Bahrain: Violations of the Rights of the Child worse than ever: Deaths by excessive force, and military trials at age of 15
29th May 2011
Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) expresses its deep concern for the government’s targeting of children during its brutal security campaigns, especially the last campaign that started in the last few months and after the declaration of national safety (martial law) state. Hundreds of children were victims of excessive force by policemen that resulted in two children death at least. They were also subjected to arbitrary arrests that targeted them in their class rooms and homes, physical and psychological assaults during night raids to arrest their parents, and great damage inflicted upon them by the Authority as a result of targeting thousands of parents with arrest and arbitrary dismissal from work. BCHR has published several previous reports in the last 6 months condemning the government’s targeting of children in security campaigns launched by the authorities against opponents, but its appeals for the authorities to respect the international conventions, which it pledged to them, including the Rights of the Child Convection, had fallen on deaf ears in the silence of the international community. However, these violations of the Rights of the Child have become worse and reached dangerous limits.
Victims of violence and excessive force use:
Children became victims of Bahraini regime excessive use of force to crackdown peaceful protests, as it neglected their safety during the attack on the Pearl Roundabout on 17th Feb 2011 at 3 a.m. without warning with tear gas, rubber and live bullets and bird shotgun, despite the presence of many children sleeping in the tents. They were subjected to excessive and indiscriminate use of force under a policy of collective punishment.
The child Sayed Ahmed Shams (15 years) lost his life on the night of 30th March 2011 after being shot in the face. Witnesses said ((Listen to him speaking on this video at 03:00)that the security cars were patrolling the streets of the village of Sar and driving fast between the houses, although the village was not involved in any protests at that time. Sayed Ahmed was playing with his friends, adjacent to his grandfather's house, when they were surprised when they saw security cars coming at high speed at approximately half past five o’clock in the afternoon. The security forces suddenly started firing on them and when they tried to escape, Sayed Ahmed was wounded with a shot above the left eyebrow. A tear-gas package fell near him causing him difficulty in breathing until he fainted. Security forces left him suffering of his injury without help. When the news reached to his family, they came to the scene and took their son to the hospital but died before arrival. Instead of investigating the incident, the Interior Ministry refused to acknowledge its responsibility and refused to hand over Sayed Ahmed's body to his family until they sign a death certificate declaring that the cause of death was falling in the playground.
The child Mohamed Abd Alhussain (6 years) was transferred to resuscitation room on 29th April 2011 after asphyxiation with tear-gas that security forces thrown deliberately and in an excessive manner over the houses of Sitra village. Mohamed remained in the resuscitation room till he died the next morning 30th April 2011.
BCHR has documented many similar incidents that affected children in the past 2 years and in a more intense manner in the past 6 months in its previous reports: • Nov 2010 - Children in Bahrain: Victims of physical & sexual abuse, abduction, arbitrary detention and unfair trial • Feb 2011- Assaults against Children in Bahrain Continues
Arrest and torture of children at police stations:
All countries must ensure that “no child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age; and no child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time” Article 37, Convention on the Rights of the Child.
While the security forces continued arbitrary detention of children from their homes and their villages, they launched a new phase by raiding the school and arrest of children from their classrooms and during examinations. The children form a serious percentage, reaching up to 25%, of the total number of the people detained since the declaration of a state of national security on March 15, 2011 (more than 1200 persons in total). This rate far exceeds the rate in the prisons of other countries suffer from disturbances such as occupied Palestine (children 3.7% of total prisoners) and Iraq (children 3% of the total detainees), which reflects the severity of the crackdown and arbitrary arrests against the most vulnerable group of people.
At least 12 girls’ schools were subjected to repeated raids by the security forces, where they are arrest students that are 11-17 years old from their classrooms and beat them. They take them after that to the police stations, where they are tortured, assaulted and detained for a few days before their release, without having any legal advisor during the investigation process.
On 18th April 2011, after some school girls shouted with anti-government logos, policewomen and anti-riot police attacked Yathrib Intermediate School for Girls in Hamad Town and detained up to 50 female students, who are 11-14 years old. The security forces took photos of the students, beaten them and took them to Hamad Town Police Station. According to information that BCHR received, the detained students were humiliated and policewomen hit them hard with sticks over their heads. The girls were investigated and asked: (Did you participate in any demonstration or go to the Roundabout?). Their heads were banged to the wall several times and they were forced to stand for hours. The police also forced female students to write the name of “Hasan Mishamia” on their shoes and wash their head scarves after writing pro-government logos on it. Additionally, the police spread unknown substance over their faces. Before the students were release, they were forced to sign a pledge to come next day or they will be brought by force. The parents said that their daughters were in a psychological breakdown after their release.
