Report on Human Rights Practices for 2001
Bahrain is a hereditary emirate with few democratic institutions and no
political parties. The Al-Khalifa extended family has ruled the country
since the late 18th century and dominates all facets of its society and
government. The Constitution confirms the Amir as hereditary ruler. The
Amir, Shaikh Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa, governs the country with the assistance
of his uncle, the Prime Minister, his son, the Crown Prince, an appointed
cabinet of ministers, and an appointed Consultative Council that advises
the Government on all new legislation. In 1975 the Government suspended
some provisions of the 1973 Constitution, including those articles relating
to the National Assembly, which was disbanded and never reinstituted.
Citizens belong to the Shi'a and Sunni sects of Islam, with the Shi'a
constituting over two-thirds of the indigenous population. However, Sunnis
predominate politically and economically because the ruling family is
Sunni and is supported by the armed forces, the security services, and
powerful Sunni and Shi'a merchant families. The political situation generally
was calm during the year; there were a few incidents of low-level political
unrest, but there has not been significant unrest since 1996. In February
an overwhelming majority of eligible citizens, both male and female endorsed
a government plan entitled the National Action Charter to restore constitutional
rule. On October 2, the Amir affirmed that the country would become a
constitutional monarchy, with a government based on separation of powers,
majority rule, and minority rights. There are few judicial checks on the
actions of the Amir and his Government, and the courts are subject to
government pressure and occasional accusations of corruption; however,
the judiciary provides some checks on government authority.
The Ministry of Interior is responsible for public security. It controls
the public security force (police) and the extensive security service,
which are responsible for maintaining internal order. The Bahrain Defense
Force (BDF) is responsible for defending against external threats. It
did not play a role in internal security during the year. Security forces
committed a few serious human rights abuses.
The country has a population of approximately 700,000, an estimated
one-third of whom are noncitizens, and many of whom are Asian workers.
It has a mixed economy with government domination of many basic industries,
including the production of aluminum and the production and processing
of hydrocarbons. The country is a regional financial and business center,
as well as depends on tourism, particularly via the causeway to Saudi
Arabia, as a significant source of income. The Government has used its
modest oil revenues to build a highly advanced transportation and telecommunications
infrastructure. Higher oil prices in 2000 and much of the year boosted
economic growth and provided additional resources for new government
projects. Possessing limited oil and gas reserves, the Government is
working to diversify its economic base, concentrating on light manufacturing
and the service sectors. The Government encouraged private national
and international investment with some positive results. Per capita
gross domestic product (GDP) is approximately $12,000.
The Government generally respected its citizens' human rights in a
number of areas and improved significantly in other areas; however,
its record remained poor in some areas, particularly with respect to
the rights of workers. The Government denies citizens the right to change
their government; however, the February referendum on the National Action
Charter, provides a template for the return of the country to constitutional
In February the Amir annulled the 1974 State Security Act, which had
superseded the Constitution and permitted arbitrary arrest and detention,
incommunicado and prolonged detention, and forced exile. By February
14, the Amir had released all remaining political detainees and prisoners
and invited nearly all exiles to return with full citizenship rights.
Most have done so. The Amir also abolished the State Security Court,
which held secret trials and provided few procedural safeguards. Nonetheless,
impunity remains a problem; there were no known instances of security
force personnel being punished for abuses committed during the year
or in the past. The abolition of the State Security Court restored to
the public the right to a fair public trial. The judiciary is nominally
independent, but it still remains subject to government pressure. The
press has published allegations that some judges are corrupt. The Government
continued to infringe to some extent on citizens' privacy rights. The
Government imposed some restrictions on the freedoms of speech and the
press, and restricted freedoms of assembly and association; however,
during the year, public criticism of government policies increased,
and the Government did not interfere with or disperse some unauthorized
demonstrations. A committee worked during the year to develop legislation
to define and regulate nongovernmental organizations (NGO's). The Government
also imposes some limits on freedom of religion and freedom of movement.
In May the Government registered the Bahrain Human Rights Society, the
country's first human rights NGO. Violence against women, and discrimination
based on sex, religion, and ethnicity remains a problem. The Government
restricts worker rights, and widespread abuse of foreign workers occurs,
including numerous instances of forced labor. Trafficking of foreign
women into domestic servitude or sexual exploitation is a problem.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom
a. Arbitrary of Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were no reports of the arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life
committed by the Government or its agents.
Impunity remains a problem. There were no investigations or prosecutions
of any security force personnel for alleged extrajudicial killings committed
in previous years.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment
or punishment; however, there were a few reports of police abuse of
civilians during the year. The press reported in September an incident
in which police officers beat a suspect; however, the details regarding
the beating were not reported in the press. The individual was released
from custody and personally compensated by the Amir. On December 9,
two Shi'a men reported that they were beaten at a police station when
they resisted arrest (see Section 1.d.).
In the past, there were credible reports that prisoners often were
beaten, both on the soles of their feet and about the face and head,
burned with cigarettes, deprived of sleep for long periods of time,
and in some cases subjected to electrical shocks. Before the annulment
of the State Security Act in February, the Government had difficulty
in rebutting allegations of torture and of other cruel, inhuman, or
degrading practices because it permitted incommunicado detention and
detention without trial. There continued to be no known instances of
officials being punished for human rights abuses committed either during
the year or in any previous year.
Unlike in previous years, there were no allegations that security forces
threatened female detainees with rape or inflicted other forms of sexual
abuse and harassment on them while they were in custody. Juvenile prisoners
are housed separately until the age of 15.
