U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Bahrain

BAHRAIN   Bahrain is a hereditary emirate with few democratic institutions and no 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, Shaykh Isa Bin Sulman Al-Khalifa, governs Bahrain with the assistance of a younger brother, the Prime Minister; the Amir's 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 actions of the Amir and 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. The Sunnis predominate because the ruling family is Sunni and is supported by the armed forces, the security service, and powerful Sunni and Shi'a merchant families. The Ministry of Interior is responsible for public security. Under its auspices, the Public Security Force (police) and the extensive Security Service are responsible for maintaining internal order. The Bahrain Defense Force (BDF) defends against external military threats. It did not play an active role in internal security in 1995. Bahrain has a mixed economy, with government domination 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, oilfield services, and light manufacturing. The Government has used its modest oil revenues to build an advanced transportation and telecommunications infrastructure. Bahrain has become a regional financial and business center. Tourism, particularly via the causeway linking Bahrain to Saudi Arabia, is also a significant source of income. The main human rights problems continue to include the denial of the right of citizens to change their government; the practice of arbitrary and incommunicado detention and involuntary exile; the use of torture; 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 freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, and worker rights. Domestic violence against women is a problem. Governmental human rights abuses increased in 1995. The security forces committed numerous serious abuses. In the first half of 1995, domestic unrest by Shi'a Muslim youths, committing hundreds of acts of arson, resulted in the deaths of 11 people, including 7 demonstrators, 2 policemen, and 2 expatriate laborers, and the arrest of more than 2,700 people during that period, almost all for committing acts of violence during demonstrations. In keeping with tradition, on the March Eid Al-Fitr holiday the Government released by Amiri decree 175 prisoners, including several self-described political detainees. Another 2,000 were released during the course of the year. The Government rejected the demand of Shi'a demonstrators for a restoration of the elected parliament. The appointive Consultative Council (Majlis Al-Shura), established by Amiri decree in 1992, completed its third session on May 29 and began its fourth session on October 1.

Respect for Human Rights

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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

While trying to control arson attacks and other civil disturbances during the first half of the year, police and security forces killed 7 demonstrators. In one case, the police may have beaten a boy to death. Four of the deaths occurred when police used force on crowds of antigovernment demonstrators. On January 12, an unidentified man was killed in the village of Diraz after police opened fire on demonstrators. On January 26, Hani Ali Al-Safi was shot and killed during a similar confrontation with police in the village of Sitra. Also on January 26, Abdul Ridha Mansur Al-Hajji died of injuries sustained 10 days earlier in a demonstration that was broken up by police in the village of Bani Jamrah. An unidentified man was shot and killed by security forces during another demonstration in Bani Jamrah on April 1. On May 4, Nidal Habib Al-Nashabah reportedly was shot and killed by security forces during a demonstration in Diraz. On May 24, a 10-year-old boy, Muhammad Shihab Al-Fardan, from the village of Karzakkan, died under suspicious circumstances. Opposition press releases claim that the boy was arrested, tortured, and killed by security forces. The Government, however, stated publicly that the boy died after falling from a building that was under construction. On July 9, a 15-year-old boy died in police custody reportedly after being beaten during interrogation at the police station in the village of Khamis. To date, no police or security forces officials have been prosecuted for these offenses. Two police officers were killed by demonstrators. On March 22, Ibrahim Rashid Abdul Karim Al-Saidi was murdered by a group of protestors near his home in the village of Nuwaidrat. A second policeman was killed in the village of Sitra in April when demonstrators threw a molotov cocktail into his vehicle. Two expatriate laborers were killed after being trapped in buildings that had been set ablaze by demonstrators.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

Torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment is prohibited by law. There are, however, credible reports of torture being used against prisoners. Local human rights activists report that prisoners routinely are beaten, both on the soles of their feet and about the face and head, burned with cigarettes, forced to endure long periods without sleep, and subjected to electric shock. The Government denies that torture takes place. However, it has not implemented minimal procedural safeguards, nor allowed inspection of detention facilities by impartial international organizations. The Government has difficulty in rebutting allegations of torture and of other cruel, inhuman, or degrading practices because it permits incommunicado detention and detention without trial. There were no known instances of authorities being punished for human rights abuses committed either in 1995 or in previous years. Although little is known about Bahrain's prisons, prison conditions do not appear to pose any threat to the health of those detained. The authorities severely restrict visits to inmates. Nonetheless, prisoners have regular access to medical care and may receive visits from family members, usually once a month.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Under the State Security Act of 1974, persons may be detained 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. 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. Government security forces used the State Security Law regularly to detain persons engaging in antiregime activities, and those attempting to exercise their rights of free speech, association, or other rights in opposition to the Al-Khalifa regime. Security forces are believed to have held approximately 2,700 people in detention in 1995, including some who were arrested, released, and then arrested again. In many cases, the suspects were released with a warning. About 50 were tried in the Security Court; fewer than 750 were tried in criminal courts, and the remainder were released without charge. Under proceedings used by the Criminal Court, police may detain a suspect for up to 7 days of questioning before filing charges. Activities that 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; and harboring or associating with persons committing such acts. Of those detained for more than a few days, most were held for committing illegal or violent acts in the course of a demonstration--i.e., skirmishing with police, breaking windows, damaging cars or other property, burning electrical substations, tires, cars, palm groves, banks, stores, schools, sports clubs, furniture, and auto showrooms--rather than for exercising their rights of free expression. 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. Authorities continue to use exile and the revocation of citizenship to punish individuals suspected of, or convicted of, antiregime activity. Four deportations took place in 1995. The Government deported Shaykh Ali Salman Ahmed Salman, Shaykh Hamza Al-Sitri and Shaykh Haydar Al-Sitri to the United Arab Emirates on January 15. They traveled onward to London the next day. Shaykh Adel Al-Sho'ala was deported on January 18. He is believed to be in Damascus. The Government reportedly deported these four clerics because they instigated an attack on a charity marathon in November 1994 in which several participants were beaten and stoned, and because they encouraged antigovernment rioting. In the past, the Government has revoked the citizenship of nationals who are considered security threats. The Government considers these individuals to have forfeited their nationality under the Citizenship Act of 1963 because they accepted foreign citizenship or passports, or engaged in antiregime activities abroad. Bahraini emigre groups and their local contacts have challenged this practice, arguing that the Government's revocation of citizenship without due process violates Bahrain's 1973 Constitution. According to the emigre groups, as many as 500 Bahrainis continue to live in exile. This figure includes both those prohibited from returning to Bahrain and their family members who voluntarily live abroad with them.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, as well as an appellate system for review of lower court decisions. In practice, however, the courts are frequently subject to government pressure regarding sentencing and appeals. 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. There is widespread, credible evidence that persons accused of antigovernment crimes and tried in the criminal courts were denied fair trials. For example, the accused were not permitted to speak with an attorney until their appearance before the judge at the preliminary hearing. Trials in the criminal courts for antiregime activities were held in secret. Security cases are tried by the Supreme Court of Appeal, sitting as the Security Court. Procedures in the Security Court do not provide adequate safeguards. For example, the Security Court is exempted from adhering to the procedural guarantees of the Penal Code. Defendants may be represented by counsel, but proceedings are held in secret, and there is no right to judicial review of the legality of arrests. Convictions may be based solely on confessions and evidence may be introduced in secret. There is no judicial appeal of a State Security Court verdict, but the defendant may request clemency from the Amir. The accused normally is tried in the Security Court at the discretion of the prosecutor, but in 1995 the Security Court rejected jurisdiction in some cases and remanded the cases to the criminal courts. Defense attorneys are appointed by the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs. Criminal court proceedings generally do not appear to discriminate against women, children, or minority groups. Some attorneys and family members involved in politically sensitive criminal cases complained that the Government can and has interfered with court proceedings to influence the outcome or to prevent judgments from being carried out. Allegations of corruption in the judicial system have also been made from time to time, although this does not appear to be a pervasive problem. In past cases, the Amir, the Prime Minister, and other senior Government officials have all lost civil cases brought against them by private citizens. The courts ordered these judgments to be carried out. 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 offenses. The number of political prisoners is difficult to determine because the Government does not release data on security cases, such cases are not tried in open court, and visits to prisoners convicted of security offenses are severely restricted. The Government denies that there are any political prisoners, claiming that all inmates incarcerated for committing security offenses were properly convicted of criminal acts such as espionage, espousing or committing violence, or belonging to terrorist organizations. In accordance with tradition, the Government continued to release and grant amnesty to prisoners, including self-declared political prisoners, on major holidays. In 1995 the Government released 175 prisoners in March during the Eid Al-Fitr holiday. Throughout the course of the year, an additional 2,000 were released, and most were pardoned by Amiri decree.

