U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Bahrain

  Bahrain is a monarchy with no democratically elected institutions or political parties. The Al Khalifa extended family has ruled Bahrain since the late 18th century and dominates its society and government. The Constitution confirms the Amir as hereditary ruler. The current Amir, Shaikh Isa Bin Sulman Al Khalifa, governs Bahrain with the assistance of his brother, the Prime Minister; his son, the Crown Prince; and an appointed Cabinet of Ministers. In 1975 the Government suspended some provisions of Bahrain's 1973 Constitution, including those articles relating to the National Assembly, which the Government disbanded in the same year. There are few judicial checks on the Amir and the actions of his Government. Social ties and interpersonal associations are important and are formed in a complex web of family, tribal, economic, and religious affiliations. Bahrainis belong to the Shi'a and Sunni sects of Islam, with the Shi'a comprising over two-thirds of the indigenous population. There are important sectarian and ethnic divisions among the Shi'a. Despite their minority status, the Sunnis predominate because the ruling family is Sunni and is supported by the armed forces, the security service, and powerful merchant families. The Ministry of Interior is responsible for public security. Under its auspices, the Public Security Force (police) and the extensive and efficient Security Service are responsible for maintaining internal order. The Bahrain Defense Force (BDF) defends against external military threats. It does not play any role in internal security. Bahrain has a mixed economy, with government ownership of many basic industries, including the important oil and aluminum industries. Possessing limited oil and natural gas reserves, Bahrain is intensifying efforts to diversify its economic base and has attracted companies doing business in banking, financial services, petrochemicals, and light manufacturing. The Government has used its modest oil revenues to build an advanced infrastructure in transportation and telecommunications and has become a leading regional financial and business center. Although there was little formal change in the human rights situation in 1993, Amiri decrees in March and May authorized the release of 75 prisoners, including political detainees, and granted amnesty to a number of Bahraini exiles living abroad. The appointive Consultative Council (Majlis Al-Shura, established by Amiri decree in 1992), held its first session from January to June and reconvened for a second 6-month period in October. Civil liberties, however, remain circumscribed in Bahrain. The main human rights concerns continue to include the denial of the right of citizens to change their government; the occasional practice of arbitrary and incommunicado detention; the absence of impartial inspection of detention and prison facilities; restrictions on the right to a fair public trial, especially in the Security Court; and restrictions on freedom of speech and press, freedom of assembly and association, women's rights, and worker rights.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no known political or other extrajudicial killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no known disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Torture is prohibited by law, and there were very few credible reports of torture in 1993. Little is known about what happens inside Bahrain's prisons, however, since nonofficial visits are generally prohibited. There is anecdotal evidence that Bahraini police occasionally have used primitive forms of torture, such as beating the soles of prisoners' feet, when questioning criminal suspects. Bahrain's small size and social structure would make it extremely difficult for the Government to conceal serious abuses if they were frequent or systematic. The Government continues to deny that torture takes place, but it has not implemented minimal procedural safeguards that would help deter such practices, nor has it allowed inspection of detention facilities by impartial international organizations, despite its announced willingness to do so. Allegations of torture are all the more difficult for the Government to rebut because of governmental regulations permitting the practice of incommunicado detention and detention without trial. There were no known instances in 1993 of authorities being punished for human rights abuses committed in previous years.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Under provisions of the Security Law of 1974, most often applied to those suspected of antiregime activity, persons may be detained and arrested for attempting to exercise the rights of free speech, association, or other rights. In recent years, there has been some loosening of control on activities previously considered "subversive." There were several credible reports that the security forces held persons suspected of engaging in antiregime activity for questioning in 1993. In all cases, the suspects were released with a warning within 2 or 3 days, after the authorities determined that there was not enough evidence to make a formal arrest. The Embassy confirmed one case in 1993 of detention without trial for 80 days, as allowed under the 1974 Security Law. The individual in question was released by Amiri decree on Bahrain's National Day before formal charges could be brought against him. Activities that could lead to detention, questioning, warning, or arrest include: membership in illegal organizations or those deemed subversive; painting antiregime slogans on walls; joining antigovernment demonstrations; possessing or circulating antiregime writings; preaching sermons with a distinct antiregime political tone; or harboring or associating with persons committing such acts. Under the State Security Act of 1974, persons accused of subversive or antiregime acts may be detained without trial for a period not to exceed 3 years. Detainees have the right to appeal such detentions after a period of 3 months and, if the appeal is denied, every 6 months thereafter from the date of the original detention. There were no credible reports of persons being detained for more than a few days in 1993 under the provisions of the 1974 Act, and the Government is not believed currently to be holding any prisoners without charge. In addition to overseeing the Security Service and police, the Ministry of Interior also controls the office of the Public Prosecutor, whose officers initially determine whether sufficient evidence exists to continue to hold a prisoner in "investigatory detention." The Ministry is responsible for all aspects of prison administration. In the early stages of detention, prisoners and their attorneys have no recourse to any authority outside the Ministry of Interior. Exile has been utilized by Bahraini authorities in dealing with individuals suspected of antiregime activity. In the early 1980's, following the Iranian revolution, there were confirmed reports that young Bahraini men suspected of antigovernment activity were forced to reside outside Bahrain without benefit of trial. Bahraini authorities maintain that, in many cases, individuals were presented with the evidence against them and given a choice of standing trial or living outside Bahrain for a specified period of time. In April the authorities briefly detained three Bahrainis, residing in Lebanon, at the airport and refused them entry. Bahraini officials contend that all three could have been charged with belonging to a subversive organization if they had entered Bahrain. In the same month, Amnesty International reported that the Government was preparing to exile Hashim Al-Musawi, a Bahraini convicted in 1988 of antiregime activity, after he had completed his 5-year sentence without any new charges having been brought against him.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