Credible observers claim that the prisons generally meet international
standards. Local defense attorneys report that care and treatment of
their clients continued to improve. In addition the release of hundreds
of detainees from prison (see Section 1.d.), totaling more than 1,500
since 1999, and the reduced number of arrests during the year, eased
overcrowding. At the Government's invitation, the International Committee
of the Red Cross (ICRC) continued the series of visits to prisons that
it began in late 1996.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution states that "no person shall be arrested, detained,
imprisoned, searched or compelled to reside in a specified place...except
in accordance with the provisions of the law and under the supervision
of the judicial authorities." With one known exception, the authorities
observed these provisions in practice during the year. On December 9,
two Shi'a men were detained without a court warrant, although they were
released within the 48-hour time period specified by the Constitution
(see Section 1.c.).
The police may only detain a suspect for 48 hours without obtaining
a court order. Since the February abolition of the State Security Act,
courts have refused police requests to detain suspects longer than 48
hours, and the police have complied with court orders to release suspects.
Judges may grant bail to a suspect. However, attorneys still require
a court order to visit detainees in jail.
In February the Amir annulled the 1974 State Security Act. For the
previous 26 years, the Act had taken precedence over the Constitution
in matters regarding arrest, detention, or exile. Under the Act, the
authorities were permitted to detain persons for up to 3 years without
trial for engaging in activities or making statements regarded as a
threat to the broadly defined concepts of national harmony and security.
The scope of the State Security Act extended to any case involving arson,
explosions, or attacks on persons at their place of employment or because
of the nature of their work.
Government security forces had used the State Security Act to detain,
arrest, question, or warn persons deemed to be engaging in antigovernment
activities, including membership in illegal organizations or those deemed
subversive; painting antigovernment slogans on walls; joining antigovernment
demonstrations; possessing or circulating antigovernment writings; preaching
sermons considered by the Government to have an antigovernment political
tone; and harboring or associating with persons who committed such acts.
However, there were no detentions in connection with such activities
during the year, either before or after the annulment of the State Security
The Ministry of Interior oversees the security service, police, and
Public Prosecutor. During the year, the Government, at the direction
of the Amir, was drafting a law that would transfer the Public Prosecutor's
office from the Ministry of Interior to the Ministry of Justice and
Islamic Affairs, and thirteen prosecutors were being trained to staff
the new office. The Ministry of Interior is responsible for all aspects
of prison administration. Access to attorneys is restricted. In the
early stages of detention, prisoners and their attorneys must seek a
court order to be able to meet. Prisoners may receive visits from family
members, usually once a month. Before the annulment of the State Security
Act and the release of all prisoners and detainees held under the Act,
the authorities rarely permitted visits to inmates who had been incarcerated
for security-related offenses, and such prisoners at times were held
incommunicado for months, or sometimes years.
By February 14, the Amir had pardoned and ordered the release of all
persons who had been detained under the State Security Act, including
Shi'a clerics and political activists Abdul Wahab Hussain, Hassan Mushaimaa,
Hassan Sultan, Haji Hassan Jarallah, and Abdul Jahil Khadim. The most
prominent Shi'a cleric, Shaikh Abdul Amir Al-Jamri, was pardoned in
1999 (see Sections 1.e. and 2.c.).
The annulment of the State Security Act made forced exile illegal,
and there were no reports of new cases of forced exile during the year.
By February 14, the Amir had pardoned 108 exiles who had requested to
return to the country, and invited nearly all remaining exiles to return
with full citizenship rights. Most have done so. In the past, the Government
revoked the citizenship of persons whom it considered to be security
threats. The Government considered such persons to have forfeited their
nationality under the Citizenship Act of 1963 because they accepted
foreign citizenship or passports or engaged in antigovernment activities
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, the
judiciary is not independent, and courts are subject to government pressure
regarding verdicts, sentencing, and appeals. The Amir appoints judges
upon the recommendation of the Supreme Judicial Council. The Minister
of Justice and Islamic Affairs may comment on Supreme Judicial Council
recommendations. Judges' terms are from appointment until the age of
retirement from government service, which is set at age 60. A five-member
committee of the Supreme Judicial Council oversees the procedures and
rulings of judges. The committee may recommend suspension or removal
of a judge whose rulings do not meet court standards.
The civil and criminal legal systems consist of a complex mix of courts,
based on diverse legal sources, including Sunni and Shi'a Shari'a (Islamic
law), tribal law, and other civil codes and regulations. The Amir's
annulment of the 1974 State Security Act abolished its separate, closed
security court system, which had jurisdiction in cases of alleged antigovernment
The Bahrain Defense Force maintains a separate court system for military
personnel accused of offenses under the Military Code of Justice. Military
courts do not review cases involving civilian, criminal, or security
Defendants may choose their own attorneys. If they are unable to afford
a private attorney, defendants may ask the Justice Ministry to appoint
an attorney to represent them in court. In the past, some attorneys
and family members involved in politically sensitive criminal cases
claimed that the Government interfered with court proceedings to influence
the outcome or to prevent judgments from being carried out; however,
there were no such reports during the year. There are occasional allegations
of corruption in the judicial system.
In past cases, the Amir, the Prime Minister, and other senior government
officials have lost civil cases brought against them by private citizens;
however, the court-ordered judgments are not always implemented expeditiously.
Members of the ruling Al-Khalifa family are well represented in the
judiciary and generally do not recuse themselves from cases involving
the interests of the Government.
Civil or criminal trial procedures provide for an open trial, the right
to counsel (with legal aid available when necessary), and the right
to appeal. Criminal court proceedings generally do not appear to discriminate
against women, children, or minority groups. Prior to the annulment
of the State Security Act in February, there was credible evidence that
persons accused of antigovernment crimes who were tried in the criminal
courts were denied fair trials. Such trials were held in secret, and
the defendants were not permitted to speak with an attorney until their
appearance before the judge at the preliminary hearing.
