King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa issued Royal Order 61 of 2017, restructuring the Commission of Prisoners and Detainees Rights, which consists of 12 members who will implement their role in a three-year term.
The Committee was set up in 2013 under the Royal Decree 61 of 2013 to oversee prisons, detention centers and relevant facilities, assessing the condition of detention of inmates, and to ensure that they are not subjected to any form of torture, or inhuman or degrading treatment.
The Committee’s 12 members, 3 of whom are nominated by the Ombudsman, 4 by the National Institution for Human Rights, 2 by the Supreme Judicial Council, and another 2 by the Public Prosecutor, have rights to visit prisons and detention centers anytime, with or without prior notice at their discretion. Its missions, including the submission of annual reports to the government, must be conducted independently, without intervention or influence of any third party.
In reality, however, all members of the committee were appointed by the King, and some were associated with pro-government institutes and bodies, which might limit its ability to engage in fully independent investigations.
The previous activities of the Committee in the past 4 years may have proven that it has failed to make any meaningful changes in prevailed torture and mistreatment of detainees and prisoners. Visits to prisons and detention centers have been conducted with no transparency, and there have been no influential reports whatsoever made by the Committee. When a riot was broken at Jau Prison in March 2015, in protest of torture and poor-conditions, which was followed by severe collective punishment against prisoners, not a single and meaningful comment from the Committee was made to improve the situation.
Furthermore, Said Yousif Almuhafdah, Vice President of SALAM for Democracy & Human Rights says: “In the past 8 months since 17 February 2017, the activities of the Committee were in fact frozen until King Hamad issued Royal Order 61 on 24 October 2017, only as a result of the pressure from various human rights NGOs including SALAM through their recent vigorous campaign #Save_Bahrain_Prisoners on the protection of detainees and prisoners from arbitrary torture and mistreatment in Bahrain”.
In these regards, and in order to guarantee independence of the committee, we urge the government of Bahrain to make discretion in appointing its members, and separate the Committee from the Ombudsman. Furthermore, we call for an amendment of its laws to imply with the international standards, as well as an acceptance of visits of the UN High Commissioner and Special Rapporteur on Torture to meet victims of torture and prisoners, investigating cases of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
More importantly, the government of Bahrain should initiate a comprehensive reform on human rights level to make genuine changes in improving the condition of prisons and detention centers, and eradicating torture and mistreatment against inmates.