A person arrested may be tried in an ordinary criminal court or, if required by the prosecution, in the Security Court. Ordinary civil or criminal trials provide procedural guarantees for an open trial, the right to counsel (with legal aid available when necessary), and the right to appeal. Security cases are tried directly by the Supreme Court of Appeal, sitting as the Security Court. Procedures in Bahrain's Security Court do not provide appropriate safeguards. For example, the Security Court is exempted from adhering to the procedural guarantees of the Penal Code, proceedings are held in secret, and there is no right to judicial review of the legality of arrests. Although there were no such reports in 1993, in the past there have been credible allegations that convictions in the Security Court have been based solely on confessions obtained while in official custody and possibly elicited under duress. There were no reports of security court trials in 1993. Bahraini attorneys are appointed by the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs to act as counsel. Sentences imposed by the Security Court may, at the discretion of the Court or the request of the defendant's family, be referred to the Amir for clemency. The Bahrain Defense Force (BDF) 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 offenses. The number of prisoners decreased in 1993. Between 270 and 300 persons were believed to be held in Bahraini prisons, some of whom may be political prisoners. The number of political prisoners in Bahrain cannot be determined precisely because the Government does not release data on security cases, such cases are not tried in open court, and prisoners convicted of security offenses are not always allowed visits. In accordance with tradition, the Government continued to release and grant amnesty to a small number of prisoners, including self-declared political prisoners, on major Islamic holidays. In 1993 the Government released 15 such prisoners in March during the Eid Al-Fitr holiday and another 8 in May following the Eid Al-Adha celebrations, as well as another 52 released by Amiri decree on December 16. Despite the amnesties, a small number of persons convicted in trials in the early to mid-1980's for antiregime activity remain in Bahraini jails, although most are nearing the end of their 12- to 15-year sentences. Government sources have indicated that the small number of prisoners convicted for nonviolent antiregime activity in the 1980's and still remaining in custody will shortly be released either through governmental amnesty or upon completion of their sentences. It is not expected, however, that the small number – approximately 10 – of persons sentenced to life imprisonment for actively taking up arms against the Government will be granted amnesty.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Under the law, the Ministry of Interior is empowered to authorize entry into private premises without specific judicial intervention, although the Ministry is thought to use such power rarely. Domestic and international telephone calls and correspondence are subject to monitoring. Police informer networks are extensive and sophisticated.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