The annulment of the State Security Act abolished the State Security
Court, which had tried security cases in secret. Procedures in the Security
Court did not provide for even the most basic safeguards. No cases were
tried before the Security Court before it was abolished in February.
Until February 14, the Government had held in detention hundreds of
Shi'a for offenses involving "national security." In June
1999, the Government gradually began releasing incarcerated individuals
as part of an Amiri decree calling for the release or pardon of more
than 350 Shi'a political prisoners, detainees, and exiles. In December
1999 and during 2000, the Amir pardoned at least another 350 prisoners.
On February 6, the Amir pardoned an additional 298 political prisoners
and detainees, and pardoned 108 exiles who had requested to return to
the country. By February 14, the Amir had pardoned and released all
political prisoners and detainees, including Hassan Sultan and Haji
Hassan Jasrallah, two Shi'a clerics associated with prominent cleric
Shaikh Abdul Amir Al-Jamri, as well as Shi'a religious leader and political
activist Abdul Wahab Hussein, who had been in detention for more than
5 years. In accordance with tradition, the Government releases and grants
amnesty to some prisoners on major holidays, including individuals imprisoned
for political activities.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
With the abolition of the State Security Act, searches of private premises
without warrants are illegal; the police now must obtain a search warrant
from a judge to enter private premises. The State Security Act had allowed
the Ministry of Interior to authorize entry into private premises without
specific judicial intervention. Nonetheless, the Government occasionally
continued to infringe on citizens' right to privacy, although such reports
declined significantly during the year. The Government continued to
carry out some illegal searches. Telephone calls and personal correspondence
remain subject to monitoring. Police informer networks are extensive
There were no reports during the year of security forces setting up
checkpoints at the entrances to villages, conducting vehicle searches,
and requiring proof of identity from anyone seeking to enter or exit.
A government-controlled proxy prohibits user access to Internet sites
considered to be antigovernment or anti-Islamic (see Section 2.a.).
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for the right "to express and propagate"
opinions; however, the Government limits this right in practice. Criticism
of government policies, including discussion of sectarian issues, unemployment,
and housing increased in both speeches and in the press; however, criticism
of the ruling family or of the Saudi royal family, and fostering sectarian
divisions, remain prohibited strictly. In October the Information Ministry
banned the publications of Hafidh Al-Shaikh, a frequent columnist in
local papers, allegedly for fostering sectarian divisions in society.
Some claimed that an article by Al-Shaikh published in a Lebanese newspaper
criticizing Bahrain's Crown Prince was the reason for this banning.
Local press coverage and commentary on international issues is open,
and discussion of local economic and commercial issues also is relatively
unrestricted. Journalists exercise self-censorship on sensitive matters,
such as the fostering of sectarianism, criticism of the ruling family,
and criticism of the Saudi royal family. Individuals express critical
opinions openly regarding domestic political and social issues in private
settings and occasionally on state-run television call-in shows, but
rarely do so to leading government officials or in organized public
The Information Ministry controls local broadcast media and exercises
considerable influence over local print media. Newspapers are owned
privately, but they usually exercise self-censorship in articles covering
sensitive topics, and defer to Information Ministry demands. In the
past, the Government occasionally revoked the press credentials of foreign
journalists who reported unfavorably on the Government's domestic policies.
Because the Ministry controls foreign journalists' residence permits,
unfavorable coverage in some cases in the past has led to deportation.
However, there were no reports that the Government revoked press credentials
during the year. The Government generally afforded foreign journalists
access to the country and did not limit their contacts.
In late September 2000, the newly formed Bahrain Journalists Association
elected its first board of directors. Some journalists view the lack
of competition for the chairmanship of the board and the preponderance
of government employees accepted as members, as signs that it will not
The Government owns and operates all radio and television stations.
Radio and television broadcasts in Arabic and Farsi from neighboring
countries and Egypt are received without interference. The Cable News
Network (CNN) is available on a 24-hour basis by subscription, and the
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) World News Service is carried
on a local channel 24 hours a day, free of charge. During the year,
the Government ceased jamming foreign broadcasts into the country (see
Section 1.f.). Unlike in pervious years, there were no complaints by
international news services regarding press restrictions.
Most senior government officials and ruling family members, as well
as major hotels and affluent private citizens, use satellite dishes
to receive international broadcasts. Government approval to access satellite
dishes and to import or install dishes no longer is required. Bahrain
Television's satellite subscription service does not offer access to
the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera channel, which otherwise broadcasts widely
throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
Access to the Internet is provided through the National Telephone Company
(BATELCO). A government-controlled proxy prohibits user access to sites
considered to be antigovernment or anti-Islamic. The software used is
unreliable and often inhibits access to uncontroversial sites as well.
E-mail use is unimpeded, although it may be subject to monitoring (see
Section 1.f.). Approximately 235,000 resident's of the country, slightly
more than one-third of the population, use the Internet.
Although there are no formal regulations limiting academic freedom,
in practice academics avoid contentious political issues. University
hiring and admissions policies appear to favor Sunnis and others who
are assumed to support the Government, rather than focusing on professional
experience and academic qualifications. However, there continued to
be some improvement in the hiring of qualified individuals in a nondiscriminatory
manner during the year, and a few Shi'a professors, including women,
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for the right of free assembly; however,
the Government restricts its exercise by requiring that organizers of
public events acquire permits, which are not granted in a routine fashion.
The law prohibits unauthorized public gatherings of more than five persons.
