US State Department Trafficking in Persons Report 2011 - Bahrain
BAHRAIN (Tier 2)
Bahrain is a destination country for men and women subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Men and women from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Ethiopia, and Eritrea migrate voluntarily to Bahrain to work as domestic workers or as unskilled laborers in the construction and service industries. Some, however, face conditions of forced labor after arriving in Bahrain, through use of such practices as unlawful withholding of passports, restrictions on movement, contract substitution, nonpayment of wages, threats, and physical or sexual abuse. A study by the Bahrain government’s Labor Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) found that 65 percent of migrant workers had not seen their employment contract, and that 89 percent were unaware of their terms of employment upon arrival in Bahrain. Many labor recruitment agencies in Bahrain and source countries require workers to pay high recruitment fees – a practice that makes workers highly vulnerable to forced labor once in Bahrain. The LMRA study found that 70 percent of foreign workers borrowed money or sold property in their home countries in order to secure a job in Bahrain. Some Bahraini employers illegally charge workers exorbitant fees to remain in Bahrain working for third-party employers (under the “free visa” arrangement). The LMRA estimates that approximately 10 percent of migrant workers were in Bahrain under illegal “free visa” arrangements – a practice that can contribute to debt bondage – while the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry puts the figure at 25 percent. Women from Thailand, the Philippines, Morocco, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Russia, China, Vietnam, and Eastern European states are subjected to forced prostitution in Bahrain.
The Government of Bahrain does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government continued to investigate and prosecute forced prostitution cases and convicted nine trafficking offenders during the reporting period. In addition, the government assisted 17 victims of forced prostitution. Nonetheless, there were no reports of government efforts to punish forced labor crimes nor any indication that the Government of Bahrain took steps to institute a formal victim identification procedure or otherwise improve victim protection efforts during the reporting period. The government’s lack of efforts to acknowledge and address forced labor remains a key gap in its anti-trafficking response.
Recommendations for Bahrain:
Continue to enforce the 2008 anti-trafficking law; significantly increase the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenses – particularly those involving forced labor – and convictions and punishment of trafficking offenders; reform the sponsorship system to eliminate obstacles to migrant workers’ access to legal recourse for complaints of forced labor; vigorously investigate all credible trafficking tips secured through the anti-trafficking hotline; institute and apply formal procedures to identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, such as domestic workers who have fled from abusive employers and women in prostitution; refer identified victims to protection services; expand the government-run shelter to protect all victims of trafficking, including victims of forced labor and male victims of trafficking; ensure that the shelter does not inappropriately restrict victims’ movement and that shelter staff are qualified and speak the languages of expatriate workers; ensure that identified victims of trafficking are not punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, such as illegal migration or prostitution; and extend labor law protections to domestic workers to ensure that they have the same protections under the law as other expatriate workers.
The Government of Bahrain sustained moderate efforts to prosecute sex trafficking offenses during the reporting period, but made no reported efforts to punish forced labor. The 2008 Law to Combat Trafficking in Persons prohibits all forms of trafficking in persons and prescribes penalties ranging from three to 15 years’ imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The Government of Bahrain investigated 12 cases of forced prostitution, five of which were prosecuted during the reporting period, resulting in the conviction of nine trafficking offenders; this is generally on par with law enforcement efforts against trafficking in the previous reporting period. In one case, two convicted traffickers received five years’ imprisonment and fines for forcing women into prostitution, while in the other case, seven convicted traffickers received three years’ imprisonment and fines for running a prostitution ring. There were no reports, however, that the government adequately investigated or punished trafficking cases involving forced labor despite common reports of domestic workers facing serious conditions indicative of forced labor. The government also did not report efforts to investigate government complicity in trafficking offenses.
The Government of Bahrain made no reported progress in improving protection for victims of trafficking over the last year. The government continued to lack a formal procedure to identify victims among vulnerable groups, such as migrant domestic workers who have left their employers or women arrested for prostitution. As a result, potential trafficking victims may have been charged with employment or immigration violations, detained, and deported without adequate protection. Most migrant workers who were able to flee their abusive employers were frequently charged as “runaways,” sentenced to two weeks’ detention, and deported. The government continued to fund a 120-bed NGO-run shelter called Dar al Aman, which is described as serving victims of family violence. This shelter reported assisting 17 victims of forced prostitution during the reporting period. The government did not, however, report assisting any victims of forced labor during the reporting period. The majority of victims continued to seek shelter at their embassies or at the shelter of the Migrant Workers Protection Society, an NGO. Many police officers remained unfamiliar with procedures for referring victims of labor abuse and human trafficking to these shelters. In previous years, an international NGO reported that the shelter restricted residents’ freedom of movement, was not staffed with qualified personnel, and did not provide long-term shelter or housing benefits to victims; it was not known whether this was the case during 2010.
There remained no shelters or other protection services for male trafficking victims provided by the government. The Government of Bahrain encouraged victims to participate in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers; however, workers typically did not file court cases against employers due to fear or ignorance of the law, distrust of the legal system, inability to afford legal representation, lack of interpretation and translation provided by courts, fear of losing residency permits during legal proceedings, and to avoid additional maltreatment at the hands of the employer. The government did not provide legal alternatives for the removal of foreign victims to countries where they faced retribution or hardship. The Ministry of Interior continued to operate a toll-free hotline for trafficking victims, but the government did not report how many calls this hotline received or how many victims were assisted.