While the Constitution provides for the right "to express and propagate opinions," Bahrainis are not, in practice, free publicly to challenge the legitimacy of, or even express opposition to, the regime in speech or writing. Political meetings are not permitted. Gatherings that might take on a political tone frequently are monitored; however, the informal relaxation of some governmental restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly begun in 1991 continued in 1993. Although some subjects – particularly the Hawar Islands dispute and anything directly critical of the ruling family – remain strictly taboo, the local press's coverage and commentary on economic, commercial, and labor issues is increasingly open, and private discussion of political issues was more widespread than in the past. The Information Ministry exercises broad authority over local media. All newspapers are privately owned but routinely exercise self-censorship of stories on sensitive topics. In 1993 the Government shut down the Arabic daily Akhbar Al-Khaleej for 3 days after the newspaper, apparently inadvertently, published a news wire story accompanied by a map showing the Hawar Islands, which are claimed by both Bahrain and Qatar, as part of the territory of Qatar. The Government does not condone unfavorable coverage of its domestic policies by the international media and has occasionally revoked the press credentials of offending journalists. Since the Ministry also sponsors foreign journalists' residence permits, this action can lead to deportation. There were no reports of such actions in 1993. The State owns and operates all radio and television stations. Radio and television broadcasts in Arabic and Farsi from neighboring countries and Egypt can be received without interference. Since 1991 Cable News Network (CNN) has been broadcast 3 hours a day on a local television channel without censorship and is available on a 24-hour basis by subscription. The British Broadcasting Corporation's World News Service is carried on a local channel 24 hours a day free of charge and uncensored. U.S. Armed Forces Radio is also available. Many senior government officials, ruling family members, and major hotels use satellite dishes to receive international broadcasts, and well-to-do private citizens are using dishes to receive television programs from outside Bahrain. The Ministry of Information closely controls access to satellite dishes, and the importation or installment of dishes without prior government approval is illegal. Although there are no formal regulations limiting academic freedom, as a practical matter academics try to avoid contentious political issues. In general, there is greater latitude to discuss politics in an academic setting. Nevertheless, strict limits are observed, and research, publications, and discussions critical of the Government are at best highly infrequent.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Despite the Bahrain Constitution's affirmation of the right of free assembly, all public political demonstrations or meetings are prohibited. Religious gatherings that may take on political overtones are also strictly controlled. In March the Bahraini security services reportedly prevented a joint Sunni-Shia political seminar from taking place at a local mosque and briefly detained the scheduled speakers for questioning. Political organizations are prohibited, but many social and sports clubs have traditionally served as forums for discreet political discussion, although these are also closely monitored by the Government. Since the Gulf war, the Government has been more tolerant of informal discussion of political issues than in the past, but organized discussions and meetings are still discouraged.