The same school was attacked several times in the subsequent days, along with Al-Ahd Al-Zaher Secondary School for Girls, Omaima bint Al-Noaman Secondary School for Girls and Hajer Alimentary School for Girls, where many students and teachers were detained. Therefore, students and their parents were in a constant fear and apprehension of students being subjected to beatings and detention in the school.
On 12th May, Iman Al-Aswami (15 years) was called for investigations and was asked for more than 11 hours about her participation in the demonstration and her posts on her personal page on the Facebook. The investigation took place without permitting her parents to attend, and in the absence of a lawyer or specialist in dealing with children. She was questioned by policemen and was only released late after pledging to come next day.
On 22nd May, two 17-years-old female students from their school during taking examination. Their names are Zainab Al-Satrawi and Noof Al-Khawajah. They were released a few hours later after being beaten severely.
Student Heba (16 years) (this alias name to avoid her re-arrest) stated that she was arrested with 3 other girls from her school. She was arrested and beaten for 3 consecutive days in April 2011. In the bus that took her from the school to the police station, she was humiliated and threatened with rape. A police man forced her to take off her head-scarf and hit her head with the wall several times. He would increase his force if she does not scream. He also hit her with a thick hose on her head till she started bleeding and fell on the ground. She also said that threat of rape was repeated in the detention centre. She and her colleagues were scared by the threat of referring them to the Saudi Army to deal with them. She fainted from fear of what might happen to her there. She was forced to watch other girls being beaten while they are blind-folded. The girl is still afraid of being arrested again as they threatened her of that. (Listen to her speaking on this video)
The child Ahmed Abbas Yahia Thamer (12 years) spent more than a month in detention in Rifaa Police Station after the security forces kidnapped him without informing his family of his arrest. The family stayed in the dark, not knowing what happened to their son for a while; till they knew he was in the police station.
None of the arrested children were allowed to meet their families or contact a lawyer during the whole arrest period. They were arrested in detention centers along with older criminals charged with major crimes such as drug trafficking.
This is against international standards as the United Nations Group on Arbitrary Detention, has recommended -in its report in 2001 and after its visit to Bahrain- to separate juveniles from adults. However, this recommendation is not followed till now.
The United Nations Group on Arbitrary Detention visited Bahrain in a fact-finding trip in 2001 has recommended the transfer of dependency of detention centers for children to the Ministry of Social Development. The Council of Ministers also issued a decision on 4th December 2005 to transfer subordination of children’s detention centers to the Ministry of Social Development. However, this recommendation of the United Nations and the decision of the Council of Ministers decision had not been implemented so far; after several years of their issuance. All detention centers and prisons of children in Bahrain are managed by the Ministry of the Interior rather than the Ministry of Social Development.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child in the United Nations also expressed its regret in 2002 that the Bahraini government’s report does not refer to any information about the serious allegations contained in the reports of other human rights organizations about the practice of torture and arbitrary detention of individuals less than eighteen years of age. The committee recommended an effective investigation in all cases of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment at the hands of police officers and to bring their perpetrators to justice, as well as providing full care for the victims of those violations and to give them adequate compensations, treatment and social integration.
BCHR has previously documented many cases of detentions that occurred during the previous security campaign last August, were more than 70 children faced accusations beyond their age and were subjected to torture and ill-treatment to force their confession – see previous report: Children in Bahrain: Victims of physical & sexual abuse, abduction, arbitrary detention and unfair trial
Martial courts for children
While the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Article 40 states that “States Parties shall seek to promote the establishment of laws, procedures, authorities and institutions specifically applicable to children alleged as, accused of, or recognized as having infringed the penal law”, and despite the presence of special court to deal with cases of juveniles in Bahrain, the authorities tried the child Moh’d Ebrahim Khatem in front of a martial court in May 2011, violating the agreement that it has signed. Khatem had been arrested from his home in a night raid 1:30 a.m. on 4th May 2011. He was accused of participation in the crowds and riots. The next hearing in his case will be held on 30th May 2011. It is not certain that other children are not facing similar situation in view of the secret trials, the prohibition of publishing and fear of parents of reporting such abuses.
