Bahrain’s elected legislators sent a reply to the letter received from Congress members on June 7, 2013 on the decision to postpone a visit by the UN Special Rapporteur Juan Mandez to the Kingdom of Bahrain.
“The Kingdom of Bahrain is a country of institutions where the law prevails; and that laws, procedures, capacities, and practices have been put into place to fundamentally change the political and legislative landscape; while protecting human rights, comprehensive reforms, cooperation with international experts, and the formation of the Bahrain Independent Fact-finding Commission are all steps that manifest the Kingdom’s firm determination to attain further progress and development.
The honorable legislators reiterated that the sources for the factual predicates of the Congressional letter are, unfortunately, one-sided and serve as a cloak for a stridently sectarian handful of individuals who utilize partisan falsification of daily events on the ground,” a group of 13 legislators in a reply said.
The Honorable Members of the US Congress: Hon. Henry C. “Hank” Johnson; Hon. Ron Wyden; Hon. Patrick Leahy; Hon. Barbara Boxer; Hon. Jim Himes; Hon. Raul M. Grijalva; Hon. Jim McDermott; Hon. James McGovern; Hon. Jan Schakowsky; Hon. Peter DeFazio; Hon. Jim Moran; Hon. John Conyers, Jr.;
Hon. Charles B. Rangel; Hon. Barbara Lee; Hon. Carolyn B. Maloney; Hon. Rosa L. DeLauro; Hon. Earl Blumenauer; Hon. Keith Ellison; Hon. Alcee L. Hasting and Hon. Donna F. Edwards.
We, the undersigned elected members of the legislature of the Kingdom of Bahrain, refer to your letter dated 7 June 2013, addressed to His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. We note that this letter was released to the public before (as we were advised) it even reached Bahrain. Some of our fellow citizens are likely to surmise that its purpose may have been to make statements rather than to engage in a dialogue. For our part, we take you at your word and therefore answer you in substance.
The matters raised in your letter fall within the sole province of our Government. Under our system of constitutional monarchy, His Majesty is of course not a member of the Government. Relations with the United Nations are handled by relevant Ministries, as indicated by the fact that the response to Méndez was written by the Minister for Human Rights, Salah bin Ali Abdul-Rahman.
Our two countries have been close allies for many years, and communications intended to express concerns and to make recommendations of a policy nature are, as a matter of established practice, conducted on a government-to-government basis.
Rather than dwelling on matters of formalities, however, we wish to address the substance of your letter. We are lawmakers like you. Like you, we are resolutely opposed to abuse of force on the part of our law enforcement and security personnel, and advocate a policy of zero tolerance for torture. Like you, we place great value on the principle of accountability. Indeed as legislators we press our Government for information and explanations.
But we also know that the goal of accountability is not easily attained. Your letter refers to the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, a group of eminent international jurists, established at the initiative of our King and presided over by Dr. Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni Professor emeritus of DePaul University in Chicago – who had previously led UN sponsored inquiries into human rights abuses in the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Prof. Bassiouni is also the author of The Institutionalization of Torture in the Bush Administration: Is Anyone Responsible?, which records that over 100 persons died in U.S. detention in Guantanamo, Iraq, and Afghanistan without the prosecution of a single commanding officer.
It is clear that this regrettable failure of accountability was based on the inherent difficulties of establishing the truth, and not on a lack of sincere attachment to the principle of accountability. We certainly understand that accountability does not mean the arbitrary designation of scapegoats. And we are certain that the current US Government remains attached to the principle of accountability. Yet it is difficult to understand that very soon after taking his oath of office President Obama (on 16 April 2009) provided assurances of non-prosecution to all US personnel who had engaged in torture. The UN Special Rapporteur at the time (Mr. Manfred Nowak) declared that this failure of investigation and prosecution was “absolutely” unjustifiable.