c. Freedom of Religion

Bahrain's population is overwhelmingly Muslim, and Islam is the state religion. However, Christians and other non-Muslims, including Jews, Hindus, and Baha'is, enjoy considerable freedom to practice their religion and maintain their own places of worship. Bibles and other Christian publications are displayed and sold openly in local bookshops, which also sell Islamic and other religious literature. Adherents of faiths other than Islam maintain places of worship and may display the symbols of their religion. Some small groups worship in their homes. Religious tracts of all Islamic sects, cassettes of sermons delivered by Muslim preachers from other countries, and publications of other religions are readily available. Proselytizing by non-Muslims is not encouraged, and anti-Islamic writings are prohibited, but conversions from Islam to other religions are tolerated. Both Sunni and Shi'a sects are subject to governmental control and monitoring, but there is no interference with routine worship, preaching, or religious activities. Public religious events, most notably annual commemorative marches by the Shi'a, are permitted but are closely watched by the police. There are no restrictions on the number of Bahrainis permitted to make pilgrimages to Shi'a shrines and holy sites in Iran and Iraq; however, owing to conditions in Iraq, very few Bahrainis make pilgrimages there. Religious study in, and pilgrimages to, Iran were strongly discouraged in the past. Although the Government continues to monitor travel to Iran and scrutinizes carefully those who choose to pursue religious study there, Bahraini travel to Iran for pilgrimages, business trips, tourism, and family visits is increasingly common.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Bahrainis are free to move within the country and change their place of residence or work. Passports, however, may be denied on political grounds. At least 3 to 5 percent of the indigenous Bahraini population, mostly Persian-origin Shi'a, do not have passports and cannot readily obtain them (see Section 5). Bahrainis living abroad who are suspected of political or criminal offenses may face arrest and trial upon return to Bahrain. The Government is reported to have issued limited "1-year validity" passports to persons whose travel it wishes to restrict. In 1993 the Government continued an amnesty program initiated in 1992 to allow the return of certain persons who, because of their known opposition to the Government, have resided outside of Bahrain since 1980. Permission was given to 128 exiles and their family members to return to Bahrain. The Government waived charges against them for disrupting the security of the State and violating passport and immigration laws. A few amnestied returnees were picked up for resuming their dissident activities, but all were released into the custody of their families after being warned by the authorities. Bahrain does not generally accept refugees; however, in practice refugees are not repatriated to countries from which they have fled. Some Iranian emigres who fled Iran since 1979 have been granted permission to remain in Bahrain, but they have not been granted citizenship.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Citizens do not have the right or ability peacefully to change their government or their political system, and political activity in general is strictly controlled by the Government. Since the dissolution of the National Assembly in 1975, there have been no formal democratic institutions, and neither political parties nor opposition organizations are permitted. The Government makes all appointments to government positions. About one-third of the Cabinet ministers are Shi'a, although they do not hold security-related offices. The ordinary Bahraini may attempt to influence government decisions through submission of written petitions and informal contact with senior officials, including appeals to the Amir and other officials at their regularly scheduled public audiences, called majlises. On December 16, 1992, the Government announced the formation of an all-appointive 30-member Consultative Council, known as the Majlis Al-Shura. The Majlis held its first session from January 16 to May 25 and opened its second, 6-month session on October 2. The members of the Majlis are evenly divided between Sunni and Shia and were deliberately chosen to represent the major constituent groups of Bahrain, including representatives from the business, labor, professional, and religious communities. There are no members of the ruling Al-Khalifa family in the Majlis, and religious "extremists" are conspicuously absent. The Chairman of the Majlis is a Shi'a who formerly was Minister of Transport and Communications. Although the Majlis has no formal legislative power, it may draft proposed legislation for the Government to approve and is empowered to summon Cabinet ministers to answer questions at its closed deliberations. During its first session, the Majlis undertook to debate a number of contentious social and economic issues, particularly in the areas of unemployment, labor policy, and education. A number of proposals were drafted and are now under consideration by the Government. The Government has accepted and implemented some of the recommendations. The Government has also acted on a number of Majlis Al-Shura proposals designed to combat Bahrain's rising unemployment rate, including a proposal to institute training programs for Bahrainis, toughen entry requirements for foreign workers, and deport a number of illegal expatriate workers.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

There are no local human rights organizations. Because of the restrictions on freedom of association and expression, any independent, domestically based investigation and public criticism of the Government's human rights policies would face major obstacles. The Government has consistently characterized as baseless charges of torture and denial of access to detainees. The Government maintains that it is "not opposed" to visits in good faith by "bona fide human rights organizations," but, in practice, international human rights organizations have found it difficult to operate in Bahrain. The Government extended a formal invitation to Amnesty International in 1992 but no arrangements for a visit had been made by the end of 1993.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status