The Government controls gatherings that might take on a political tone.
During the year, the Government authorized demonstrations in August
and in October to protest Israeli actions in the occupied territories.
A series of unauthorized demonstrations concerning the unemployment
situation occurred in August and September. Several unauthorized demonstrations
occurred in October, November, and December. The Government did not
intervene to prevent any of them.
The Constitution provides for the right of free association; however,
the Government limits this right. The Government prohibits political
parties. However, during the year, four new NGO's were granted exemptions
to the law and authorized to conduct political activities related to
the organizations' purposes. Some professional societies and social
and sports clubs traditionally have served as forums for discreet political
discussion, and during the year, the Government began sanctioning the
establishment of community and charitable, issue-oriented, and political
NGO's. A subcommittee of the National Action Charter Committee worked
during the year to develop legislation to define and regulate NGO's.
Previously only the Bahraini Bar Association was exempt from the regulations
that require that the charters of all associations include a commitment
to refrain from political activity.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution states that Islam is the official religion and also
provides for freedom of religion; however, there are some limits on
this right. The Government subjects both Sunni and Shi'a Muslims to
control and monitoring. Members of other religions who practice their
faith privately do so without interference from the Government.
Every religious group must obtain a permit from the Ministry of Justice
and Islamic Affairs in order to operate. Holding a religious meeting
without a permit is illegal. There were no reports of religious groups
being denied a permit during the year.
The Government funds, monitors, and closely controls all official religious
institutions. These include Shi'a and Sunni mosques, Shi'a ma'tams (community
centers), Shi'a and Sunni waqfs (charitable foundations), and the religious
courts, which represent both the Ja'afari (Shi'a) and Maliki (Sunni)
schools of Islamic jurisprudence. The Government rarely interferes with
what it considers legitimate religious observations. Political activity
in religious institutions increased during the year. In the past, the
Government actively had suppressed activity deemed overtly political
in nature, occasionally closing mosques and ma'tams for allowing political
demonstrations to take place on or near their premises and detaining
religious leaders for delivering political sermons or for allowing such
sermons to be delivered in their mosques. There were no reported closures
of ma'tams or mosques during the year. The Government also may appropriate
or withhold funding in order to reward or punish particular individuals
or places of worship.
The High Council for Islamic Affairs is responsible for the review
and approval of all clerical appointments within both the Sunni and
Shi'a communities, and it maintains program oversight for all citizens
studying religion abroad. Public religious events, most notably the
large annual commemorative marches by Shi'a, are permitted but are monitored
closely by the police. There are no restrictions on the number of citizens
permitted to make pilgrimages to Shi'a shrines and holy sites in Iran,
Iraq, and Syria. The Government monitors travel to Iran and scrutinizes
carefully those who choose to pursue religious study there.
The Government discourages proselytizing by non-Muslims and prohibits
anti-Islamic writings. However, Bibles and other Christian publications
are displayed and sold openly in local bookstores that also sell Islamic
and other religious literature. Some small groups worship in their homes.
Notable dignitaries from virtually every religion and denomination visit
the country and frequently meet with the Government and civic leaders.
Religious tracts of all branches of Islam, cassettes of sermons delivered
by Muslim preachers from other countries, and publications of other
religions readily are available.
Until February 14, the Government had held in detention hundreds of
Shi'a, including religious leaders, for offenses involving "national
security" (see Sections 1.d. and 1.e.). By February 14, the Amir
had pardoned and released all political prisoners and detainees (see
Sections 1.d. and 1.e.), including Hassan Sultan and Haji Hassan Jasrallah,
two Shi'a clerics associated with prominent cleric Shaikh Abdul Amir
Al-Jamri, as well as Shi'a political activist and religious leader Abdul
Wahab Hussein, who had been in detention for more than 5 years.
On March 8, Bahraini cleric Shaikh Issa Qasim, the former head of the
Shi'a Religious Party, returned to the country after an 8-year exile.
The Government permitted large crowds of celebrating Shi'a to greet
Qassim upon his return.
In July 1999, the Amir pardoned Al-Jamri, who had been in prison since
1996. Following his release, the Government had monitored Al-Jamri's
movements. However, in January the Government ceased conducting surveillance
of Al-Jamri's residence and permitted him to lead Friday afternoon prayers.
During the year, Al-Jamri also met with the Amir to discuss domestic
and international issues, and delivered sermons at various mosques in
Manama, which were published in local newspapers. Al-Jamri also served
as a founding member of Al-Wifaq, one of the four NGO's authorized to
conduct political activities (see Section 2.b.).
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration,
The Government imposes some limits on these rights. Citizens are free
to move within the country and change their place of residence or work.
In the past, the Government denied passports on political grounds; however,
there were no reports of such denials during the year. During the year,
the Government granted citizenship to all persons born in the country,
including nearly all of the formerly stateless Shi'a of Iranian origin
known as the bidoon, who constitute approximately 3 percent of the population
(see Section 5). The conferral of citizenship was symbolized by the
issuance of passports, which had been denied them in the past. The Government
occasionally grants citizenship to Sunni residents, most of whom are
from Jordan, the Arabian Peninsula, and Egypt.
Under the 1963 Citizenship Law, the Government may reject applications
to obtain or renew passports for reasonable cause, but the applicant
has the right to appeal such decisions before the High Civil Court.
The Government also has issued temporary passports, valid for one trip
per year, to individuals whose travel it wishes to control or whose
claim to citizenship is questionable. A noncitizen resident may obtain
a laissez-passer (travel document), usually valid for 2 years and renewable
at Bahraini embassies overseas. The holder of a laissez-passer also
requires a visa to reenter the country.
