Bahrain: Rights groups call for accountability for torture through universal jurisdiction at UK event

01.06.22

Human rights groups are seeking accountability for those who tortured human rights defenders, activists and medics in Bahrain, using the concept of universal jurisdiction to prosecute the perpetrators in other countries such as the United Kingdom, in addition to assessing the possibility of using Magnitsky Sanctions against them.

On 27 April 2022, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and Deighton Pierce Glynn (DPG), in co-operation with, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), Redress and the Arab Organisation for Human Rights (AOHR), organised an event at the UK House of Commons in London on Torture in Bahrain: Justice, Accountability and the UK Magnitsky Sanctions Regime. The in-person event was chaired by MP Andy Slaughter, Labour MP for Hammersmith and Shadow Solicitor General.

At the event, GCHR’s Executive Director Khalid Ibrahim said that GCHR "clearly noted the prevalence of the culture of impunity and lack of accountability in Bahrain and also in neighbouring countries," and mentioned the cases of GCHR’s Co-Founder Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, medic and human rights defender Ibrahim Al-Demistani, and journalist Naziha Saeed – all of whom were tortured in detention in Bahrain.  He also read testimony from Al-Demistani, who couldn’t attend the event. You can also watch the video of the event here.

At GCHR’s request, DPG wrote a report entitled "Accountability for Torture in Bahrain - A Call for Magnitsky Sanctions", which was launched at the event in London last month as part of a campaign for accountability by GCHR, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), ADHRB, BCHR and BIRD. The report is now online in English and Arabic on GCHR’s website.

The report’s focus is on the application and use of the UK ‘Magnitsky’ style sanctions regime against Bahraini officials involved in torture, and in particular the torture of three witnesses interviewed by DPG. All three witnesses, Ebrahim Demistani, Mohammed Sultan and Yunus Ahmed Sultan, evidenced egregious torture in detention facilities by officers under the command of the Bahrain Ministry of Interior.

Prominent human rights lawyer Sue Willman of DPG said, "Witnesses have spoken directly to us at DPG about torture and sexual abuse in police stations and jails in Bahrain. This report demonstrates without doubt that systemic torture is continuing and there is an almost total lack of accountability. We call on Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary to read the report and reconsider the UK's approach to Bahrain. The obvious step is to use her powers under the Magnitsky Sanctions regime, to ensure that people involved in serious human right abuses are not welcomed to the UK."

The report concludes that "there is a strong case for the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to apply Magnitsky sanctions against Lieutenant General Rashid bin Abdullah Al-Khalifa due to his role as Minister of the Interior."

DPG concluded, "The investigation found that while there are accountability mechanisms within Bahrain, they are ineffective. There is no evidence of perpetrators being effectively punished or deterred, and mistreatment is continuing. So, the report considered remedies available outside Bahrain, primarily in the UK. These remedies include universal jurisdiction prosecutions and Magnitsky Sanctions. Although Bahrain is the focus of the evidence, such remedies would apply to perpetrators in other Gulf States and beyond."

Download the report HERE.