Islamic law (Shari'a) governs the legal rights of Bahraini women. Specific rights vary according to Shi'a or Sunni interpretations of Islamic law, as determined by the individual's faith or the court in which various contracts, including marriage, have been made. Bahraini labor law does not discriminate against women; however, some women's groups complain about informal discrimination in the workplace, including inequality of wages and denial of opportunity for advancement. 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 outside of Bahrain, as the Ja'afari sect courts in Bahrain are said to lack a religious scholar of sufficient rank to issue rulings in controversial cases. Women of either sect 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, with the balance being divided among uncles and male cousins of the deceased. In the event of divorce, the courts routinely grant Shi'a and Sunni women custody of daughters under the age of 9 and sons under age 7. In all circumstances except mental incapacitation, the father, regardless of custody, 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 non-Bahraini woman automatically loses custody of her children if she divorces their Bahraini father. Women may obtain passports and leave the country without the permission of a male head of the household. Bahraini women are free to wear the clothing of their choice (a large percentage wear Western dress outside the home), to work outside the home, and to drive a car without an escort. As the Bahraini economy has developed, women have increasingly taken jobs previously reserved for men. Women constitute over 20 percent of the Bahraini work force. The Government has encouraged the hiring of women, enacted special laws to promote female entry into the work force, and is a leading employer of women. Bahrain's Labor Law does not recognize the concept of equal pay for equal work, and women are generally paid less than men. Except for a few exempted professions, women are prohibited from working at night. Generally, women work outside the home during the years between secondary school or university and marriage. Women make up the majority of students at Bahrain's universities. There are women's organizations which seek to improve the status of women under both civil and Islamic law. Increasingly women have expressed the view that, despite growing female participation in the work force, women in Bahrain are not significantly advancing their rights and that much of their lack of progress is due to the influence of Islamic religious traditionalists, especially in the government-run school system and in the Shari'a courts. Other women, however, desire a return to more traditional religious values and support calls for a return to Islamic patterns of social behavior. Violence against women is known to occur, but knowledge of incidents is usually kept within the family in this traditional society. In general, there is virtually no public attention to, or discussion of, violence against women and no government policies that address it. Women's groups and health care professionals state that spouse abuse is relatively common, particularly in poorer communities. There are very few known instances of Bahraini women seeking legal redress for violence, and anecdotal evidence suggests that the courts are not receptive to such cases. Cases of foreign women working as domestic servants being beaten and sexually abused have been reported to local embassies and the police. Most victims are too intimidated to sue their employers. Those who do, however, appear to be received sympathetically in the courts. In December a Bahraini court sentenced a Bahraini couple to prison terms after their extreme neglect led to the death of an expatriate domestic worker. Anecdotal evidence from other embassies and local contacts indicate that other serious abuses occur but are infrequently reported.


The Government of Bahrain has often stated its commitment to the protection of children's human rights and welfare within the social and religious framework of this traditional society. The Government honors this commitment through enforcement of its civil and criminal laws and an extensive social welfare network. The status of children in Bahraini society is dictated by tradition and religion to a greater extent than by civil law. Public discussion of child abuse is rare, and the preference of the authorities has always been to leave such matters within the purview of the family or religious groups. In 1993, however, the government-controlled press featured commentaries decrying "growing" trends of child prostitution, abuse, and begging. Bahraini authorities actively enforce the laws against prostitution, including child prostitution, procuring, and pimping. Violators are dealt with harshly and can be imprisoned or deported if non-Bahraini. In some cases, authorities reportedly will return Bahraini children arrested for prostitution and other crimes to their families rather than actively prosecute them, especially for first offenses. In January a local women's society held a seminar on the legal rights of children in which some participants called for greater governmental protection of children, including the establishment of a separate juvenile court. Juvenile cases currently are heard in the regular courts 1 day a week. Other Bahrainis, however, insist that the protection of children is a religious, not a secular, function and would oppose greater governmental interference in this traditional sphere. 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 the protection of children by providing counseling, legal assistance and advice, and, in some cases, shelter and financial support to distressed children and families.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

A group of 3,000 to 5,000 mostly Persian-origin Shi'a Bahrainis, commonly known as "bidoon" (those without), enjoy less than full citizenship under the Bahraini Citizenship Act of 1963. Without citizenship these individuals reportedly are unable to buy land, start a business, or obtain government loans. The law does not address the citizenship rights of persons who were not registered with Bahraini authorities prior to 1959, creating a legal lacuna for such persons and their descendants and resulting in economic and other hardships. The Government maintains that the figure 3,000 to 5,000 is too high and that many of these persons in fact own property and businesses.

Religious Minorities

Although there are notable exceptions, Sunni Muslims enjoy a favored status in Bahrain in comparison with the Shi'a. Sunnis generally receive preference for employment in sensitive government positions and in the managerial ranks of the civil service. Shi'a Bahrainis are not allowed to hold significant posts in the Bahrain defense and internal security forces. On the other hand, Shi'a Muslims occupy most of the senior positions in the major government-owned industries and are disproportionately represented in the educational sphere as secondary school teachers, professors, and university administrators. In general, however, employment opportunities for Shi'a are more restricted than for Sunnis, and Shi'a tend to be employed in lower paid, less skilled jobs. 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 social discrimination, improve living conditions for the Shi'a, and encourage integration, the Government has built numerous subsidized housing complexes open to all Bahrainis on the basis of financial need.