The government made no clear efforts to prevent trafficking in persons during the reporting period. While Bahrain’s Ministry of Labor has pledged for several years to end the sponsorship (kafala) system – which creates vulnerabilities to trafficking – it has not completely abolished this structure to meaningfully prevent trafficking in persons. Earlier reforms of the sponsorship system to regulate labor recruitment and expand worker mobility continue to exclude Bahrain’s approximately 70,000 domestic workers – the group that is most vulnerable to trafficking. In addition, the 2010 labor law also does not afford basic protections to domestic workers. Moreover, the law against withholding workers’ passports – a common practice that restricts the mobility of migrant workers and contributes to forced labor – was not enforced effectively, and the practice remained widespread. The government reported no efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or child sex tourism.
HRF: Sham Trials in Bahrain Prove Need for Greater U.S. Pressure
By Robert Joyce Human Rights Defenders Program
28 June 2011 On Wednesday a military court in Bahrain announced its latest outrage. Twenty-one activists were sentenced in a “sham trial” with eight receiving life sentences and the remanding 13 given between two and 15 years. Among those sentenced was Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, a prominent human rights activist. There has been word from family members that he had been beaten both before and after his sentencing. His daughter was violently removed from court after she shouted in response to the sentence. She was charged with contempt of court and later released. In a recent Twitter post she says: “Just got news that my father was severely beaten after court yesterday! He was hit mostly on his face, on the already fractured bones!” Other defendants also show evidence of torture on their bodies.
A national dialogue is set to begin on July 1st, but former MPs have already denounced it while the Bahraini government continues to sentence and arrest human rights activists, host Gulf Cooperation Council troops (mostly from Saudi Arabia), and violently put down protests. Trials are continuing around the country, with an estimated 400 people charged in relation to calls for democracy, including 47 doctors and nurses arrested for treating those assaulted by security forces. Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley was refused entry to one of these trials on his recent visit to Bahrain on May 12th.
The U.S. Government has continued its relatively muted line on Bahrain. While many say the United Sates has privately increased pressure, it’s time for that pressure to become public. Naming Bahrain as a violator of human rights is one good step, but another could be a discussion of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. It has been previously suggested that the fleet be moved or even disbanded.
The U.S. Government must make clear that its relationship with Bahrain is not unconditional – that it does not want to be seen as friends with torturers. And that to be a partner of the United States, Bahrain must act in a responsible way. The partnership needs renegotiating, and the future of the Fifth Fleet ought to be part of that discussion.
Freedom House: Ongoing Abuses in Bahrain Delegitimize Upcoming National Dialogue
Washington June 28, 2011
With Bahrain’s national dialogue fast approaching, Freedom House expresses its deep concern about the ongoing arrests, intimidation, and in some cases torture of political activists speaking out in favor of democracy. These incidents constitute a pattern of repression that belies any promises of reform and honest political discourse by the government or the ruling family.
“By continuing to proceed with hasty prosecutions in military courts of leading opposition political figures and pro-democracy activists, the Bahraini government is in effect removing its political competition,” said Charles Dunne, Freedom House’s senior program manager for the Middle East and North Africa. “These actions strongly suggest that the National Dialogue will not be an opportunity to advance political freedom in Bahrain, but rather a ploy to prevent criticism of its human rights record.”
Bahrain’s National Dialogue is scheduled to begin on July 1 in Manama. However, hundreds of Shi’ite political leaders are currently languishing in prison and the largest opposition bloc, led by political party Wefaq, has not confirmed its participation.
On June 22, a military court convicted eight Shi’ite activists for plotting to overthrow the monarchy and sentenced them to life in prison. Thirteen other activists were also convicted of the same charges and received harsh sentences ranging from five to 15 years in prison. Many of those sentenced were prominent political and human rights figures, including Hassan Mushaima, leader of the opposition Haq Movement, human rights activist Abdul Jalil al-Singace, and Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, co-founder and former president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. Ibrahim Sharif, leader of the National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad) was the only Sunni convicted. He received a sentence of five years.
Meanwhile, the government is proceeding with the trial of 28 doctors and nurses on openly political charges of allegedly aiding and abetting the protestors and spreading false information. On June 27, witnesses for the defense were denied permission to testify. A separate trial of another 20 medical professionals accused of plotting against the government is also proceeding in a military court.
In addition, credible reports of the torture of political activists at the hands of Bahrain security forces continue to surface regularly. Among these is Dr. Nada Dhaif, a dental surgeon and sister of journalist Lamees Dhaif, who was arrested after providing medical support to wounded protestors and reportedly tortured while in jail because of her sister’s outspoken criticism.
“Freedom House calls on the Bahraini government to cease its intimidation and mistreatment of political opponents and to use the opportunity presented by the National Dialogue to initiate genuine and far reaching political reforms,” continued Dunne. “Furthermore, the U.S. government should hold Bahrain fully accountable for the ongoing repression and insist both publicly and privately on specific, measurable reforms to advance freedom and human rights in the country.”
Bahrain is ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2011.