Since your letter focuses on the postponement of a visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, allow us to express two observations of context and a third on substance:
1. The United States has over the past decade and a half followed a path of adamant refusal of UN inspections of prisons and other detention facilities. We trust you are familiar with the highly critical statements with respect to the US attitude of the UN Special Rapporteur on Women (4 January 1999); the 16 February 2006 joint statement of the UN Rapporteurs on Arbitrary Detention, on Independence of Judges and Lawyers, on Torture, on Freedom of Religion or Belief, and on Mental Health; the UN Committee Against Torture’s expressions of concern in 2006 and 2007 at the US Government’s failure to investigate and prosecute those implicated in the Chicago Police Torture “scandal”; the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture of 5 February 2010 concluding that the US Government’s refusal to allow inspection led to the cancellation of his mission; and the 1 May 2013 joint statement by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and the Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights while Countering Terrorism, on Torture, and on Mental Health reiterating the request (pending since 2002) to visit US detention facilities.
The list could be much longer. We will content ourselves at mentioning the public statements critical of the US made in regard to lack of cooperation by the very Mr. Méndez whose mission to Bahrain you so emphatically endorse: 19 October 2011, 16 November 2011, 27 November 2011, 9 March 2012, 1 February 2013 and 7 March 2013.
2. The sources for the factual predicates of your letter are, unfortunately, one-sided to such a degree that your prescriptive admonitions are likely to fall on deaf ears of large segments of our people.
You list prominently among your sources the so-called Bahrain Center for Human Rights, which are anything but a broad-based group reflecting civil society, but serves as a cloak for a stridently sectarian handful of individuals whose partisan falsification of daily events, is treated with derision by anyone who understands our language and is familiar with reality on the ground. Unfortunately such agitators, provided that they procure adequate financing to travel the world and provided they have a facility with English, seem able to persuade a gullible international press that there is only one opposition in Bahrain that too comprised of peaceful democratically spirited citizens who want but a “fair share” of power.
The reality is that we have a vibrant polity; but the leaders of one political society call for violence, publish newsletters (in the Arabic language only) that reject “democracy” as a blasphemous Western invention, preferring the totalitarian rule of ayatollahs (with authority over whether or not they participate in elections), and that they have in mind the conquest of power, not a share of it.
These leaders, and their collaborating agitators, command a zealous following. In 2012, over 899 law enforcement officers in our tiny country were hospitalized for wounds they sustained whilst performing their duties to maintain security; 47 suffered serious injuries; 14 were permanently disabled; and two died on duty. 875 gas cylinders were used in terrorist acts against security forces and civilians. Since January 2011, more than 100 IEDs capable of detonation, not to mention the thousands of Molotov cocktails; and the many thousands of attempts to block roads and tires burned in an attempt to intimidate our civilian population. This year the acts of violence continue apace, encouraged by incendiary religious “sermons”. Yet, far from unequivocally condemning violence and fanaticism, this part of the opposition is even unwilling to negotiate. Their strategy, we can only conclude, is one of radicalization, fuelled by the dream of sectarian dominance; a one party state under one “supreme spiritual leader”.
3. In this context of peril to our open, political life, the pursuit of accountability seems secondary to many of our citizens, who feel threatened by domestic insurrection, the spread of militant Hezbollah into our long prosperous and once so peaceful country, and international indifference to their plight. Yet we have no inclination to defend ourselves by pointing the finger at other Governments’ difficulties of coming to grips with violations by their security services of international law.
We underscore that there is no political system that is perfect, and we agree that they should be addressed. Is that also your Government’s position? That is a question for you, the Honorable Members of a deliberative body whose history and renown inspires – for our part – respect. Yet in this instance we can only wonder if you are adequately acquainted with the facts of the matters you raise in your letter.
We are not, in fact opposed to cooperation with the UN, but rather a long track record of cooperating with the UN in all fields. What happened with respect to Mr. Méndez (two of whose previously planned visits had been postponed once by himself in February 2013, and once at the Ministry of Human rights initiative in May 2013) was that our crucial ongoing National Dialogue was lasting longer than expected, and that our Government determined that his visit was likely to change the subject from forward-looking reconciliation to backward-looking recriminations. (Large segments of our population are incensed at what they see as our Government’s leniency with the sectarian opposition).
