9 June 2015 – The Bahraini Office of the Ombudsman of the Ministry of Interior recently released his Second Annual Report, covering 1 May 2014 to 30 April 2015. The report speaks highly of the office’s ability to respond effectively to an ever increasing number of complaints, as well as their attentiveness in regards to the issues at Jau Prison. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), working in solidarity with the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) and Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), would like to draw attention to the issues the report fails to sufficiently address.
The Ombudsman reports that his offices experienced a 375 percent increase in complaints – from 242 to 908 — which he credits to improved accessibility as well as “growing trust in the independence and integrity of the Ombudsman.” Graphics within the document purport that 881 of these complaints were lodged by individuals, 23 by organizations, and four by the Ombudsman himself. However, in the spring of 2014, ADHRB began a program in which it directed allegations of enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, torture, denial of access to medicine, and extrajudicial killings to the Ombudsman and the Bahrain National Institute for Human Rights. By December of that year, ADHRB had submitted approximately 40 complaints and received extremely limited response.
BCHR Vice President Sayed Yousuf Almuhufdah stated, “The falsified numbers the Ombudsman reports only support ADHRB’s accusations of disingenuous investigation and lack of moral integrity as a body of human rights maintenance.”
The following March, ADHRB received reports that persons who had submitted complaints to the Ombudsman had been subjected to retaliatory acts of torture from Ministry of the Interior employees, implying an abuse-perpetuating link between the Ombudsman and the MOI. With these reports in mind, ADHRB permanently halted its Ombudsman reporting program.
“That security forces employed by the Ministry of Interior would specifically tell an inmate that they were beating him because of a complaint he submitted to the Ombudsman demonstrates that the monitoring body is either incompetent or actively cooperating with human rights abusers,” said Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of ADHRB. “In either case, we could not in good conscience continue to supply information or complaints to the Ombudsman, and were forced to close the program.”
The Ombudsman’s Second Annual Report also touted the successes his office achieved at the highly controversial Jau Prison. However, research by ADHRB, BIRD, and BCHR found conditions in the prison to be unlivable. Overcrowding has tripled the number of people sleeping in one room, leaving some to sleep in corridors, while accounts of abuse abound. In March 2015, these conditions resulted in a prison riot that the government suppressed with excessive force. In the three months since, ADHRB, BIRD, and BCHR have received overwhelming evidence that government security forces engage in acts of torture and other forms of abuse inside the prison.
“The proof that we have of ill treatment of prisoners at Jau stands as a testament to the failures of the Office of the Ombudsman. Their basic rights to bodily security and proper living conditions have been severely violated with little to no redress from the organization to which they’ve turned for help,” stated Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at BIRD.
In light of the inadequacies of the Office of the Ombudsman, the previously mentioned organizations call on the Ombudsman to proactively thoroughly remodel its investigations with an eye towards proper compensation for victims and accountability for those found guilty. Absent significant change in both the structure and practices of the organization, we believe that the Ombudsman can only continue to function as yet another complicit and ultimately ineffectual arm of government abuse.