People with Disabilities

Bahraini law protects the rights of people with disabilities, and a variety of governmental, quasi-governmental, and religious institutions are mandated with the support and protection of disabled persons. The Regional (Arabian Gulf) Center for the Treatment of the Blind is headquartered in Bahrain. Bahraini society tends to view people 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 disabled persons wishing to work and maintains a list of certified, trained disabled persons. The Labor Law of 1976 also requires that any employer employing over 100 employees engage at least 2 percent of its employees from the Government's list of disabled workers. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs works actively to place people with disabilities in public sector jobs, such as in the public telephone exchanges. The Government's housing regulations require access be provided to disabled persons. Most large public buildings (including the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense, the University, and schools) are equipped with ramps and other aids which make them accessible to disabled persons.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The partially suspended 1973 Constitution recognizes the right of workers to organize, but trade unions do not exist in Bahrain, and the Government does not encourage their formation. Article 27 of Bahrain's Constitution states: "Freedom to form associations and trade unions on national bases and for lawful objectives and by peaceful means shall be guaranteed in accordance with the conditions and in the manner prescribed by the law. No person shall be compelled to join or remain in any association or union." In response to labor unrest in the mid-1950's and in 1965 and 1974, however, the Government passed a series of labor regulations which, among other things, allow the formation of elected workers' committees in the larger Bahraini companies. Worker representation in Bahrain today is based on a system of Joint Labor-Management Consultative Councils (JCC's) established by Amiri decree. Since 1982, 12 JCC's have been established in the major state-owned industries. The JCC's are composed of equal numbers of appointed management representatives and worker representatives elected from and by company employees. The selection of worker representatives appears to be a fair process, and worker representatives appear generally to genuinely represent worker interests. Under Bahraini law, the Ministry of Interior may exclude worker candidates with criminal records or those deemed a threat to national security. The elected labor representatives of the JCC's select the 11 members of the General Committee of Bahraini Workers (GCBW) established in 1983 by law, which oversees and coordinates the work of the JCC's. The Committee also hears complaints from Bahraini and foreign workers and assists them in bringing their complaints to the attention of the Ministry of Labor or the courts. Although the Government and company management are not represented on the GCBW, the Ministry of Labor closely monitors its activities and must approve the distribution of GCBW funds (raised by government taxes on employers) and the rules and procedures of the GCBW. The JCC-GCBW system now represents close to 70 percent of the island's indigenous industrial workers, although both government and labor representatives readily admit that nonindustrial workers are underrepresented by the system. In 1993 the GCBW announced the extension of the JCC system into the private sector and the planned formation of at least five new JCC's in private companies. The Ministry of Labor supported these moves and has urged the formation of JCC's in all public and private sector companies employing more than 200 workers. Although 67 percent of the Bahraini work force is expatriate, expatriates are underrepresented in the work of the GCBW, and none currently participate on its board. It is a longterm goal of the Government to replace expatriate workers with Bahrainis and to create new jobs for Bahrainis seeking employment. Bahraini labor law is silent on the right to strike, and there were no strikes in 1993, but strikes with a political connotation were repressed in the 1960's and early 1970's. Actions perceived to be detrimental to the "existing relationship" between employers and employees or to the economic health of the State are forbidden by the 1974 Security Law. There are no recent examples of major strikes, but walkouts and other job actions have been known to occur without governmental intervention and with positive results for the workers. The GCBW represents Bahraini workers at the International Labor Organization (ILO) and in the Arab Labor Organization, but does not belong to any international trade union organizations.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

