Wed, 21 Aug 2019

Bahrain now: A conversation with Husain Abdulla

22 Feb 2019, 11:49 GMT+10

ADHRB is soon releasing a report on impunity in Bahrain. What are you hoping to achieve with it?

Part of ADHRB's work is meant to direct much-needed attention to the culture of impunity that has been fostered within Bahrain's government institutions. Bahrain's oversight mechanisms, specifically the Ministry of Interior (MoI) Ombudsman and the National Institution for Human Rights (NIHR), are tasked with ensuring that Bahrain adheres to international human rights standards and are meant to serve as mechanisms to address abuse in the government and prison system. These institutions, however, have ultimately failed to uphold their mission to provide accountability and oversight, and instead have proven themselves complicit in some of Bahrain's worst human rights abuses, especially within the realm of law enforcement and public safety.

The failure of these oversight mechanisms to uphold international human rights standards in the kingdom has emboldened officials responsible for perpetrating human rights abuses. As indicated in my answer to your next question, we have documented the promotion of 12 senior commanders implicated in violations across the eight most abusive units of the MoI - Bahrain's institution presiding over law enforcement and public safety. According to our research, MoI agencies are responsible for more than 3,000 specific rights violations from 2011 to the present, ranging from incidents of arbitrary detention and torture to rape and extrajudicial killing. At the end of 2017, only three officers had been imprisoned and only five percent of cases reported to the MoI Ombudsman had been referred for serious prosecution.

As law enforcement units and officials have continued to repress human rights, we have growing concerns that Bahrain is emulating the characteristics of a police state - one in which responsible law enforcement and government officials have little accountability for committing the most minor to most egregious human rights abuses. The purpose of our efforts is to address the pervasive issue of impunity and the rewarding of perpetrators in Bahrain's institutions and specifically among its law enforcement agencies, by raising serious concerns for the implications of such an environment on human rights in Bahrain and calling for the international community to seriously re-evaluate its relationship to the kingdom. Our upcoming report outlines not only the shortcomings of Bahrain's institutions, but their ultimate complicity in the outright abuse of human rights, which calls for necessary international pressure and reform.

ADHRB has documented the promotion of 12 senior commanders implicated in violations across the top 8 most abusive MoI units. This suggests that impunity is widespread. And yet, the Bahraini government has claimed to be making progress on reducing human rights abuses. Do you agree?

The Bahraini government's "progress" in combating human rights abuses is countered by an analysis of cases of abuse and impunity in the kingdom. These cases provide overwhelming evidence illustrating that reform in the kingdom is largely nominal, even after the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) was established and proposed a series of steps for reform after 2011. This series of 26 recommendations issued by the commission in a November 2011 report presented to King Hamad bin Isa AlKhalifa, included recommendations for addressing the lack of accountability of government officials in accusations of ill-treatment and torture, arbitrary detention of peaceful activists, unfair trials, and more.

While the state has reported otherwise, the chairperson of the BICI has reported that only 10 of the 26 recommendations have been implemented. ADHRB, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), and the Bahrain Institute for Rights & Democracy (BIRD) have previously found that the government has fully implemented only two of the provided recommendations - recommendation 1718 urging the National Security Agency (NSA) to give up law enforcement and arrest powers, and recommendation 1722 (i) calling on courts to commute the death sentences of those defendants charged with murder during February and March 2011. However, even these two recommendations were walked back when the NSA's law enforcement powers were reinstated and civilians were tried in military court.

Beyond failing to completely fulfill the set of recommendations from the BICI, Bahrain's oversight institutions have also largely failed to address instances of abuse by officials, and even contributed to whitewashing them. Both the NIHR and the MoI Ombudsman have published reports that have wholly omitted notable cases of rights abuses or instead endorsed and justified them. In the case of Hani and Hussain Marhoon - a father and son detained in Jau Prison - the Ombudsman largely refused to address Hani's multiple submitted multiple complaints concerning torture and requests to see his son. Prison authorities have also done little to address numerous complaints filed on behalf of imprisoned political leader Hassan Mushaima concerning denial of access to medical care in Jau.

The Ombudsman's annual reports have further excluded abuses committed by MoI personnel, including the failure to adequately investigate torture allegations in the case of Mohamed Ramadan. Meanwhile, the NIHR has previously overlooked lethal raids by security forces on peaceful sit-ins in the village of Diraz in 2017, while issuing a statement supporting the extrajudicial execution of three torture victims earlier that year. As recently as October 2018, the NIHR also deemed the beating of Najah Yusuf, Hajer Mansoor, and Medina Ali by prison authorities as "within reasonable use of force". United Nations bodies like the Human Rights Committee and the Committee against Torture have gone so far as to pointedly raise their concerns for the independence of Bahrain's accountability and oversight mechanisms in periodic reports. These cases suggest that widespread impunity across government agencies is alive and well in Bahrain, and is not limited to the confines of the MoI.

Is there an example of such a promotion that you think really exemplifies the phenomenon?

At the highest reaches of government, officials - including some members of the royal family - have been implicated in allegations of torture, including Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad, the king's son. As the head of the Bahrain National Olympic Committee, he established a special commission to identify and punish more than 150 members of the Bahrain sporting community who had peacefully demonstrated in 2011. He indicated that the commission was specifically intended to carry out reprisals, publicly calling for "a wall to fall on [protesters'] heads even if they are an athlete Bahrain is an island and there is nowhere to escape," and tweeting "If it was up to me, I'd give them all life [in prison]."

Torture allegations have also been directed at the prince. In one such case in the United Kingdom, a Bahraini under the pseudonym "FF" filed a case against the prince, alleging he was involved in the torture of detainees after the 2011 protests. Though the prince's diplomatic immunity was overturned by the High Court of London in the case, he has continued to maintain and even be promoted to prestigious positions within Bahrain's sporting and security bodies, and the government continues to dispute any such claims. In September 2017, King Hamad appointed Sheikh Nasser to serve as a member of the Supreme Defense Council (SDC) - Bahrain's highest authority for national security. He continues to maintain leadership of the Olympic Committee and has further begun spearheading Bahrain's international religious freedom campaign.

Sheikh Nasser's success and reward amidst very serious abuse allegations serves as one of the most high-profile examples of government impunity for serious human rights abuse allegations in Bahrain. This outstanding example is one of the most potent cases we observe that could be read as setting a precedent for accountability at other levels of government, including in our documentation of the MoI.

Mubarak bin Huwail remains one of the MoI's most prolific offenders - implicated in allegations by medical personnel in 2011 that specifically mentioned his role in the oversight of torture, he has risen through the ranks from Major, to Lieutenant Colonel, and later to Colonel as Director of Anti-Narcotics in the General Directorate of Criminal Investigation and Forensic Science (GDCIFS) from 2011 to 2016. His promotion to Lieutenant Colonel in 2012 occurred while presumably under investigation for torture - he was later acquitted of all charges relating to the 2011 abuse and was further thanked by Bahrain's Prime Minister. Though other MoI officials have walked free from justice for their abuses, bin Huwail is one of the prime examples of this phenomenon of impunity.

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