On 1 June the Ombudsman’s Office submitted its third annual 2015-16 report to the Minister of the Interior. The report welcomed the fact that there had been no public casualties as a result of rioting and public order incidents – resulting in a sharp fall in the number of complaints submitted to the Ombudsman regarding such occurrences.
The full report, which can be found here, includes comprehensive statistics for all aspects of the Ombudsman’s work over the past year, as well as a number of case studies, including cases where allegations of mistreatment were upheld.
The Office was established by Royal Decree as one of the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry in 2011. This independent office within the Ministry of the Interior is mandated to investigate all complaints and requests submitted to it by the public. Its sister organization, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) is tasked with “carrying out criminal investigations into unlawful or negligent acts resulting in the deaths, torture and mistreatment of civilians”.
From 1 May 2015 – 30 April 2016 the Ombudsman received 908 investigation requests (687 assistance requests and 305 complaints), a 375% increase on the previous year; increasing by 9% to 992 requests during the current report period.
Most complaints were associated with Detention and Rehabilitation Centre healthcare; with a large number of calls about inmate access for visits and phone calls. Other complaints were associated with a broad range of other government departments.
By far most of the complaints were in relation to Jau Prison, with 23 incidents referred for criminal and disciplinary proceedings and 29 complaints still under investigation. There were only eight referrals from the next most-complained about location – the Dry Dock detention centre.
Fifty-five of all complaints concerned allegations of torture or mistreatment and were referred to the SIU. According to the report, 53 of these allegations are under investigation, one case has gone to court and one case was closed.
The Ombudsman, Nawaf al-Moawdah, explained that while serious incident allegations made up a small proportion of Ombudsman total complaints, “the Ombudsman dedicates considerable resources to these important and challenging investigations. Great efforts have been made this year to further develop serious incident investigative competence and several Ombudsman investigations have informed the work of the Special Investigations Unit or Security Courts when referred for criminal investigation.”
Below we include a number of other key quotes from Al-Moawdah summarizing the organization’s work:
Public order-related casualties
“Complaints relating to special forces officers engaged in policing public order have fallen from 14 in 2014/2015 to two this year. The reduction in complaints is welcome and the fact that there have been no civilian casualties during riots this year is extremely welcome. It is a matter of deep sadness and regret that four police officers lost their lives in the course of doing their duty.”
“CCTV has clearly demonstrated allegations of staff wrongdoing to be false… the value of CCTV in deterring those who might do wrong; catching those who are guilty of human rights abuses and protecting good staff has now been firmly established by my office.”
“I therefore welcome the decision of the Ministry of Interior to accept the recommendation of the Prisoner and Detainee Rights Committee that the detainee pathway from the time of arrest should all times be covered by CCTV. The comprehensive location of CCTV throughout the new rehabilitation and detention centre buildings is evidence of the real commitment and determination to fully implement this decision.”
Torture and criminal allegations
“Every allegation of torture brought to the Ombudsman Office is investigated and this always has and always will be the case… In cases where the allegations are criminal but do not fall within the remit of the SIU, the Ombudsman will carry out an investigation and then will make a referral for criminal investigation or disciplinary action, wherever the evidence gathered and examined requires this.”
Deaths inside and outside of detention
“Another important area of investigation for which the Ombudsman is responsible is the investigation of deaths in or outside of detention… this year there have been a total of seven deaths, six in detention and one out of it, compared with a total of 11 deaths in the previous year… The ombudsman investigates all deaths in detention, including those from natural causes.”
[Note: The statistics show that of these seven deaths: One was suicide, two were natural causes; one was chronic disease; one was due to drug abuse and there are ongoing investigations into two others. One of these latter two appears to be health related; the last incident refers to a previously reported case where the victim fell from a window in Shahrakan while from fleeing from pursuit by police on 4 April 2016 – the Special Investigations Unit continues to investigate.]
New procedures and recommendations
“Ombudsman recommendations relating to the availability of education, training and other purposeful activity in places of detention and rehabilitation not only influenced the development of the Rehabilitation and Detention Centre Law and Regulations, but have also informed specific initiatives on the ground… Special mention should be given to the programme of education and daily study classes being given in Jau Rehabilitation Centre.”
“A new procedure has also been implemented to assist NGOs in registering investigation requests on behalf of individuals and to give Ombudsman investigators the best chance of securing relevant evidence to identify witnesses who would be willing to speak to Ombudsman investigators.”