Bahrain must grant victims of torture the right to complain

Friday, May 30, 2014

Bahrain’s Interior Minister Lieutenant-General Shaikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa recently stated that anyone making “false allegations” of torture will face legal actions. This statement raises a number of concerns.

The APT reminds Bahrain that any legal actions must respect international human rights obligations. More precisely, they must respect the protection of victims of torture and other forms of ill-treatment, as guaranteed by Article 13 of the United Nations Convention against Torture, ratified by Bahrain on 6 March 1998.

Torture always happens behind closed doors. It is therefore, in addition to the physical, psychological and social sufferings, very difficult for victims to provide significant and objective evidence that they have endured torture or other ill-treatment. Any denial of their suffering constitutes an additional source of pain and impedes the process of redress, reparation and rehabilitation.

Both the UN Convention against Torture and the wider regime of international human rights absolutely condemns any reprisals directed at victims following their complaint.

The Convention against Torture explicit provides that anyone has a right to complain without risk of sanction. Article 13 of the UN Convention against Torture states: “Each State Party shall ensure that any individual who alleges he has been subjected to torture in any territory under its jurisdiction has the right to complain to, and to have his case promptly and impartially examined by, its competent authorities. Steps shall be taken to ensure that the complainant and witnesses are protected against all ill-treatment or intimidation as a consequence of his complaint or any evidence given.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Bahrain on 20 September 2006, as well as the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognised Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, protect individuals against any measures which would impede their freedom of expression related to human rights violations.  These provisions are of utmost importance in fighting against impunity and contributing to victims’ rehabilitation and reparation.

Legislation, policies, and practice should examine any allegation of torture in good faith, impartially and independently. States should make sure that no civil or criminal suit or administrative measures are initiated against victims or any other individuals involved in the proceedings.

The APT urges Bahraini authorities to respect their international obligations and refrain from opening judicial proceedings against victims, lawyers, civil servants or civil society representatives alleging the use of torture and other forms of ill-treatment in Bahrain. We reiterate our call on Bahrain to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and to invite the UN Special Rapporteur on torture to visit the country.

Measures should be taken to ensure detained persons have prompt access to a defense lawyer and guarantee their presence during interrogation sessions. These sessions should be audio/video recorded and involve only identified and duly registered staff. Persons deprived of their liberty should be guaranteed free, regular and confidential access to an independent medical doctor of their choice, at any stage of their detention.