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Letter re: UK Response to Abuses against Children by Bahrain Authorities

June 7, 2021

James Cleverly, MP
Minister for the Middle East and North Africa

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Minister of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs
Human Rights Minister

Re: UK Response to Abuses against Children by Bahrain Authorities

Dear Minister Cleverly and Lord Wimbledon,

We are writing to share information we have documented about children who were detained and abused in Bahrain from November 2020 to March 2021 for alleged crimes related to protests. We also wish to express our concerns about your statements on behalf of the UK government about these cases in response to parliamentary questions.

We ask you to press the Bahraini authorities to hold accountable the officials responsible for these abuses against children as is necessary to prevent the recurrence of such abuses against other children. In the interim, and pursuant to the Ministerial code, we urge you to make corrections to the Parliamentary record. As you will be aware, paragraph 1.3 (c) of the Ministerial Code provides that “It is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister.”

We also ask you to provide us with assurance that the UK Government is not providing financial or material support including training to the Bahrain authorities that in any way facilitates or contributes to these or other human rights violations. Based on freedom of information requests, the United Kingdom has provided 6.5 million pounds of technical assistance to Bahrain’s Interior Ministry since 2012, some of which has supported the Special Investigative Unit and Ombudsman. We ask you to confirm that such assistance has been assessed against the UK’s Overseas Security and Justice Assistance Guidance, and if so, whether any risks were identified and what mitigation has been put in place to adequately manage these risks. We urge the UK Government to assess these oversight bodies, on the basis of public and privately available information, and state publicly whether and to what extent, on the basis of the information available, these bodies are effective in combating torture and independent from the executive, and what steps are needed to remedy any deficiencies.

Human Rights Watch and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) have interviewed 14 children who were abused during interrogation and in detention, and who were denied their due process and fair trial rights. Our news release published on March 10, 2021, described abuse of nine children who had been interrogated and released, whom we did not name for their safety, and abuse of Sayed Hasan Ameen, who remained in detention. We named him because his family was desperately concerned for his health in detention due to serious pre-existing medical complications from sickle cell anemia. Today we are publishing a news release documenting that the Bahraini authorities have failed to credibly investigate abuses against the detained boys, including Ameen.

UK government statements about these children’s cases instructed “those with concerns about treatment in detention [to] contact the relevant authorities as well as the appropriate Bahraini human rights oversight body.” We believe that if the Bahraini children in this case were to follow your instructions, they could be at even greater risk of abuse. The UN Committee against Torture has raised concerns that the ombudsman’s office is neither independent nor effective. It and other official bodies have repeatedly failed to investigate credible allegations of prison abuse or to hold Bahraini officials accountable.

 

We are also concerned that the UK government approvingly cites “the Bahraini Ombudsman's response to the Human Rights Watch report [of March 10] which provides important clarification and invites Human Rights Watch to provide further details of the cases in question.” We regret to inform you that we are unable to respond to the Ombudsman’s request to share the names of and further information about the children we interviewed with the Bahraini authorities because those authorities repeatedly abused these children and failed to credibly investigate these abuses and harmful practices during their so-called investigations, as documented in our June 7 news release. We ask that you clarify this response as soon as possible and make any necessary public corrections.

The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Justice (the Beijing Rules) state that “in principle, no information that may lead to the identification of a juvenile offender shall be published” (Rule 8.2). The commentary stresses the importance of the child’s right to privacy and the child’s susceptibility to stigmatization and harm as a result of being identified as a criminal. As you will be aware, reporting restrictions exist in UK law for children who are suspected of committing crimes in the UK and one would hope that the UK Government would act consistently with international principles and take account of the laws that govern such matters for suspected criminal activity in the UK. We are concerned that several of the UK government’s responses to parliamentary questions mention children’s names as well as the alleged crimes the authorities claimed they had committed. You stated on March 1 that “We are aware of the detention of Mohammed Jafar, Fares Husain and Sayed Hasan Ameen. We understand the three, all aged 17 [sic], were arrested for arson, endangering the lives and property of others; and preparing and possessing Molotov cocktails and using them to endanger lives and property.” On March 10, 2021, you again named Sayed Hasan Ameen and these allegations against him, as did Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon in a response published on March 11. As your responses noted, at that time the children in question had not been convicted.

Responses published on March 15 and March 16 again named Sayed Hasan Ameen as having been found guilty by a court on March 11. For the reasons described in our news releases, the terrorism court’s verdict, which found Ameen and three other children guilty on charges such as vandalism and arson, resulted from an unfair trial. The verdict stated that police found the fingerprints of Jameel J. (a pseudonym) on a bottle, but the ruling against the other three boys relied entirely on the coerced confession extracted from Jameel J., who was 15 at the time of his arrest in November 2020, which implicated them. All four boys told us that their confessions were coerced and described other violations of due process rights. Separately, BIRD did not receive a response to its request for the UK to correct the mistaken statement that Husein, Jafar, and Ameen – then ages 17, 16 and 16, respectively – were “all aged 17.” The boys were sentenced under Law No. 4/2021, but they were tried as adults.

The UK government’s responses have repeatedly cited false statements by the Bahrain Interior Ministry’s ombudsman which claimed that Sayed Hasan Ameen had access to medical care in detention. In your response published on March 10, you stated, “The Government of Bahrain has been clear that access to medical care for those in detention is provided in line with the constitution of Bahrain.” As noted in our news release published on March 10, Ameen and his family provided us with statements and corroborating documentation showing that authorities refused to allow him access to his medications for the first eight days of his detention. A medical professional who assessed Sayed Hasan Ameen’s prescribed medications noted that it was unsafe for these to be denied even for a short period of time, due to the severity of his medical condition. BIRD had provided Ameen’s medical records for review in a letter to the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) dated March 3, requesting the FCDO make urgent representations on Ameen’s behalf to secure his immediate release, and that a UK government representative attend his hearing on March 4. No response or acknowledgment of this letter was received.

In summary, we are concerned that the British government has publicly identified these children as being implicated in serious crimes, unduly relied on and published Bahraini authorities’ false assurances about their medical care, and has not acknowledged that children were subjected to sham trials that deprived them of their most basic due process rights, as well as physical, verbal and psychological abuse. 

In relation to this, we ask for:

  1. Clarification of the basis upon which the abovementioned statements were made by Ministers including whether Ministers sought to independently verify the information provided by the Bahrain authorities before making these statements. In line with this, can you please confirm the extent to which, if at all, publicly available information, such as that published by Human Rights Watch, as well as the information provided by BIRD to the UK Government, was taken into account before making the abovementioned statements.
  2. Confirmation that the Ministers will correct the Parliamentary record. 
  3. Assurances that the UK Government is not providing financial or material support including training to the Bahraini authorities that in any way facilitates or contributes to these or other human rights violations. In line with this, we ask you to confirm that such assistance has been assessed against the UK’s Overseas Security and Justice Assistance Guidance, and if so, whether any risks were identified and what mitigation has been put in place to adequately manage these risks.
  4. Confirmation that the UK Government will assess the abovementioned oversight bodies, on the basis of public and privately available information, and state publicly whether and to what extent, on the basis of the information available, these bodies are effective in combating torture and independent from the executive, and what steps are needed to remedy any deficiencies.

We look forward to your response to our concerns.

Sincerely,

Yasmine Ahmed                                     Zama Neff
Director                                                   Executive Director
United Kingdom                                    Children's Rights Division

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