Bahrain: Ministry of Interior Ombudsman Does Not Prevent or Investigate Human Rights Violations

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses on its concern over the continued practice by the authorities of establishing formal institutions and using the office of the Ombudsman to present the image of an improved human rights situation, while in reality only contributing to, and worsening, the situation. Among these institutions is the "Office of the Ombudsman - Ministry of Interior" which was established on February 28 , 2012 [ 1 ] by decree [ 2 ] of the ruler of Bahrain, Hamad Al Khalifa. The original intent of this office was to exercise its functions in the context of independence, impartiality and integrity [3]. Nawaf Al Muaawdah was appointed Ombudsmand on August 7, 2012 and amended the decree to give himself larger powers at the end of May 2013 [4].

What is the Grievances Secretariat [5]

The Office of the Ombudsman was created by the Ministry of Interior to ensure that the police comply with the national laws of Bahrain, and meet the professional standards set forth in the police Code of Conduct. The Ombudsman also oversees the conduct of the administration and the performance of civil servants. This body is meant to ensure that the government maintains a respect for human rights, and is designed to gain the trust of the public through the implementation of the recommendations issued in the report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry: Digital (1717) and (1722) , paragraph ( D ).

The Office of the Ombudsman is intended to work with the Office of Internal Affairs, within the  Ministry of Interior, to examine complaints made to any of these offices. When an investigation finds that an officer has engaged in misconduct, the competent authority at the Ministry of Interior is informed to take disciplinary action against violators, or the public prosecutor is informed to initiate criminal proceedings in cases that constitute a criminal offense. The complainant is then informed of the investigation, and provided with the steps taken to examine the complaint and conduct an investigation.

Contrary to the BICI recommendation, which stipulated the independence of the Secretariat of Grievances, this office was established under the supervision of the Minister of the Interior, who is legally responsible for the crimes committed by the authorities, and the continuing violations, including extra-judicial killings, torture, theft and destruction of private properties. 

The Office of the Ombudsman’s silence contributes to the spread of a policy of impunity:

  1. Ombudsman commits to investigations, but returns to the practice of violations:

Although the existence of the Ombudsman was established more than one year ago, the human rights situation in Bahrain has not seen a positive development in holding police officers accountable for their actions.

Improper investigation into a citizen beaten citizen and forced to confess in front of the camera:

The Ombudsman opened an investigation into the incident involving Hussein Jamil Ali in the police station Nabih Saleh, where he was allegedly forced to confess in front of the camera to crimes including participating in riots [6]; the authorities claim that they detained the officer in charge, and later released him [8]. However, the abuses continue in the same police station as is evidenced in the case of the repeated detention and beating of Aqeel Abdul Hadi from Mahooz at Nabih Saleh police station, no officers have been held accountable. This clearly makes the opening of the investigation into such cases a mere formality, and does not deter violators from committing crimes. This also confirms that the violations committed by the officers constitutes a pre-designed methodology for the security services, and not rogue personal actions as is claimed by the Ministry of Interior.

Dozens of cases of enforced disappearance documented, and the Ombudsman remains silent:

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights has documented many cases of citizens' exposure to enforced disappearance at the hands of the employees of the security services [9]. One such case is that of the blogger Mohamed Hassan, known as "Safi", where he attended an investigation with the Appeals Committee in Dry Dock Prison to testify about being subjected to enforced disappearance and the torture he was subjected to in the Criminal Investigations building. No action was taken against the perpetrators of this violation who were implicated by Safi. Citizens continue to complain about the threat to their children and their need to hide from arrest in order to protect them from police abuses[10] and the ongoing torture that occurs in the Criminal Investigations building.

Arrest of Haider AlShoghl – victim in ‘the slap’ viral video

A video recorded on a cell phone, which shows a police officer, "Ali Aref", slap a Bahraini citizen, Haider Al Shoghl, without any reason [11] while Shoghl was carrying his young son in his arms. The incident raised serious concerns in the local and international community and prompted the General Secretariat of Grievances to open an investigation. The authorities claimed to have detained the policeman, but this was not confirmed. On 22 September 2013, civil forces accompanied by security forces raided the house of Haider and detained him without showing the family a warrant. [12] [13]

Nabeel Rajab, a witness to the torture in the Jaw central prison:

The imprisoned President of the BCHR, Nabeel Rajab, met with Ministry of Interior Ombudsman after his family received a call from Rajab in which he testified to four cases of assault by beating and torture [14] that he witnessed on four detainees within the corridors of Jaw 's central prison. However, no information has surfaced to date on what action has been taken against the violators. On the contrary, the Head of the Ministry of Interiors Ombudsman’s office, Nawaf AlMaawdah, stated in a press conference on 25 September 2013 that the Secretariat did not monitor or receive any complaints from any inmates at Jaw prison in regards to being subjected to torture [15]. This statement was made despite the fact that the BCHR has confirmed that the Office of the Ombudsman has received repeated complaints of assaults on detainees, including beatings and the use of sound bombs, which confirms that these investigation are only a formality.

