Despite mounting evidence of abuse, the United Kingdom government has yet to criticize or even retract statements that appear to support Bahrain’s abusive detention of children.
Six boys remain arbitrarily detained in Bahrain for allegedly throwing Molotov cocktails that slightly damaged a car outside a police station in Sitra in January 2021, when they were aged 13 and 14. None had a lawyer during their interrogation, and for weeks the authorities denied the boys family visits and did not inform their parents of their alleged wrongdoing.
Bahrain’s Children’s Judicial Committee did not hear the boys’ case until February 20, when the boys denied the accusations. Their lawyers had previously been unable to see the case files. The Committee denied the lawyers’ requests to release the boys to their parents and appointed a “social expert” to study the cases. On February 27, the Committee postponed the hearing again until March 6 and renewed the boys’ detention.
Bahrain has been abusing the boys’ rights under its Restorative Justice Law for Children, announced last year. The law does improve some protections for children but still falls short of Bahrain’s human rights obligations. For example, it fails to guarantee children access to a lawyer and their parents during interrogations and provides that children may be detained if they participate in unlicensed protests.
Instead of pressing Bahrain on children’s rights, the UK government has offered praise. On February 3, the government dodged a parliamentary question on abuses in the case against the six boys and erroneously applauded the Restorative Justice Law for its supposed compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. UK officials have subsequently reiterated the same, troubling support for Bahrain’s law, such as Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon’s praise during meetings with Bahrain government officials on the recent 11th anniversary of Bahrain’s pro-democracy uprising.
Children should never be detained except as a last resort, and for the shortest appropriate period. UNICEF has called for a moratorium on all detention of children during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Human Rights Watch and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy wrote to UK Foreign Minister Liz Truss on February 14 to correct the record. We await a reply. The UK government should reconsider its uncritical support of Bahrain’s detention of children and call for real reforms now.