As in the case of strikes, Bahraini labor law neither grants nor denies workers the right to organize and bargain collectively outside the JCC system. While the JCC's described above are empowered to discuss labor disputes, organize workers' services, and discuss wages, working conditions, and productivity, the workers have no independent, recognized vehicle for representing their interests on these or other labor-related issues. JCC's do in fact make suggestions to management on some working conditions and limited aspects of wage issues, but management must agree before a proposal can be put in force. Minimum wage rates are established by Council of Ministers' decree. Increases in wages above the minimum, which are subject to discussion in the JCC's, are set by management, with government salaries for comparable work often serving as an informal guide. Private businesses generally follow the Government-JCC lead in establishing their wage rates. There are two export processing zones, but labor law and practice are the same in these zones as in the rest of the country.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is legally prohibited, and the Labor Ministry is charged with enforcing the law. The Ministry enforces the labor laws with periodic inspections and routinely fines violators. New provisions to the Labor Law passed in November stiffened the maximum fines imposed and mandated imprisonment for certain violations. The press often performs an ombudsman function on labor problems, reporting instances in which private sector employers occasionally compelled foreign workers from developing nations to perform work not specified in their contracts, as well as Ministry of Labor responses. Once a complaint has been lodged by a worker, the Labor Ministry opens an investigation and often takes remedial action. A number of abuses undoubtedly go unreported, particularly involving domestic workers and others in Bahrain on "free visas." In the most common cases, these workers come to Bahrain under the sponsorship of one indvidual or company (often fronting for an unlicensed employment agency), then switch jobs, while continuing to pay a fee to their original sponsor. The Government has announced its intention to abolish this illegal practice, which makes it difficult to monitor and control the employment conditions of domestic and other workers. The Labor Law amendments passed in November stiffened the penalties for engaging in visa switching to include a jail sentence of up to 6 months for each illegally sponsored worker. However, the Government's efforts to find and deport illegally sponsored workers make these domestic workers even more reluctant to bring cases of abuse to the courts. Even if the courts rule in their favor in a particular case of abuse, the workers concerned are very likely to be deported as illegal immigrants after the case is concluded. The intense fear of deportation almost certainly allows some "sponsors" to impose abusive conditions, which approach coerced or bonded labor, on their employees. The elimination of such abuses is one objective of the Government's vigorous campaign to crack down on "free visa peddlers."

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum age for employment is 14. Juveniles between the age of 14 and 16 may not be employed in hazardous conditions or at night and may not work over 6 hours per day or on a piecework basis. Child labor laws are effectively enforced by Ministry of Labor inspectors in the industrial sector; child labor outside that sector is less well monitored but is not believed to be significant outside family-operated businesses.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Minimum wage scales, set by government decree, exist for public sector employees and generally afford a decent standard of living for workers and their families. The current minimum wage for the public sector in Bahrain is $236.60 (91 Bahraini dinars) a month. Wages in the private sector are determined on a contract basis. For foreign workers, employers consider benefits such as annual repatriation and housing and education bonuses part of the salary. Bahrain's 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 Fourth High Court (labor) 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 must, by law, 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 are generally considered to favor the worker/employee. Under Bahraini Labor Law, workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to their continued employment. In February the Government strengthened the Labor Law by Amiri decree, announcing that significant fines and jail sentences would be imposed upon private sector employers who fail to pay legal wages. This law applies equally to employers of Bahrainis and expatriates and is intended to reduce abuses against foreign workers who in the past have sometimes been denied legal salaries. In 1993, after consulting with the GCBW and the Majlis Al-Shura, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs submitted a further package of 29 amendments to the Labor Law to the Government for consideration. These changes were proposed, in part, to bring Bahrain's labor laws into greater conformity with international norms. The law provides equal protection to Bahraini and foreign workers. However, all foreign workers are required to be sponsored by Bahrainis or Bahrain-based institutions and companies. Subject to sanctions for wrongful dismissal, sponsors are able to cancel the residence permit of any person under their sponsorship and thereby block them from obtaining entry or residence visas from another sponsor. Foreign workers, particularly those from developing countries, are often unwilling to report abuses for fear of losing residence rights and having to return to their native countries. Although instances of foreign workers being denied their guaranteed holidays, days off, and vacations without compensation are periodically reported in the local press, government attempts to address individual abuses in these and other cases are often hampered by the workers' unwillingness to make a formal complaint. In September a senior Ministry of Labor official publicly invited a group of expatriate contract employees to lodge official charges against their Bahraini company after their letter protesting 13-hour workdays, 6 days a week, with no break, no overtime, or compensatory time off was published in the press. In addition, the Labor Law specifically favors Bahrainis, followed by Arab expatriates, over all other foreign workers in the areas of hiring and firing. Because employers include housing and other allowances in their salary scales, Asian workers are legally paid lower regular wages than their Bahraini counterparts, although they sometimes receive the same or greater total compensation package because of home leave and holiday pay allowances. Western expatriates and Bahraini workers are paid comparable wages, with total compensation packages often significantly greater for the former. Women are prohibited from performing night work, except in certain exempted fields. Women are entitled to 60 days of paid maternity leave, nursing periods during the day, and up to 1 year of unpaid maternity leave. However women are generally paid less than men.

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