North South XXI: [ Submission to the UN Commission on Human Rights] (Jan 11, 1999)

* International Federation of Human Rights Leagues: [ Submission to UN Commission on Human Rights about Bahrain] (Jan 20, 1998)

* Report of UN Special Rapporteur on torture: [ Bahrain] (Dec 20, 1996)

* Report of UN Special Rapporteur on torture: [ Bahrain] (Dec 24, 1997)

* Report of UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary execution: [ Bahrain] (Dec 19, 1997)

Debates in the British Parliament

* [ Debate on human rights violations in Bahrain in the UK House of Commons] (June 3, 1997)

* [ Debate on human rights violations in Bahrain in the UK House of Lords] (June 5, 1995)

News articles

* BBC: [ Bahrain Shia call for activists' release] (Feb 28, 2008)

* AFP: [ Rights group calls on Bahrain to deal with legacy of torture] (Sep 30, 2005)

* Gulf News: [ Rights activists to petition Hamad] (May 26, 2003)

* BBC: [ Bahrain sacks interior minister] (May 22, 2004)

* BBC: [ Bahrain lifts key security law] (Feb 18, 2001)

* Le Monde Diplomatique: [ Bahraini Regime Stages Confessions, Rejects Compromise] (July 1996)


* [ Information about the SSL on the Voice of Bahrain website]

* Voice of Bahrain: [ Some of the murder victims of the State Security Law]

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