Rihana al-Moussawi, detainee stripped of her clothes, sent a message to the Office of the Ombudsman:

Rehana al-Moussawi was subjected to severe abuse at the hands of the police at Riffa prison, and was at one point stripped of all her clothing and forced to stand in a doorway. Moussaoui filed a complaint on 25.07.2013 to the office of the Ombudsman, but did not receive a response.

Hussein Mansour Radhi, hidden by force & has not  been fairly treated by Secretariat of grievances :

The family of Hussein Mansour Radhi submitted a complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman on 8 July 2013 stating that Radhi was subjected to enforced disappearance at the hands of the security forces, and drew attention to the invalidity of the arrest and the detention procedures. The Ombudsman has not responded to the family, and continues to ignore the complaint.

Detainee blind "Ali Saad" is still detained and the Secretariat of the grievances ignores his needs:

Ali Saad is a blind prison inmate being held at Dry Docks prison, and denied the special conditions that his detention requires[ 17 ]. The office of the Ombudsman claim that they are working to improve conditions of the detainee, particularly the inadequate food that he is provided, which is resulting in a very weakened condition for his body. Despite assurances from the Office of the Ombudsman,[18] Saad continues to be detained in conditions which demonstrate the Ombudsman's lack of seriousness in improving the human rights situation.

The detainee's family followed up their complaint with the Appeals Committee to ensure Saad’s rights are respected while in detention at the Dry Dock prison, but no serious action has been taken by the authorities.

In one of the best examples of the way in which the Ombudsman processes complaints, the BCHR received a testimony that one of the members of the Secretariat, namely Abdulrahman Faris, was aggressive towards the complainant, and indirectly expressed that the Office of the Ombudsman would not be able to resolve the matter. 

  1. Upgrade tortured on the orders of the ruler of Bahrain Hamad Al Khalifa:

The ruler of Bahrain, Hamad Al Khalifa, issued a decree on January 28, 2013 [ 19 ] to establish Bassam Al Ma’araj as Director General of the Department of Anti-Corruption, Economic Security and the Internet. Bassam Al Ma’araj is one of the most prominent names on the list published by Human Rights Watch in its report, "Torture Redux" [20]. This report listed individuals who were indicated as responsible for the torture in the prisons of Bahrain. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights issued a report at the same time, in connection with a short film, which contains testimonies from activists detailing the torture they were subjected to, and the abuse the received at the hands of Ma’araj [ 21 ]. Instead of Ma’araj being accountable for his crimes, he was promoted to hold a much higher position, which functioned as a reward for what he has done. When leaders in the government take actions to promote an individual such as Ma’araj, in the face of strong evidence of crimes he committed, this ensures that torture will continue to be practiced on an systematic level without fear of accountability.

  1. In Bahrain, the law does not apply to torturers:

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights issued a statement [23] denouncing a speech by Bahraini Prime Minister Khalifa Al Khalifa – who is not elected and is the longest-serving Prime Minister in the world. The Prime Minister visited the home of Mubarak Bin Huwail, who is one of the principle agents of torture in the prisons, particularly during the state of national security in 2011. The Prime Minister stated that he does not accept that Huwail was put on trial, and clearly stated in front of the cameras that the law will not be applied to him [24] just as it does not apply to members of the ruling family . This letter confirms that the policy of impunity comes from the highest levels of the ruling family. It also emphasizes the fact that the judiciary in Bahrain is not independent or impartial, and is not in agreement with international standards.

The lawyer Mr. Mohsen Al Alawi, confirmed the complicity of public prosecution with the court to exonerate the security personnel of the abuses practiced by failing to provide sufficient evidence to convict them. This method of support from the prosecution is a major motivation for the continuation of systematic torture throughout the prison system in Bahrain, and further spreads the policy of impunity.

  1. Ombudsman turning a blind eye to the employees of the security practices:

Security personnel in Bahrain have absolute powers to engage in the worst types of human rights violations, including theft and destruction of personal property, torturing individuals in the streets, and subjecting people to enforced disappearance.