The Government cooperates with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees,
although it has not formulated a formal policy regarding refugees, asylees,
or first asylum. The Government usually does not accept refugees due
to the country's small size and limited resources. However, there were
no reports of the forced return of persons to a country where they feared
persecution. Many Iranian emigres who fled after the Iranian revolution
and were granted permission to remain in the country, received citizenship
during the year.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change
Citizens do not have the right to change their government or their
political system peacefully. Since the dissolution of the National Assembly
in 1975, there have been no formal democratic political institutions.
The Prime Minister makes all appointments to the Cabinet. The relevant
ministries fill all other government positions. Ruling family members
hold all security-related offices.
In February an overwhelming majority of eligible citizens (98.4 percent),
both male and female, endorsed a government plan, the National Action
Charter, to restore constitutional rule. The Government established
the National Action Charter Implementing Committee to draft the necessary
laws to lay the foundation for constitutional rule. A new press law
is being drafted and is expected to be enacted in mid-2002.
On October 2, at the opening of the 10th session of the Consultative
Council (Majlis Al-Shura), the Amir stated that the country would become
a constitutional monarchy, with a government based on separation of
powers, majority rule, and minority rights. He stated that the legislative
branch would consist of a directly elected lower house and an appointed
upper house. The exact powers of the two houses of the prospective legislature
are under discussion.
The Amir also stated in his speech that municipal governments also
would be elected directly by all citizens. In December the Government
proposed and the Consultative Council approved a law establishing directly
elected municipal councils for all five governorates of the country
and a second law to regulate the election of council members. The councils
will have full authority to allocate resources in their jurisdiction
for local services. Funding will come from taxes collected by the Ministry
of Municipalities and the Environment.
In 1992 the Amir established by decree the Majlis Al-Shura. Its 40
members are appointed by the Amir to advise him and to represent citizens
from all 4 major religious groups: 20 Sunni, 18 Shi'a, 1 Christian,
and 1 Jewish. Majlis members are selected to represent major constituent
groups, including representatives from the business, labor, professional,
and religious communities. There are no members of the ruling Al-Khalifa
family in the Majlis. In addition to reviewing legislation submitted
by the Cabinet, the Majlis may initiate debate independently and propose
legislation. The Majlis also may summon cabinet ministers to respond
to questions; however, its recommendations are not binding on the Government.
The Majlis ended its 9th session in May and began its 10th session on
During the year, the Majlis debated several contentious social and
economic issues, including municipal council elections, unemployment,
health regulations, and early retirement for female civil servants,
and drafted proposals on these and other topics for government consideration.
In 1999 a Majlis Human Rights Committee was formed. The Committee's
deliberations and reports have not been made public; however, according
to the Speaker of the Majlis, the Government responded favorably to
all of the Committee's recommendations by incorporating them into legislation
or by taking other appropriate actions.
The percentage of women in government and politics does not correspond
to their percentage of the population; however, there are now four women
in the Majlis Al-Shura, whereas there had been none before. There are
no women at the ministerial levels of Government. The majority of women
who choose to work in government do so in a support capacity, and only
a few have attained senior positions within their respective ministries
or agencies. Women were permitted to vote in the February referendum
on the National Action Charter.
In September 2000, the Amir appointed the first Christian and Jewish
members to the Majlis Al-Shura; an ethnic Iranian also was appointed.
Approximately one-third of the cabinet ministers are Shi'a.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental
Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Restrictions on freedom of association and expression sometimes hinder
investigation or public criticism of the Government's human rights policies;
however, in May the Government registered the Bahrain Human Rights Society,
the first local nongovernmental human rights organization. The Society
began an active campaign to raise human rights awareness in the country,
holding several seminars and workshops. The society also sent representatives
to attend the World Conference on Racism in Durban. Most, if not all,
of the members of the Damascus-based Committee for the Defense of Human
Rights in Bahrain and the Copenhagen-based Bahrain Human Rights Organization
have returned to the country since the February referendum on the National
Action Charter. The London-based Bahrain Freedom Movement and the Beirut-based
Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain remain active outside the
country, but Bahrain Freedom Movement leader Dr. Mansur Al-Jamry returned
to the country in December to establish an independent newspaper. The
Bahrain Freedom Movement has endorsed the results of the National Action
Charter referendum and fully supports the Amir's political reform initiative.
In recent years, the Government has allowed increasing access by international
human rights organizations. Representatives of Amnesty International
visited the country in March and November, meeting with the Amir on
the first visit and cohosting a seminar with the Bahrain Human Rights
Society on the second. The press reported that during the seminar, Amnesty
International's senior representative praised the improvement in the
Government's human rights record during the year. The ICRC continued
to visit the country's prisons throughout the year (see Section 1.c.).
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability,
Language, or Social Status
The Constitution provides for equality, equal opportunity, and the
right to medical care, welfare, education, property, capital, and work
for all citizens. However, in practice these rights are protected unevenly,
depending on the individual's social status, ethnicity, or sex.
Women's groups and health care professionals state that spousal abuse
is common, particularly in poorer communities. In general there is little
public attention to, or discussion of, the problem. Incidents usually
are kept within the family. No government policies or laws explicitly
address violence against women. During the year, a few articles appeared
in the local press discussing violence against women and the need for
laws to defend women who are abused. There are very few known instances
of women seeking legal redress for violence. Anecdotal evidence suggests
that the courts are not receptive to such cases. Rape is illegal; however,
because marital relations are governed by Shari'a law, spousal rape
is not a legal concept within the law.
