Accountability for Torture in Bahrain: A Call for Magnitsky Sanctions
1. Executive Summary
This report is prepared by Deighton Pierce Glynn Solicitors (“DPG”), a leading law firm specialising in civil and human rights based in the UK. DPG is ranked first in London for civil liberties and human rights work by The Legal 500 and as Band 1 by Chambers and Partners for Administrative & Public Law Claimant work. The report was prepared on the instruction of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (“GCHR”), an independent non-profit and non-governmental organization that provides support and protection to human rights defenders and promotes human rights, including but not limited to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. GCHR is registered in Ireland and operates across the Middle East and North Africa (“MENA”) region.
The scope of GCHR’s instructions to DPG was to investigate and analyse a set of evidence in relation to allegations of torture and mistreatment by officials in the Kingdom of Bahrain, and in particular the evidence of three Bahraini witnesses, and to consider potential accountability mechanisms. GCHR’s aim is to identify and apply accountability measures to assist victims of abuse and torture in Bahrain, and to hold perpetrators of such conduct to account in the UK (and Europe). The central consideration was accountability for egregious human right abuses, in particular the use of torture in Bahrain’s detention facilities.
The report finds that there are accountability mechanisms within Bahrain on paper but they are ineffective; there is no evidence of perpetrators being effectively punished or deterred, and mistreatment is continuing. So the report considers remedies available outside Bahrain, primarily in the UK. Although Bahrain is the focus of the evidence, such remedies would apply to perpetrators in other Gulf States and beyond.
One approach is to use so-called ‘soft law’ mechanisms, such as complaints through UN Special Procedures and Charter Bodies, which may influence at a political or diplomatic level, but do not constitute an enforceable legal remedy. These bodies have repeatedly drawn the world’s attention to human rights abuses in Bahrain. They seem to have been a factor in the release of certain high-profile individuals, as part of international publicity campaigns. However, there is limited evidence that they act as a deterrent in cases of the systemic long-term human rights abuses described in this report.
The UK has ‘universal jurisdiction’ laws allowing for prosecution in the UK for torture which has been perpetrated abroad. The police have limited resources for investigation and prosecution. There is a criminal burden of proof, requiring victims to give public direct evidence in person in court, which is not possible for those in jail in Bahrain. As a result, there have been very few such prosecutions, and none relating to the Gulf. Also, in the case of perpetrators who are non-British nationals, evidence is needed of direct acts of torture. This means it is easier to prosecute the lower ranking officials who committed the torture, but not the “intellectual authors”. UK law does not provide for prosecution of non-British nationals with “command responsibility” even where there is clear evidence that they are aware of and complicit in systemic torture. Law reform would be needed to prosecute those referred to in this report such as Bahrain’s Minister of the Interior.
There is an immigration remedy if prosecution is not possible. Even if they decide not to open a formal investigation, as in the case of Prince Nasser of Bahrain, UK police should refer a perpetrator of torture to the Home Secretary to consider exclusion from the UK. This process is secretive. In 2021, the High Court decided the Home Secretary did not need to publicise details of her decision about whether she has considered excluding Prince Nasser from the UK.
The report considers the potential of the ‘Magnitsky’ sanctions approach, which was recently introduced in the UK (after the USA) and is also being used by the EU and other states. We consider whether the evidence available in relation to Bahrain would justify the use of such sanctions in relation to Bahraini officials. The report considers the witness evidence referred to in this report, against the background of authoritative evidence of systemic torture, and applies the law and published policy. We have concluded 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 MOIN).
The report relies on a combination of qualitative and quantitative evidence collected over the past decade. We report examined a range of documentary information in the public domain, including legal texts, court judgments, official statements, reports and information published by human rights organisations. It further considered documents from victims, including but not limited to, complaints by Bahraini nationals to UN bodies and Special Rapporteurs, written accounts of abuse and torture in the country, photographic evidence and the report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (“BICI”).
Extensive legal interviews were conducted with three individuals who provided detailed witness evidence of their first-hand experiences of abuse in Bahrain by officials working for the Ministry of the Interior. This report relies on credible evidence provided by these witnesses. We have also had sight of first and second-hand accounts of torture from numerous other individuals in Bahrain, including women and children, who report similar patterns of ill-treatment as recently as 2019. This evidence has not been included here because of the risk of reprisals.
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