The Shura Council appointed by the King had voted on 2nd May 2011 to reject the draft law amending Article (1) of Decree Law No. (17) for the year 1976 concerning the juveniles, to lift the age of the juvenile to 18 years old while it is limited to 15 years in Bahraini law now. This is against the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child - adopted by the General Assembly in November 1989, which Bahrain joined under Decree Law No. (16) for the year 1991 - as it stated in the first article in its definition of a child that " child means every human being below the age of eighteen years". Therefore, the authority continue to hold children who have reached the age of fifteen full criminal responsibility as senior adult individuals taking full responsibility and expose them to the same penalties, prosecutions and places of detention for adults without regard to their age.
Although the Convention on the Rights of the Child forbid prohibits the ruling of life imprisonment on children, the court on 5th July 2010 sentenced Issa Ali Issa Sarhan, who was 17 years old when he was arrested, to life imprisonment after being convicted in a group of 9 defendants on charges of causing the death of a policeman at un-fair trial, especially with the court's reliance primarily on confessions obtained under torture, which Issa was one of its victims.
Children are subjects to assault and threatening in the night raids
Children are exposed to different kinds of intimidation during raids on their homes in the late hours of the night to arrest the wanted of their relatives. During the housebreaking of Secretary-General of the Islamic Action Society Sheikh Mohammad Ali Al-Mahfodh, security forces took his juvenile son (Hassan 16 years old) as a hostage to force him to give himself up. During the housebreaking of activist Salah Al-Khawaja for his arrest, security forces put the gun in the heads of his young kids - as described by their mother – and threatened to shoot the kids, if they don’t tell them about the location of the men in the house (mother speaking on this video at minute 11:55).
Deprivation of basic education:
The authorities also deprived several children of their right of getting basic education. They dismissed many students, including children from Al-Dair Alimantary School for Boys, who are less than 11 years old, because they shouted “Down with the King”. Female students who are less than 15 years old were also dismissed from Yathrib Intermediate School for Girls, some which were not allowed to take final exams.
Financial and psychological effects because of targeting of the parents
In addition to all these arbitrary measures taken against children in direct violation of number of articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, many children are living difficult financial and psychological conditions after the arrest of one or both parents (as in the case of children of Dr. Zahra Sammak and Dr Ghassan Dhaif where both parents were detained till the release of their mother). Some of these affected children are infants who have not completed one year and have been deprived of their mothers who have been detained for periods of up to two months as in the case of Khatun Sayed Hashim (mother of a 4-month-old child at the time of her arrest) were not allowed to see their children. In addition to the dismiss of their parents from work (more than 2000 workers were fired or suspended from work), or losing one of their parents as a result of the authority violence in dealing with protests, which resulted in the death of up to 30 people, none of which is investigated or compensated the family. While the Authority announced that it will provide supports for children of the police officers who were killed in the protests (4 police officers), it ignored the children of the rest of the people that it caused their death in an ugly discrimination practiced against them without guilt.
Exploitation of children in working with members of the Authority:
The authority often turn to the exploitation of children to work with it as intelligence undercover who report on the wanted people by the government and provide information to it. Bahrain Center has previously received a videotape in December 2010 recording confessions of a child stating that he started working as an informer to the police after being sexually assaulted by the authority’s men and being forced to work for them. Children were also used in the formation of local militias armed with sticks and they were trained to engage in confrontations, a move that apparently came with the support of the authority.
Based on all mentioned, BCHR recommend the following:
1. Stop the campaign of arbitrary detention of children specially school children and ensure their safety in schools. 2. Immediate release of all detainees below 18 years of age. In case of presence of evidence of them committing crimes requiring punishment according to international laws, then they should be prosecuted in a trial consistent with international standards of fair trial and taking consideration of their age. 3. Urgent and neutral investigation in all cases of murder, torture and assault specially those against children and juveniles, and bring the perpetrators and implementers of such crimes to justice. 4. Providing full care for the victims of all these violation specially children and juveniles and providing them with suitable compensation and required treatment. 5. In case of detaining those less than 18 years old, this should be in special detention centers for children and juveniles, that are under Ministry of Social Affairs supervision and not Ministry of Interior or any other security force. 6. Stop the repeated attacks on the Bahraini villages, specially those that affect children and juveniles. 7. Following the Convention on the Rights of the Child and implementation of all the recommendations of the Committee of Child Rights issued in 2002. 8. Managing political and social problems by dialogue, study of the problems’ roots and implementing laws and procedures that follow international standards of human rights. 9. Taking all measures to ensure that children and juveniles in detention or trial do not lose their right of basic education to guarantee for them a bright future far from deprivation and loss.