On the occasion of the International Human Rights Day, Bahrain’s Independent Ombudsman, Nawaf Al Ma’awda, issued a statement which carefully considers where Bahrain stands with regard to implementation of human rights international standards. 

The statement underscores the role that the Ombudsman’s Office has played in investigating human rights abuses and taking action; while also looking at the wider context of human rights reform in Bahrain.

Al Ma’awda concludes: “Allegations of human rights abuses may continue to cast a shadow over Bahrain but my staff and I remain committed to ensuring that all allegations are fully, independently and transparently investigated. There is a growing body of evidence to demonstrate our commitment to access independent evidence and to deliver just and fair outcomes. We have demonstrated that we will act decisively, whenever and wherever we find wrongdoing.”

The statement is also refreshing for noting that, although Bahrain has achieved a lot regarding human rights reforms, there is still a long way to go in enshrining a culture of deference to human rights norms. In order to cement Bahrain’s reputation as a state of the rule of law, it is not enough for Bahrain to do the right thing; it must also be seen to do the right thing.

This means greater transparency for the judicial process, greater efforts to explain its decisions; and demonstrating maximum effort in investigating complaints and demonstrating accountability. This is why the Ombudsman role is so important.

Below are some of the key quotes from the Ombudsman’s statement:

Bahrain’s National Action Charter

“Our Constitution prohibits torture; our Constitution guarantees the freedom of expression and of the press; our Constitution guarantees the right of free assembly. Whilst our Constitution established Islam as the religion of the state, we recognise the equality of all citizens, regardless of their sex, origin, language, religion or belief and we guarantee the free practice of religion.”

Women’s empowerment

“Our record on sexual equality is noteworthy, including the ongoing participation of women in politics and government, with women making up over 45% of civil servants; there are a number of women in the Council of Representatives and Shura Council; we have women’s associations, including the Supreme Council for Women.”

Ombudsman Office role

“My office, the independent Ministry of Interior Ombudsman, is the first in the region… Set out by Royal Decree, the Ombudsman has responsibility for investigating complaints, serious incidents and deaths in detention. I have full authority to attend places of detention to gather evidence and carry out interviews; these visits are not pre-notified unless there is a specific administrative need. I have an office located at Jau Prison, which is used by investigators on a regular basis…”

“My office, and that of the PDRC, has a duty to refer for criminal investigation all allegations of torture or mistreatment that we become aware of; my office independently investigates any complaint made against a member of the Ministry of the Interior, including complaints about detainee treatment; conditions of detention; individual rights and healthcare services. I also have the authority to initiate an investigation into an alleged serious incident without a complaint.”

Prison inspections

“Since 2012, my office – and that of the PDRC – has undertaken challenging work, never before done here, or in the region. I have led a team in carrying out an inspection of Jau Prison and a report of that inspection was published in September 2013. Since then, the PDRC has taken the lead in carrying out inspections and has carried out unannounced inspections of Dry Dock Detention Centre, Northern Governate Police Directorates, Capital Governate Police Directorates, Southern Governate Police Directorates, The General directorate of Criminal Investigation and Forensic Evidence, The Juvenile Care Centre, The Women’s Reform and Rehabilitation Centre, The Women’s Detention Centre and, recently, a further inspection of Jau Prison.”

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