  • Riot police damaged commercial shops in Jawad on 13 April 2012:

A surveillance camera in a supermarket owned by a member of the Shia religious sect shows that the police assisted rioters when the store was attacked by a mob. Vandals destroyed the store front, located in the Jawad commercial district, and looted merchandise. When the officers arrived, instead of being arrested, they directed the rioters to destroy the surveillance camera [26]. No one has been held accountable in the incident.

  • Regime forces shoot directly within a house before forcing their entry (19 May 2012 ) :

A social media account, which covers events in one of the villages, which was witnessing protests against the inaction of the government towards human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja’s hunger strike, published a video clip showing how government forces deal with people’s private properities. In the clip, security forces shoot tear gas inside a home before climbing over the wall and breaking into the home without a warrant. They also attempted to break the front doors [27].

  • Riot, Steal Personal Property - 5 October 2012:

A video clip published on social media, showed a group of riot police stealing burlap sack of onions from Jidhafs market during the suppression of a peaceful protest in the area [28].

  • Collective Punishment Not Limited to Private Homes, But Also Mosques:

A large amount of video evidence on YouTube shows the police forces indiscriminately exercising collective punishment on private homes  [29] and places of worship. [30]

  • Riot Police Used Molotov Cocktails Against the Demonstrators:

Not only do government forces use tear gas and pellet shotguns to disperse protests, but several videos have emerged showing security forces throwing Molotov cocktails [31].

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights finds the Ombudsman’s performance to be unacceptable in regards to the silence regarding the theft of citizens’ personal belongings at checkpoints and during their arrest [32]. The Ombudsman was also silent in regards to the death of a detainee, "Mohammed Mushaima" following medical negligence by the authorities, and their refusal to provide him with the necessary and appropriate healthcare [33]. The Office of the Ombudsman was also silent in regards to the incidents involving the siege of certain villages where the communities were surrounded by barbed wire [34]. Massive violations also that occur within the prisons without the Ombudsman taking any note of the incidents. Detainees have also died in mysterious circumstances [35] as a result of reckless behavior by the police while driving their vehicles, but he Ombudsman has failed to find anyone responsible for wrongdoing in these incidents. [36]

Commenting on the establishment of Ombudsman in Bahrain, Head of Documentation and BCHR Acting Vice-President Said Yousif Al-Muhafdha stated that “the General Secretariat for Grievances is nothing more than a sham committee, and since its formation, has not been able to limit the violations of the security agencies against civilians.” The creation of this office was intended to give the international community the impression that the authorities are committed to implementing reforms, while continuing with the same illegal practices.

Al-Muhafdha added that “As a monitor of protests, I have not seen a development in the performance of the police for the better. The authorities are still practicing collective punishment against villages. Officers are continue to commit acts of torture practiced in unofficial torture centers and even on the street while the police are on patrol. This clearly refutes the government’s claims to reform the culture of impunity that pervades through the security forces.”

Al-Muhafdha mentioned that when there is a visit by an international NGO or member of the media, it appears that there are orders to the security forces to not attack protesters or commit any violations. On the contrary, they appear to be very adamant in dealing with protesters within the framework of the law. On the other hand, the officers in another area, at other times, will be committing serious human rights violations, which confirms the lack of real reforms.

Other local activists have criticized the formation of the secretariat amongst a group of official institutions, which have had no effect on the reality of violations. They stated that the formation of these groups, which carry human rights names, comes simultaneously with the continuation of violations and repressive laws and procedures, which limit public freedoms and the basic rights of citizens.  

And Bahrain Center for Human Rights sees that there are powers of the absolute and superior orders practice violations and pledged a formal high-level of accounting and legal accountability , particularly in light of issuance of Law 56 issued by the ruler of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, and considered activists and jurists tool for exemption executioners and torturers of the crimes committed by them the right of detainees and citizens.

The BCHR believes that the security forces in Bahrain have absolute authority, and orders form the upper echelons of the command chain, to commit violations and official guarantee that they will not be held accountable. Especially in light of decree 56, which was issued by Hamid bin Isa Al-Khalifa, and was viewed by activists as a tool of impunity for torturers and human rights violators from crimes they have committed against prisoners and civilians.


The Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the United States, the United Kingdom, the United Nations and all of Bahrain’s closest allies as well as international institutions to pressure the authorities to

  • Immediately begin to take human rights reforms seriously.
  • Ensure that the Office of the Ombudsman investigates all reports of human rights violations, and hold accountable those who are found to be responsible.

It also calls on the authorities in Bahrain to:

  • Create a truly independent Office of the Ombudsman, outside of the Ministry of Interior, to investigate reports of police abuse.
  • End the harassment of civil society organizations
  • Allow human rights institutions to work freely on the basis of international covenants and conventions ratified by Bahrain.