UN Experts Express their Serious Concerns Over the Use of Torture Against a Minor in order to Secure Forced Confessions

 The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) and the Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SR), published a communication sent to the Bahraini government regarding the case of a sixteen-year-old Bahraini student who was charged with assaulting a police officer, manufacturing a fake bomb, burning tyres and disrupting traffic on the streets. The UN experts expressed their serious concerns regarding the multiple human rights violations against the sixteen-year-old minor, namely the use of torture and forced confessions resulting in unfair trials. Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) provided the information contained in the communication through its UN Complaint Program. ADHRB echoes the same concerns as the UN experts and demands that the officials responsible for the alleged torture and other violations are held accountable for their unlawful acts.

The WGAD is one of the Special Procedures offices of the UN Human Rights Council. Its mandate specifically provides for the consideration of individual complaints aimed at qualifying a detention as arbitrary or not.

From the other side, the SR on torture receives and examines information concerning torture in order to act upon it. He conducts country visits, makes recommendations and observations on the measures to prevent torture practices, integrates a gender perspective throughout his work and much more.

In their communication, the WGAD and the SR recalled the findings of ADHRB. The WGAD and the SR concluded that upon the confirmation of allegations against Bahraini officials who have committed torture, the government of Bahrain would be in breach of its human rights obligations protected by a number of ratified international human rights treaties.

According to the information provided by ADHRB, on 18 January 2019, security officers in civilian clothes, along with riot police, arrested the sixteen-year-old minor without a warrant and without stating the reasons behind the arrest. After twelve days of enforced disappearance, the family discovered that their son was being held at the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID).  This is in breach of Articles 2 and 7 of the United Nations Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which prohibit this act under all circumstances and without exception. The WGAD and the SR further indicated that even if the individual was disappeared for a short period of time, it would still amount to enforced disappearance.

During twenty days of interrogation, officers blindfolded, beat and electrocuted the minor to extract a confession. He was further denied access to a legal counsel and was not allowed to contact his family. He was later released on 24 February 2019 by the Public Prosecutor Office (PPO) due to the improbability to determine who committed the criminal offense. On 30 April 2019 the minor was ordered to present himself to the CID only to be rearrested without reason or warrant. This time he was told that he was facing charges of manufacturing a fake bomb, committing arson on tyres and assaulting a policeman. The interrogation officer tortured and subjected the minor to ill-treatment by beating him, electrocuting him and insulting him due to his affiliation to the Shia religious sect. The prolonged torture resulted in the minor confessing to the alleged charges. Beside this, he also suffered bruises and wounds without receiving medical treatment and was denied any contact with family members or legal counsel.

On 30 October 2019, the Fourth High Criminal court sentenced the minor to two years in prison despite his father’s testimony that his son was at home on the date of the incident. The Court of Appeal later upheld the judgement.

Based on these findings, the WGAD and the SR expressed their utmost concern about the CID’s use of torture and abuse in order to extract confessions, especially due to the victim’s age. In addition, they stated alarm at the Public Prosecution’s use of forced confessions as a means of incrimination. The act of torturing a minor violates Articles 2 and 16 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), in addition to violating Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The articles reaffirm the prohibition of torture under all circumstances and direct the state to take all necessary measures in order to prevent such acts. Moreover, Article 15 of the CAT establishes that any statements obtained as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, which is exactly the opposite of what the Bahraini court allowed. The prolonged use of torture on the minor resulted in his succumbing to the suffering and finally his false confessions to the acts of which they accused him.

Furthermore, the minor’s deprivation of the most fundamental safeguards, such as the right to be informed of reasons for arrest, to be detained in an official and declared place of detention, to contact family, to be assisted by a lawyer including during interrogations and to be promptly brought before a judge, were all violated. These violations entail that the basic requirements of due process were not respected, which renders his arrest and detention arbitrary. These acts directly contravene Article 9 of the ICCPR which protects the liberty and security of a person. As a result, procedural rights which entail appropriate sanctions and remedies were violated. In addition, the incommunicado detention would amount to arbitrary deprivation of liberty, violating Article 9 of the ICCPR. Arresting a minor without a warrant, subjecting him to torture and ill-treatment and then denying him legal counsel and due process resulted quite clearly in an unfair trial, therefore a Category III deprivation of liberty.

In this particular case, the prohibition of torture and the protection of the liberty and security of person ought to be emphasized due to the age of the concerned individual. The individual who was forcibly disappeared, tortured, abused and denied due process, is, as stated, a minor. Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which is ratified by Bahrain, the best interest of the child is the primary consideration with utmost importance. There is an accentuated obligation of the Bahraini government not to inflict mental or physical abuse and to protect his right to due process during detention and trial.

In this regard, ADHRB joins the UN experts in their request to provide the following:

-Information on any investigations which may have been undertaken with regard to the alleged acts of torture and ill-treatment that the minor was subjected to. In addition to an explanation of the punitive measures taken in order to prosecute the perpetrators of torture and their superiors, and to provide victims and their families with adequate redress and rehabilitation.

Lastly, the UN experts urge the Bahraini government to take all necessary provisional measures in order to halt human rights violations and prevent their re-occurrence. In case these allegations are confirmed, the government ought to ensure the accountability of any person(s) responsible for the alleged violations.

On that note, ADHRB calls for the immediate release of the minor due to his unlawful detention and unfair trial. ADHRB further calls for the prosecution of officials who committed the acts which violate human rights obligations, namely the act of torture, and to open impartial investigations into these allegations. In addition, the victim and his family have to be compensated in a fair and adequate manner as a result of the violations that took place. Lastly, we encourage the Bahraini government to accept the visit of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.