EU High Representative Ms Mogherini answers MEP questions on Bahrain

On 29 February 2016, MEP Alyn Smith from the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament, issued a parliamentary question on the case of detained Bahraini civil society actor Khalil Al-Halwachi to the High Representative/Vice President Ms Frederica Mogherini. Mr Al-Halwachi was arbitrarily arrested on 3 September 2014 by Bahraini security forces and transferred to Bahrain’s Dry Dock detention centre, where he was interrogated and subjected to physical and psychological ill-treatment. After two years in prison, the verdict on his case is to be issued on 23 May 2016.

The question by MEP Smith reads:

Khalil Al-Halwachi is a Bahraini peaceful civil society actor who holds a permanent Swedish residency permit.

He was arbitrarily arrested on 3 September 2014 during a house raid by Bahraini security forces in the middle of the night, where his family home was searched. He was then transferred to Bahrain’s Dry Dock detention centre, where he was interrogated for hours and subjected to physical and psychological ill-treatment. He was forced to sign a false confession accusing him of possessing weapons.

Mr Al-Halwachi was targeted because of his political involvement and democratic demands.

Mr Al-Halwachi has been detained at Dry Dock ever since, and is still subject to ill-treatment, despite suffering from several episodes of blood clots, and is allowed neither regular visits nor to receive items from his family, whose visits take place supervised and separated by thick glass, over the telephone. His court hearing is set for 6 March 2016, after being postponed.

What does the VP/HR intend to do:

  1. To ensure the release of Mr Al-Halwachi?
  2. To ensure that Mr Al-Halwachi receives medical attention?

The answer by the HR/VP issued on 11 May 2016 reads:

The HR/VP is aware of the case raised by the Honourable Member, and has been closely following the Human Rights situation in Bahrain.

The EU Delegation in Riyadh (also accredited to Bahrain) has been monitoring the case of Mr. Al-Halwachi and has been liaising with the competent authorities and Human Rights institutions in Bahrain about it, notably the Ministry of Interior’s Ombudsman, to ensure that the investigation into possible wrongdoings by law enforcement authorities is duly and transparently conducted, and that he receives necessary medical care.

The allegations of arbitrary arrest during a house raid by security forces, during which Mr. Al-Halwachi’s family home was searched and he was reportedly subjected to physical and psychological ill-treatment, have been transferred to the Special Investigation Units and are still under investigation.

We continue to encourage the Government of Bahrain to deliver on its international and domestic human rights commitments and to appropriately address all reports of ill-treatment of detainees. We also encourage all those with concerns about their treatment in detention to report these directly to the Ombudsman.

The EEAS will continue to closely follow the Human Rights situation in the Kingdom, raising cases of concern such as the one of Mr. Al-Halwachi through appropriate channels whenever necessary with the authorities.

Further, on 15 March 2016, MEP Smith issued another parliamentary question regarding the UK-funded monitoring bodies installed by the Bahraini government in order to safeguard against torture and police abuse to the High Representative/Vice President Ms Frederica Mogherini. Human rights groups have repeatedly raised concerns over reports of torture and abuse by detained individuals in Bahrain. The UK-funded monitoring bodies installed by the government do not capture these reports, and their independence from official Bahraini governmental institutions is questionable.

The question by MEP Smith reads: 

Lack of independence and efficacy of UK-funded bodies against torture in Bahrain

In Bahrain, systematic torture and the role of coerced confessions in securing death sentences are hugely troubling. This dynamic casts serious doubt on the efficacy and independence of the bodies established by Bahrain to safeguard against torture and police abuses, including the Ombudsman of the Ministry of Interior and the Prisoners’ and Detainees’ Rights Commission (PDRC), both of which receive substantial technical assistance and training from the UK.

Most recently, the Ombudsman disclosed the results of confidential investigations to Bahrain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and released those records to Members of the European Parliament as part of an attempt to head off Parliament’s urgency resolution on the case of Bahraini prisoner, Mohammed Ramadan.

This is but one example of the Ombudsman’s failure to comply with the minimum requirements for monitoring bodies set out in the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the Istanbul Protocol. Human rights groups have raised similar concerns regarding the work of the PDRC.

  1. Has the VP/HR raised the issue of the questionable independence of these bodies with the Bahraini authorities?
  2. Does the VP/HR have any reason to believe that these bodies are improving or trending towards greater independence?

The answer by the HR/VP issued on 11 May 2016 reads:

The HR/VP is well aware of the issues raised by the Honourable Member, and has been closely following the human rights situation in Bahrain. The EU Delegation in Riyadh (also accredited to Bahrain), in close collaboration with EU Member States represented in Manama, has been monitoring individual cases, as well as overall performance of human rights bodies.

Human rights will continue to feature prominently in discussions at all levels with Bahrain, as has been done during and as a follow up to the two visits of the EUSR for Human Rights S. Lambrinidis. A newly established Human Rights Working Group with Bahrain met for the first time on 5 April 2016 in Manama to complement dialogue and cooperation on a range of human rights related issues in a frank and constructive manner, and to raise issues of concern whenever necessary directly with the authorities. The EU will continue to encourage the Government of Bahrain to meet all of its human rights obligations and fully adhere to all conventions to which it is a party, as well as to implement the bold recommendations of National Institute for Human Rights (NIHR). With regards to the alleged cases of ill-treatment, the EU suggested various steps to ensure fair process, such as introduction of legislation which would allow for ‘halting’ legal proceedings following allegations of torture.

Beneficiaries of the UK’s support include independent human rights and oversight institutions such as the Ministry of Interior Ombudsman — which won the 2014 Chaillot Prize for the Promotion of Human Rights, the National Institution of Human Rights (NIHR), Prisoners’ and Detainees’ Rights Commission (PDRC) and Special Investigations Unit (SIU). These bodies provide independent oversight of police behaviour and detention standards, and were established as a result of Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry recommendations. Whilst allegations of ill-treatment in detention continue, confidence in these organisations is increasing, and they are working more effectively.

The EU will continue to support Bahrain to strengthen human rights and the rule of law, and to promote sustainable reform. The EU will also continue to encourage measures strengthening the independence of human rights bodies.

The European Center for Democracy and Human Rights welcomes MEP Smith’s parliamentary questions on these two pressing issues. It agrees with the questionable nature of the independence of the before-mentioned UK-funded monitoring bodies and urges the High Representative Ms Mogherini to re-evaluate her trust in these bodies. The ECDHR calls on the Bahraini government to install independent bodies to safeguard against torture and police abuse immediately.

Further, we urge the High Representative Ms. Mogherini to follow up on her commitment to raise cases such as Mr Al-Halwachi’s through diplomatic channels with the Bahraini government and to ensure that the government in Bahrain delivers on its human rights commitments. We furthermore call on the European External Action Service (EEAS) to urge the Bahraini government to drop all charges against Mr Al-Halwachi.

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