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Liz Truss MP,
Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

cc:
James Cleverly MP, Minister for Europe
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister of State for South and Central Asia, United Nations and the Commonwealth

Re: UK Response to Arbitrary Detention of Six Children by Bahraini Authorities

14 February 2022

Dear Foreign Secretary,

We are writing to bring your attention to our recent investigation into the ongoing arbitrary detention of six children in Bahrain, and to request that you issue a correction to an erroneous statement of February 3, 2022 made by Minister James Cleverly on behalf of the UK Government in response to a written parliamentary question on the detention of these children and Bahrain’s Law No. 4 of 2021 Promulgating the Restorative Justice Law for Children.

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.”

Minister James Cleverly’s February 3rd statement, made in his former capacity as Minister for Middle East and North Africa, did not address Brendan O’Hara MP’s questions about due process violations against children in Bahrain, but notes that the six children were detained under Bahrain’s Restorative Justice Law for Children (Law No. 4 of 2021) and asserts that this law “specifically addresses Article 37 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child” (CRC).

In detaining the six children, Bahrain has flagrantly violated their rights under Article 37 and Bahrain’s domestic law fails to protect the rights enumerated in the article. Five of the children were detained on December 27, and the sixth on January 9. Their detention has been renewed weekly. On February 9, the children’s cases were referred to trial, which is set to begin on February 20.

Article 37 of the CRC provides that every child in conflict with the law shall have the right to “prompt access to legal [...] assistance.”[1] Our investigation, published on February 8, 2022, found that the six children were repeatedly interrogated by Bahraini authorities without the presence of a lawyer or parent or guardian.

Article 37 provides that the detention of children should be used “only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.” The children have been detained for more than six weeks on charges related to crimes allegedly committed over a year ago. The authorities have not justified their detention as necessary publicly or otherwise as far as their families are aware; before their arrests the children had repeatedly appeared for questioning when summoned. Their detention also contravenes UNICEF guidance that requires governments to release child detainees and impose a moratorium on new child detentions during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Minister Cleverly’s written answer referenced a public statement issued by Bahrain’s Office of Public Prosecution on February 1, 2022, which purported to justify these children’s detention. This statement, published five weeks after most of the children were detained, was the first time the authorities officially commented on the arrests and, according to family members, the statement provided more information than the boys’ families had yet received.

Article 37 provides that the child has the right to “maintain contact with his or her family through correspondence and visits, save in exceptional circumstances.” The children continue to be denied family visitations, and their contact with the outside world has been restricted to one 10-minute phone call per week.

While some provisions of Bahrain’s new Law No. 4 of 2021 do provide greater protections for children’s rights than in the past, the Minister’s broad claim that the law is consistent with Article 37 of the CRC is erroneous.

Law No. 4 specifically permits the “Judicial Committee for Childhood” to detain and place children in an institution for participating in unlicensed public gatherings on the grounds that they are “endangered” (articles 12.5, 13, 22). Since any unlicensed gathering of more than five people is illegal in Bahrain, this provision places children at risk of detention merely for exercising their right to peaceful assembly (CRC article 15).

The law also fails to guarantee key due process rights for children. The law does not prohibit questioning or interrogating children without the presence of a lawyer or their parents. Article 66 states that “accused children” shall be provided with “health, social, legal, [and] rehabilitation services,” at “all stages” including during “arrest [and] investigation.” However, Article 67 states that the child has the right to a lawyer only once the child’s case reaches trial. The law also fails to clearly provide for the child’s right to challenge their deprivation of liberty.

In summary, we are concerned that the Minister’s inaccurate statement of February 3rd misleads the UK parliament and appears to condone the arrests and arbitrary detention of these children and Law No. 4 of 2021, which provided the basis for their rights to be violated. The appearance of approval from the UK Government could place these children and others at risk of further abuses.

In relation to this, we ask for:

  1. Clarification of the basis upon which the statement of February 3 was made, including whether the Minister sought to independently verify the information provided by the Bahrain authorities, and whether publicly available information, such as that published by Human Rights Watch and BIRD, was taken into account.
  2. A retraction of the statement and a correction to the Parliamentary record, and confirmation that this will occur.
  3. Assurances that the UK Government will press the Bahraini authorities to release these children immediately.

We look forward to your response to our concerns.

Yours sincerely,

Yasmine Ahmed
UK Director
Human Rights Watch

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei,
Director of Advocacy
Bahrain Institute of Rights and Democracy (BIRD)

 

[1] See also UN CRC, article 40(2)(b)(ii), and UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 10 (2007), para. 58 (“The child being questioned must have access to a legal or other appropriate representative, and must be able to request the presence of his/her parent(s) during questioning”).

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