26th June, 2011

The prohibition on torture has been considered a peremptory norm of jus cogens (Latin for ‘compelling law’) international law since this body of law was first conceived over a century ago.

“A peremptory norm of general international law is a norm accepted and recognised by the international community of states as a whole as a norm from which no derogation is permitted.”[1]

Bahrain ratified the 1984 Convention Against Torture (CAT) in 1998. Article 2 of the Convention requires states “to take effective measures to prevent [torture] in any territory under its jurisdiction”. The effect of peremptory norms in that states will never admit that they violate such basic moral principles. Which state would admit to piracy, genocide, slavery, racial discrimination or torture, even if it did in fact commit such acts?

Dr Saqer Al-Khalifa, a member of the royal family, wrote a blogpost in which he plays down acts of torture as rare and not officially sanctioned.[2] He tacitly admits that acts of torture occurred in prison, saying that “We hear a lot of cases of over-reactions on the street and some times in prisons. Seeing someone detained in jail who ordered or literally killed a friend dear to you requires an enormous amount of self-control not to throw a punch at least. It was a mistake to keep close friends of the deceased policemen near those responsible for their murder.” This refers to the case of Ali Saqer, the only death in custody which has been officially investigated, and does not explain the prevalence of such claims.

Because torture is a peremptory norm of international law, Al-Khalifa frames his admission of torture in a way which makes it seem rare, justified and an exception to the rule. This denial of a state policy to torture political opponents can be seen in official government statements also.[3] Whether or not torture is state sanctioned, states signatory to the CAT are required to prevent torture occurring within their borders.

Since February 14th, four people have died in Bahraini police custody with obvious signs of torture apparent on their bodies[4] . Human Rights defenders like Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, opposition politicians like Ebrahim Sharif and government critics like Abdulla Isa Al Mahroos[5] have also been suffered abuse in prison[6]. Furthermore, “Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), alleges that security forces... regularly beat hospital patients who had injuries that could have been sustained during the rallies that started in February.”[7]

In many cases brought against protesters and opposition leaders, confessions by the accused are the only evidence brought by the prosecution. Human Rights groups are extremely concerned by the possibility that many of these are coerced confessions, with one many who died in custody having made a televised confession that he killed a policeman.[8] The UK Foreign Office has expressed concern about the non-transparent nature of trials and apparently coerced confessions.[9]

Body of Ali Saqer, died in custody 9 April 2011

The Ministry of the Interior has stated that they will carry out investigations into the officers responsible for the death of Ali Saqer[10] , but the majority of less well-publicised cases are not being investigated whatsoever. Furthermore, 2 months after his death and no official has been sentenced for the murder of Saqer. On the contrary, the government has been protecting officers known to have committed torture by changing their positions[11] , or re-criminalising defendants previously acquitted of having killed a policeman to protect those who extracted their confessions under torture.[12]

BCHR calls on the government of Bahrain to allow credible international human rights investigators from OHCHR and ICRC who currently have has promises of future visits but without concrete dates. It is worrying that ICRC[13] , Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International seem to be prohibited from entering the country to investigate cases of torture and political imprisonment. Bahrain should allow these delegations access to prisons and those claiming abuse so that it can comply with its legal obligations under international conventions on torture and civil and political rights.

Bahrain Centre for Human Rights London, June 26, 2011

More information on

[1] Article 53 of the Convention on the Law of Treaties. [2]Keep Your Eye on the Ball [3]Minister of Human Rights dismiss credibility of photos which shows torture marks on body of Ali Saqer [4]HRW: Bahrain: Suspicious Deaths in Custody [5]Updates: Harsh sentences to 21 prominent oppositional leaders and Human Rights defenders [6]Amnesty International: Bahrain: Bahraini opposition leader feared tortured, Ebrahim Sharif Bahrain: Front Line fears for life of Abdulhadi Alkhawaja amid credible allegations of torture and sexual assault [7]The Independent: Bahraini leadership faces new claims that torture took place in hospital [8]BYSHR: A man died in custody confesed on television that he had killed a police men [9]http://www.fco.gov.uk [10]Interior Ministry Arrests Five Prison Guards [11]To evade prosecution of involvement in crimes against humanity: Concealment and Rotation of Torturers in Security Establishments [12]Re-criminating the Innocents of Karzakan to Acquit the Criminals of the Security Apparatuses [13]ICRC wants more access to detainees in Bahrain