It is not uncommon for foreign women working as domestic workers to
be beaten or sexually abused (see Sections 6.c. and 6.e.). Numerous
cases have been reported to local embassies and the police. However,
most victims are too intimidated to sue their employers. Courts reportedly
have allowed victims who do appear to sue for damages, return home,
Although prostitution is illegal, some foreign women, including some
who work as hotel and restaurant staff, engage in prostitution. (see
Shari'a governs the legal rights of women. Specific rights vary according
to Shi'a or Sunni interpretations of Islamic law, as determined by the
individual's faith, or by the court in which various contracts, including
marriage, have been made.
While both Shi'a and Sunni women have the right to initiate a divorce,
religious courts may refuse the request. Although local religious courts
may grant a divorce to Shi'a women in routine cases, occasionally Shi'a
women seeking divorce under unusual circumstances must travel abroad
to seek a higher ranking opinion than that available in the country.
Women of either branch may own and inherit property and may represent
themselves in all public and legal matters. In the absence of a direct
male heir, Shi'a women may inherit all property. In contrast, Sunni
women--in the absence of a direct male heir--inherit only a portion
as governed by Shari'a; the balance is divided among brothers, uncles,
and male cousins of the deceased.
In divorce cases, the courts routinely grant Shi'a and Sunni women
custody of daughters under the age of 9 and sons under the age of 7,
although custody usually reverts to the father once the children reach
those ages. Regardless of custody decisions, in all circumstances, except
for mental incapacitation, the father retains the right to make certain
legal decisions for his children, such as guardianship of any property
belonging to the child, until the child reaches legal age. A noncitizen
woman automatically loses custody of her children if she divorces their
citizen father. A Muslim woman legally may marry a non-Muslim man if
the man converts to Islam. In such marriages, the children automatically
are considered to be Muslim. Women may obtain passports and leave the
country without the permission of the male head of the household. Women
are free to work outside the home, to drive cars without escorts, and
to wear clothing of their choice.
Women increasingly have taken jobs previously reserved for men, and
constitute approximately 20 percent of the workforce. The Labor Law
does not discriminate against women; however, in practice, there is
discrimination in the workplace, including inequality of wages and denial
of opportunity for advancement. Sexual harassment is prohibited; however,
it is a widespread problem for foreign women. The Government has encouraged
the hiring of women, enacted special laws to promote their entry into
the work force, and is a leading employer of women. The Labor Law does
not recognize the concept of equal pay for equal work, and women frequently
are paid less than men. Generally women work outside the home during
the years between secondary school or university and marriage.
Some women complain that admissions policies at the National University
aim to increase the number of male students at the expense of qualified
female applicants, especially Shi'a women. Nevertheless, women make
up the majority of students at the country's universities.
There are a large number of women's organizations that seek to improve
the status of women under both civil and Islamic law. Some women have
expressed the view that, despite their participation in the work force,
women's rights are not advancing significantly and that much of the
lack of progress is due to the influence of Islamic religious traditionalists.
However, other women desire a return to more traditional values and
support calls for a return to traditional Islamic patterns of social
The Government has stated often its commitment to the protection of
children's rights and welfare within the social and religious framework
of this traditional society. It generally honors this commitment through
enforcement of civil and criminal laws and an extensive social welfare
network. Public education for citizen children below the age of 15 is
free; it is not available for the children of foreign workers. While
the Constitution provides for compulsory education at the primary levels
(usually up to 12 or 13 years of age), the authorities do not enforce
attendance. Limited medical services for infants and preadolescents
are provided free of charge.
The social status of children is shaped by tradition and religion to
a greater extent than by civil law. Child abuse is rare, as is public
discussion of it; the preference of the authorities is to leave such
matters within the purview of the family or religious groups. The authorities
actively enforce the laws against prostitution, including child prostitution,
procuring, and pimping. Violators are dealt with harshly and may be
imprisoned, or, if a noncitizen, deported. In the past, the authorities
reportedly returned children arrested for prostitution and other nonpolitical
crimes to their families, rather than prosecute them, especially for
first offenses. There were no reports of child prostitution during the
Some legal experts have called on the Government to establish a separate
juvenile court. However, other citizens insist that the protection of
children is a religious, not a secular, function and oppose greater
government involvement. Independent and quasi-governmental organizations,
such as the Bahraini Society for the Protection of Children and the
Mother and Child Welfare Society, play an active part in protecting
children by providing counseling, legal assistance, advice, and, in
some cases, shelter and financial support to distressed children and
There were very few reports of arrests and detentions of juveniles
during the year, and those who were arrested reportedly were released
Persons with Disabilities
The law protects the rights of persons with disabilities and a variety
of governmental, quasi-governmental, and religious institutions are
mandated to support and protect persons with disabilities. The regional
(Persian Gulf) Center for the Treatment of the Blind is headquartered
in the country, and a similar Center for the Education of Deaf Children
was established in 1994. Society tends to view persons with disabilities
as special cases in need of protection rather than as fully functioning
members of society. Nonetheless, the Government is required by law to
provide vocational training for persons with disabilities who wish to
work, and maintains a list of certified, trained persons with disabilities.
The Labor Law of 1976 also requires that any employer of more than
100 persons must hire at least 2 percent of its employees from the Government's
list of workers with disabilities; however, the Government does not
monitor compliance. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs works actively
to place persons with disabilities in public sector jobs, such as in
the public telephone exchanges. The Government's housing regulations
require that access be provided to persons with disabilities. Greater
emphasis has been given in recent years to public building design that
incorporates access for persons with disabilities; however, the law
does not mandate access to buildings for persons with disabilities.
