June 28, 2012
Prosecuting Children in Bahrain, So Much for the Rights of the Child
Ali Hasan Alqudaihi, 11, was playing outside with two of his friends when he was approached by a man who turned out to be a member of the police force. His friends ran away, but he was paralyzed with fear and was arrested. Charged with taking part in an ‘illegal gathering’ for allegedly blocking a road, he spent a month in prison. Last week he was bailed out so that he could sit through his sixth grade final exams. His case is unfortunately not unique as children have increasingly become casualties of the civil unrest in the tiny Gulf Kingdom. The latest figures from the Bahraini Center for Human Rights (BCHR) show that since the release of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report in November 2011, approximately 123 children have been arrested by Bahraini authorities, making up 26.6% of total arrests. At least 34 children have been arrested since April 2012 and around 63 are still in detention. The average period of detention for these children is 91 days and 59% of all children in detention were arrested during home raids while 23% were arrested from their neighborhoods. Many of the children who have been arrested have been subjected to abuse in detention. Ali Hasan was beaten and humiliated and was asked repeatedly to identify other boys in his neighborhood. Shahzalan Khamees, one of Ali Hasan’s lawyers, told the AFP that the ‘charges make no sense’ and although it is common for young children to be questioned by police, it is unusual for them to be detained. Bahraini officials said that the country’s chief of public security, major general Tariq al-Hassan, had ordered an official investigation into Ali Hasan’s arrest. They found that he “was arrested for blocking a crowded main road on three separate occasions in the course of one afternoon.” In 1992 Bahrain ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) but has yet to implement these obligations into domestic law. So while Bahrain cannot actively frustrate the purpose and spirit of the CRC, it is not legally bound to uphold its obligations under it. In Bahrain’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in May 2012, the Committee on the Rights of Child expressed concern that torture has been used against persons under the age of 18 during political events since 2011. The Committee reminded Bahrain that its international human rights obligations and the rights enumerated under the CRC apply to all children at all times. The UPR report recommended that Bahrain promptly investigate allegations of torture and prosecute perpetrators. The Committee also urged Bahrain to take measures to prohibit torture in law and to ensure that no child was subjected to torture. Preventive measures need to include monitoring detention centers and comprehensive training for security and police personnel. The Committee was also concerned that the political unrest will have disturbing influences on the children in Bahrain, which may result in in breaches of the basic rights of children to survival, health and protection. The UPR report reiterated its recommendation that Bahrain bring the system of juvenile justice fully into line with the CRC. It urged Bahrain to ensure that “the best interests of the child” be consistently applied in all legislative, administrative and judicial proceedings. Ali Hasan’s verdict will be handed down on July 5 and his sentence could be anywhere from a few weeks to three years imprisonment. This case reveals the extent to which the Bahraini authorities will go to in order to overcome voices of dissent. Bahrain still has a long way to go to prove that it takes its obligations under the CRC seriously.