London / Beirut
25 July 2022
Bahrain – End the use of the death penalty: Summary recommendations to states for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Bahrain, November 2022
The Government of Bahrain (GoB) should immediately commute all death sentences awaiting approval from King Hamad. It should also declare a moratorium on the use of the death penalty with a long term view to abolishing it in law and practice, ahead of the 7-9 November 2022, United Nations’ (UN) Universal Periodic Review (UPR).
The UPR is a peer state review of the government’s implementation of international human rights obligations.
Suspending the use of the death penalty would enable the GoB to join the majority of the world’s states for the UN General Assembly’s biannual resolution on the moratorium on the death penalty, anticipated in December 2022. At the time of writing, 108 of 195 world states, or 55%, have abolished the death penalty; while 142 are abolitionist in practice.
International law provides for the implementation of the death penalty “[F]or the most serious crimes”, that is, intentional killing (see below). During a moratorium, the GoB should review the scope of application of the death penalty, which far exceeds this limitation, with a short term view of narrowing its application. In November 2018, the UN’s Human Rights Committee expressed concern that Bahraini law authorizes the death penalty for offences such as drug trafficking, which fall short of this threshold. Information held by SALAM DHR indicates that 12 of the 37 Bahrainis whom courts sentenced to death carried charges of a non-lethal nature.
Salam for Democracy and Human Rights (SALAM DHR) calls on the GoB to declare a moratorium on the use of the death penalty for seven reasons. Executing people and handing down death penalty verdicts:
- Degrades the value of life itself; it indicates that the state does not care about the sanctity of life itself and this erodes building a culture of respect towards human rights and dignity
- Constitutes a contradictory message: law prohibits killing but arrogates the ability to do so to the state itself
- Is irreversible: if and when a mistake happens, it turns the state into a murderer
- Demonstrably does not deter crime
- When there are flaws in the administration of justice, it could be imposed following unfair trial
- May be subject to discriminatory application, when the poor, marginalised or vulnerable may not be able to defend themselves as well as others
- Can be and is used as a political tool, to punish those whom the government see as opponents.
The clear and decisive call, as well as the decision to implement a moratorium would addresses the failure by the GoB to support recommendations set out in the last cycle of the UPR, in 2017, to halt executions after breaking a seven year de facto moratorium on the use of the death penalty.
It would also address the government’s serial failure to engage seriously with , and to implement recommendations repeatedly made by, UN treaty bodies as well as the UN’s thematic mechanisms.
It would also counter the failure by the government’s oversight bodies, the Ombudsman and the Special Investigation Unit (SIU), to address grave human rights violations in the country, notably those where torture and the death penalty are inextricably linked.
According to data recorded by SALAM DHR, the GoB continues to execute at a per capita rate that exceeds rates of some of the states that most implement the death penalty. In the August 2020 Open appeal to His Majesty, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Kingdom of Bahrain, which likewise called for a moratorium, SALAM DHR set out details about the use of the death penalty in Bahrain. The organisation detailed its findings that:
- The GoB does not make available information about those convicted, making it impossible to assess its impact on specific communities, including migrant workers;
- Bahrain’s execution rate has remained high, exceeding the per capita rate of some of the states that most implement the death penalty;
- Echoing the Human Rights Committee, “death sentences have been imposed on the basis of confessions obtained under duress or torture or in the context of trials that did not meet [international] standards”.
- The GoB routinely imposes the death penalty for vaguely-worded acts relating to national security;
- The GoB imposes the death penalty for a range of acts that do not have direct, lethal consequences, and
- The imposition of the death penalty routinely followed unfair trials, including multiple instances in which the state’s own oversight bodies found evidence of torture and “confessions”.
On 17 May 2020, SALAM DHR wrote via email to the Office of the Ombudsman, Ministry of the Interior, questioning the evidence and administration of justice in 14 death penalty cases. The organisation set out the details of the cases in its letter. On 19 July 2020, Bahrain’s Ombudsman responded to SALAM DHR’s request for disclosure of key documents and dates in these cases by stating that all aspects of all cases referred to its office were “out of its remit”. The statute governing the Ombudsman’s work in fact gives it the mandate to examine all illegal acts alleged against Ministry of Interior employees.
With respect to the implementation of the death penalty, Article 6.2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states, in full, that:
In countries which have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes in accordance with the law in force at the time of the commission of the crime and not contrary to the provisions of the present Covenant and to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This penalty can only be carried out pursuant to a final judgement rendered by a competent court.
According to paragraph 35 of the Human Rights Committee’s 30 October 2018 General comment No. 36 (2018) on article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, on the right to life:
The term “the most serious crimes” must be read restrictively and appertain only to crimes of extreme gravity, involving intentional killing. Crimes not resulting directly and intentionally in death, such as attempted murder, corruption and other economic and political crimes, armed robbery, piracy, abduction,  drug and sexual offences, although serious in nature, can never serve as the basis, within the framework of article 6, for the imposition of the death penalty. […]”
Salam for Democracy and Human Rights (SALAM DHR) issued, both alone and jointly with other organisations, five reports on Bahrain for the UPR cycle in 2022. These are:
- Universal Periodic Review – Bahrain, an overview, with the Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (GIDHR), Bahrain Forum for Human Rights and Human Rights Sentinel
- Political and Civil Rights in Bahrain , solely issued by SALAM DHR
- Torture in Bahrain, with the Bahrain Center Against Torture and with the support of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
- On the right to a nationality and human rights challenges pertaining to statelessness in Bahrain, jointly issued with Rights Realization Centre (RRC), MENA Statelessness Network (Hawiati), the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights (GCENR), and the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion (ISI)
- Bahrain – Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, issued with RCC
In a spirit of engagement, and in order to contribute to the debate about and development of a culture of human rights, SALAM DHR has also set out a vision for human rights reform entitled a General Determinants to a Vision of Human Rights Reform in Bahrain.
For more information, contact:
Jawad Fairooz +447449926577 -@JawadFairooz – Arabic, English
Drewery Dyke +447800989221 – @drewerydyke – English, French
 As set out in the matrix of recommendations (see: https://www.ohchr.org/en/hr-bodies/upr/bh-index , accessed 20 July 2022) these included 114.75 Commute all the death sentences and establish a moratorium on executions (Portugal); Commute all death sentences, declare a moratorium on executions and move towards an abolition of the death penalty (Norway); Introduce a moratorium on the execution of the death penalty (Germany); Impose a moratorium on the use of the death penalty (Montenegro); Re-introduce the moratorium on executions with a view to definitively abolishing the death penalty (Spain); Impose an official moratorium on the death penalty and replace the death penalty with a sentence that is fair and proportionate and respects international human rights standards (Bulgaria) A/HRC/36/3/Add.1 – Para. 36. 114.76 Suspend without delay the executions and declare a moratorium on the application of death penalty as the first phase towards its abolition (France); Immediately implement a formal moratorium on the death penalty with a view to abolishing the practice (Australia), along with many others.
 United Nations – International covenant of civil and political rights, 1966, at https://www.ohchr.org/en/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/international-covenant-civil-and-political-rights , accessed 20 July 2022
 United Nations, Human Rights Committee, 2018, reference CCPR/C/GC/36, at https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CCPR/Shared%20Documents/1_Global/CCPR_C_GC_36_8785_E.pdf , accessed 20 July 2022