Although there are notable exceptions, the Sunni Muslim minority enjoys
a favored status. Sunnis receive preference for employment in sensitive
government positions and in the managerial ranks of the civil service.
While the defense and internal security forces predominantly are Sunni,
Shi'a citizens now are allowed to hold posts in these forces; however,
they do not hold positions of significance. In the private sector, Shi'a
citizens tend to be employed in lower paid, less skilled jobs.
Educational, social, and municipal services in most Shi'a neighborhoods,
particularly in rural villages, are inferior to those found in Sunni
urban communities. In an effort to remedy societal discrimination, the
Government has built numerous subsidized housing complexes that are
open to all citizens on the basis of financial need.
After demonstrations in support of Palestinians in October 2000, several
youths and men reportedly boarded a bus carrying Catholic parishioners
and took Bibles from the parishioners, throwing some of the Bibles out
of bus windows.
Nearly all bidoon, a group of approximately 9,000 to 15,000 formerly
stateless persons, mostly Shi'a of Persian-origin but including some
Christians, were granted citizenship during the year. Many are second-generation
or third-generation residents whose ancestors emigrated from Iran. Without
citizenship, bidoon legally had been prohibited from buying land, starting
a business, or obtaining government loans. Bidoon and citizens who speak
Farsi rather than Arabic as their first language face significant social
and economic discrimination, including difficulty in finding employment.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The Constitution recognizes the right of workers to organize; however,
the Government bans independent trade unions. Government regulations
do not mention the right to organize, and only prescribe the establishment
of Joint Labor-Management Committees (JLC's).
Labor regulations permit the formation of elected workers' committees
in larger companies. Worker representation is based on the JLC system,
which was established by ministerial decree. One new JLC was established
in November 2000, bringing the total to 20.
The JLC's are composed of equal numbers of appointed management representatives
and worker representatives who are elected from among and by company
employees in elections organized by management. Each committee is chaired
alternately by a management and worker representative. The selection
of worker representatives appears to be fair. Under the law, the Ministry
of Interior may exclude worker candidates with criminal records or those
deemed a threat to national security, but the Government has not taken
such action in recent years.
The elected worker representatives of the JLC's select the 11 members
of the General Committee of Bahrain workers (GCBW), which was established
by law in 1983, and which oversees and coordinates the work of the JLC's.
The GCBW also hears complaints from citizen and foreign workers and
helps them bring their complaints to the attention of the Ministry of
Labor or the courts. Representatives to the GCBW are elected to 3-year
terms, and have included workers from a variety of occupations, including
Sunni and Shi'a Muslims, foreign workers, and one woman. Although the
Government and company management are not represented on the GCBW, the
Ministry of Labor closely monitors the body's activities and a Ministry
representative attends and supervises GCBW general meetings. The Ministry
approves the GCBW's rules and the distribution of the GCBW's funds.
Some senior JLC and GCBW officials have been harassed. The JLC/GCBW
system represents nearly 70 percent of the country's native industrial
workers. Both the Government and labor representatives readily admit
that nonindustrial workers and foreign workers clearly are underrepresented
in the system. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs supports the
formation of JLC's in all public and private sector companies that employ
more than 200 workers, and a JLC was established in the textile sector
Although foreign workers constitute 67 percent of the work force, they
are underrepresented in the GCBW. Foreign workers participate in the
JLC elections, and five foreign workers currently serve on JLC's. However,
none sits on the board of the GCBW. It is a long-term goal of both the
Government and the GCBW to replace foreign workers with citizens throughout
all sectors of the economy and to create new jobs for citizens seeking
The Labor Law does not address the right to strike, and there were
no strikes during the year. The 1974 National Security Act, which the
Amir annulled in February, had prohibited actions perceived to be detrimental
to the "existing relationship" between employers and employees
or to the economic health of the State.
Internationally affiliated trade unions do not exist. The GCBW represents
workers in the Arab Labor Organization, but does not belong to any international
trade union organizations.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The Government effectively denies workers the right to organize and
bargain collectively. The Labor Law does not permit this right outside
the JLC system. While the JLC's are empowered to discuss labor disputes,
organize workers' services, and discuss wages, working conditions, and
productivity, workers have no independent, recognized mechanism for
representing their interests on these or other labor-related issues.
Minimum wage rates for public sector employees are established by decrees
issued by the Council of Ministers. Private businesses generally follow
the Government's lead in establishing their wage rates.
There are two export-processing zones (EPZ's). Labor law and practice
are the same in the EPZ's as in the rest of the country.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited by law; however, in practice
the labor laws apply for the most part only to citizens, and abuses
occur, particularly in the cases of domestic servants and those working
illegally. The law also prohibits forced and bonded child labor, and
the Government enforces this prohibition effectively.
Foreign workers, who make up at least 67 percent of the workforce,
in many cases arrive in the country under the sponsorship of an employer
and then switch jobs while continuing to pay a fee to their original
sponsor. This practice makes it difficult to monitor and control the
employment conditions of domestic and other workers. The Government
took no substantive action during the year to stop the practice.
Amendments to the Labor Law passed in 1993 stiffened the penalties
for job switching to include jail sentences of up to 6 months for the
sponsor of every illegally sponsored worker; however, sponsors have
not received jail sentences. In such cases, the workers involved usually
are deported as illegal immigrants after the case is concluded. During
the summer and fall of 1998, the Government conducted an amnesty program
under which undocumented foreign workers were permitted either to legalize
their status or leave the country without penalty. On October 1, 2000,
the Government again gave illegal immigrants 3 months to legalize their
status or leave the country.