This decision may be controversial. We understand that indeed a number of Ministers regretted it, because they were looking forward to the occasion to account for the progress made and to take advice as to further reform. At the same time, Mr. Méndez was criticized by some for what they deemed to be provocative and premature declarations, difficult to accept from someone yet to have visited the country.
Be this as it may, the decision was made as a matter of national interest, and should be understood in this context. We recall President Obama’s words when providing US officials who engaged in torture with immunity from prosecution (16 April 2009):
This is a time for reflection, not retribution. I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. Our national greatness is embedded in America’s ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence. That is why we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future.
While our Government has not provided anyone with immunity, despite numerous calls to do so from among our citizenry, we too wish to move forward in confidence and in concert with our core values of preserving and promoting the human dignity of all our citizens and residents.
A number of institutions, laws, procedures, capacities, and practices have been put into place to fundamentally transform the accountability landscape in Bahrain. Following the advice of leading international legal experts, an independent “Special Investigations Unit” was introduced in 2012. A senior prosecutor, who reports to the Attorney General, and not the Ministry of Interior, leads this Unit. Prosecutors have been trained in the Istanbul Protocol, the leading international standard for torture investigations.
A number of prosecutions against police personnel for cases of wrongful death and ill treatment have been launched have been completed, and a number of others are under active investigation. Every allegation of wrongdoing by the police is promptly and independently investigated. Furthermore, Law No. (52) for 2012 was issued amending Articles (208) and (232) of the Penal Code: Article (208) stipulates: Incarceration shall be the penalty for any civil servant or officer entrusted with a public service who inflicts severe pain or suffering, physically or mentally, on a person he detains or under his control for purposes of deriving from that person or others information or confessions thereof. The penalty shall be life imprisonment should the use of torture or force leads to death. Retroactive measures shall not apply to the prescribed torture crimes.
As such, these efforts are not isolated, but part and parcel of our comprehensive engagement with the rule of law. Bahrain’s justice sector reform program has been ongoing for over a decade. The Minister of Justice has hosted for a number of years now legal specialists from the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative. These experts have an office in the Ministry of Justice itself. This fruitful, technical collaboration led to the establishment of the “Judicial and Legal Studies Institute”, a training institution for judges and lawyers, in addition to the development of a judicial exam to critically evaluate judge-candidates, to make the selection process more transparent and objective, and to promote and discipline judges using performance-based criteria, as well as efforts to enhance court efficiency and administration.
In 2009, the Ministry of Justice collaborated with the American Arbitration Association to establish the “AAA-Bahrain Chamber for Dispute Resolution”, a joint initiative to promote the use of alternative dispute resolution in the Kingdom. This has been a very successful initiative and the Chamber currently has a docket of 68 pending cases worth over $1 million, all being handled in accordance with case management techniques, which are certainly without equal in the Arab world, and perhaps compares quite well with legal systems of the first rank. Currently, the Ministry of Justice is working closely with the Bingham Centre for Rule of Law to further entrench rule of law principles into our judicial system.
We avail ourselves of this opportunity to stress that the Kingdom of Bahrain is a country of institutions where the law prevails. We shall always endeavor to promote the principles of democracy and human rights without discrimination on basis on gender, origin, language, religion, belief or color.
We thank you for your consideration.
1- Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Dhahrani;Abdullah bin Khalaf Al Dosari; Hasan Salem Al Dosari; Isa Abdul-Jabbar Al Kooheji; Abdul-Rahman Rashed Bu Majid; Ahmed Abdul-Rahman Al Saati; Sawsan Hajji Taqawi; Abdul-Halmeen Abdullah Murad; Khaled Jassem Al Malood; Mohammed Ismael Al Emadi; Dr. Ali Ahmed Abdullah Ali; Dr. Jassem Ahmed Al-Saidi and Abbas Isa Al Madi.