The sponsorship system leads to additional abuses. Unskilled foreign
workers in essence become indentured workers, and are unable to change
employment or leave the country without their sponsors' consent. There
are numerous credible reports that employers withhold salaries from
their foreign workers for months, even years, at a time, and may refuse
to grant them the necessary permission to leave the country. The Government
and the courts generally work to rectify abuses brought to their attention,
but they otherwise focus little attention on the problem, and the fear
of deportation or employer retaliation prevents many foreign workers
from making complaints to the authorities (see Section 6.e.).
Labor Laws do not apply to domestic servants. There are numerous credible
reports that domestic servants, especially women, are forced to work
12- or 16-hour days, given little time off, malnourished, and subjected
to verbal and physical abuse, including sexual molestation and rape.
Between 30 and 40 percent of the attempted suicide cases handled by
the Government's psychiatric hospitals are foreign maids (see Section
Foreign women employed as hotel and restaurant staff typically are
locked in a communal house when not working and driven to work in a
van. Many are involved in prostitution and reportedly trade sexual favors
with hotel managers in exchange for time off from work (see Section
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
The minimum age for employment is 14 years of age. Juveniles between
the ages of 14 and 16 may not be employed in hazardous conditions or
at night, and may not work more than 6 hours per day or on a piecework
basis. Child labor laws are enforced effectively by Ministry of Labor
inspectors in the industrial sector; child labor outside that sector
is monitored less effectively, but it is not believed to be significant
outside family-operated businesses, and even in such businesses it is
not widespread. Some children work in the market areas as car washers
The law prohibits forced and bonded child labor, and the Government
enforces this prohibition effectively (see Section 6.c.).
In February the Government ratified ILO Convention 182 on the worst
forms of child labor.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Minimum wage scales, set by government decree, exist for public sector
employees, and generally provide a decent standard of living for a worker
and family. The minimum wage for the public sector is $278.25 (105 dinars)
a month. Wages in the private sector are determined on a contract basis.
For foreign workers, employers consider benefits such as annual trips
home, housing, and education bonuses as part of the salary.
The Labor Law, enforced by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs,
mandates acceptable conditions of work for all adult workers, including
adequate standards regarding hours of work (maximum 48 hours per week)
and occupational safety and health.
The Ministry enforces the law with periodic inspections and routine
fines for violators. The press often performs an ombudsman function
on labor problems, reporting job disputes and the results of labor cases
brought before the courts. Once a worker has lodged a complaint, the
Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs opens an investigation and often
takes remedial action. The Fourth High Court has jurisdiction over cases
involving alleged violations of the Labor Law. Complaints brought before
the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs that cannot be settled through
arbitration by law must be referred to the Court within 15 days. In
practice most employers prefer to settle such disputes through arbitration,
particularly since the court and labor law generally are considered
to favor the employee.
Under the Labor Law, workers have the right to remove themselves from
dangerous work situations without jeopardy to their continued employment.
The Labor Law specifically favors citizens over foreign workers and
Arab foreigners over other foreign workers in hiring and firing. Because
employers include housing and other allowances in their salary scales,
foreign workers legally may be paid lower regular wages than their citizen
counterparts, although they sometimes receive the same or a greater
total compensation package because of home leave and holiday allowances.
Western foreign workers and citizen workers are paid comparable wages,
with total compensation packages often significantly greater for the
former. Women are entitled to 60 days of paid maternity leave and nursing
periods during the day. However, women generally are paid less than
In 1993 the Government strengthened the Labor Law by decree of the
Amir, announcing that significant fines and jail sentences would be
imposed upon private sector employers who fail to pay wages required
by law. This law applies equally to employers of citizens and foreign
workers and was intended to reduce abuses against foreign workers, who
at times are denied the required salaries (see Section 6.c.). The law
provides equal protection to citizen and foreign workers; however, all
foreign workers require sponsorship by citizens or locally based institutions
and companies. According to representatives of several embassies with
large numbers of workers in the country, the Government generally is
responsive to embassy requests to investigate foreign worker complaints
regarding unpaid wages and mistreatment. However, foreign workers, particularly
those from developing countries, often are unwilling to report abuses
for fear of losing residence rights and having to return to their countries
of origin. Sponsors are able to cancel the residence permit of any person
under their sponsorship and thereby block them for a year from obtaining
entry or residence visas from another sponsor; however, the sponsor
may be subject to sanctions for wrongful dismissal. Foreign women who
work as domestic workers often are beaten or sexually abused (see Section
5). Between 30 and 40 percent of attempted suicide cases handled by
the Government's psychiatric hospitals are foreign maids (see Section
It is a long-term goal of both the Government and the GCBW to replace
foreign workers with citizens throughout all sectors of the economy
and to create new jobs for citizens seeking employment.
f. Trafficking in Persons
The law does not specifically prohibit trafficking in persons, and
there are reports that some foreign workers are recruited for employment
on the basis of fraudulent contracts and then forced into domestic servitude
or sexual exploitation. Workers from the Philippines, Ethiopia, India,
Russia, and Belarus have reported being forced into domestic servitude
and sexual exploitation.
Although prostitution is illegal, some foreign women, including some
who work as hotel and restaurant staff, engage in prostitution. Such
women typically are locked in a communal house when not working and
driven to work in a van (see Section 6.c.).
Unskilled foreign workers in essence become indentured workers, and
are unable to change employment or leave the country without their sponsors'
consent (see Section 6.c.).
The Government has not yet made significant efforts to combat trafficking.
It does not recognize that trafficking is a problem because foreign
workers travel to the country voluntarily. The Government does not devote
resources to combat trafficking in persons. Victims of trafficking may
seek assistance from their embassies. The Government does not provide
assistance to victims.
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, U.S.
State Department, March 2002