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. 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 to express public opposition to the Al-Khalifa regime in speech or writing. Press criticism of ruling family personalities and of government policy regarding certain sensitive subjects--such as sectarian unrest and the dispute with Qatar over the Hawar Islands--are strictly prohibited. However, local press coverage and commentary on international issues is open, and discussion of local economic and commercial issues is also relatively unrestricted. In practice there are few if any restrictions on the discussion of political and economic issues in private settings or in places of worship, provided these discussions do not spill over into public fora. The Information Ministry exercises sweeping control over all local media. Bahrain's newspapers are privately owned but routinely exercise self-censorship of stories on sensitive topics. There was no coverage of domestic unrest, for example, for approximately the first 4 months of the disturbances. 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 journalists' deportations, but the Government did tighten restrictions on reporters at the height of the unrest. For example, Ahmed Shamlan, a local columnist and attorney, was suspended from his job after he signed a petition calling for a return to parliamentary democracy. Two American journalists were denied entry visas at the height of the disturbances in the spring (one of the two later entered on a tourist visa), and two more received visas only after foreign diplomatic intervention. International news services, including AP, UPI, and AFP, frequently complain about press restrictions. In March Canal France Internationale, the French-language cable television station, was taken off the air for several weeks because of government anger over the French media's coverage of the demonstrations. 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. Cable News Network has been provided without censorship for 1 hour a day on a local television channel since 1991, and is also 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. Many senior government officials, ruling family members, and major hotels use satellite dishes to receive international broadcasts, as do well-to-do private citizens. The Ministry of Information closely controls access to satellite dishes, and the importation or installation 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 public discussions critical of the Government are highly infrequent.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Despite the Constitution's affirmation of the right of free assembly, the Government prohibits all public political demonstrations and meetings, and controls religious gatherings that may take on political overtones. Unauthorized public gatherings of more than five persons are prohibited by law. The Government monitors gatherings that might take on a political tone, and frequently disperses such meetings. On dozens of occasions from January through August the security forces used tear gas, rubber bullets, and occasionally, live ammunition to disperse gatherings during which protesters called for the reestablishment of an elected parliament and the release of prisoners; objected to Al-Khalifa rule, denounced police brutality; protested over foreigners in the security forces and in the labor force; and demanded increased employment opportunities. After each of these incidents, suspected leaders and active participants were arrested, generally for participating in or inciting violence. At the height of the disturbances, approximately 2,000 people were being held in detention. At year's end, an estimated 261 people remained in detention. The Government prohibits political parties and organizations. Some professional societies and social/sports clubs have traditionally served as forums for discreet political discussions, but they are restricted by law from engaging in political activity. Only the Bahraini Bar Association has been granted an exemption to the regulation requiring all associations to state in their constitution that they will refrain from political activity. The Bar Association successfully argued that a lawyer's professional duties may require certain "political" actions, such as interpreting legislation or participating in a politically sensitive trial. Other organized discussions and meetings are still actively discouraged. Permits are required for most public gatherings, and permission is not routinely granted.

c. Freedom of Religion

The population is overwhelmingly Muslim, and Islam is the state religion. However, Christians and other non-Muslims, including Jews, Hindus, and Baha'is are free 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. Notables from virtually every religion and denomination visit Bahrain and frequently meet with government and civic leaders. 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 discouraged, anti-Islamic writings prohibited, and conversions from Islam to other religions, while not illegal, are not tolerated by society. Both Sunni and Shi'a sects are subject to governmental control and monitoring, but there is no interference with routine worship, preaching, religious courts, Islamic charitable foundations, mosque construction, religious education, or other religious activities. Public religious events, most notably the large annual commemorative marches by Bahraini 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, Iraq, and Syria; 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, travel to Iran for pilgrimages, business trips, tourism, and family visits is common.

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

Citizens are free to move within the country and change their place of residence or work. Passports, however, may be denied on political grounds. Approximately 3 percent of the indigenous population, mostly Persian-origin Shi'a, do not have passports and cannot readily obtain them, although they may be issued travel documents as Bahraini residents (see Section 5). About 150 Sunni "bidoon" or stateless persons, mostly from the Arabian Peninsula, were granted citizenship in 1995, and about 15 Egyptian citizens resident in Bahrain also received citizenship. Bahrainis living abroad who are suspected of political or criminal offenses may face arrest and trial upon return to Bahrain. 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 has also issued "temporary passports," good for one trip within a year, to individuals whose travel it wishes to control or whose claim to Bahraini nationality is questionable. Non-citizen residents, including bidoon of Iranian origin, may also obtain Bahraini "laissez passers" (temporary passports), usually valid for 2 years and renewable at Bahraini embassies overseas. Laissez passer holders also require visas to reenter Bahrain. Bahrain does not usually accept refugees due to its small size and limited resources. In practice, however, refugees who arrive in Bahrain are not repatriated to countries from which they have fled. Many Iranian emigres who fled Iran after the Iranian Revolution 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 is strictly controlled by the Government. Since the dissolution of the National Assembly in 1975, there have been no formal democratic political institutions. The Government permits neither political parties nor opposition organizations. The Prime Minister, Shaykh Khalifa Bin Sulman Al-Khalifa, makes all appointments to the Cabinet. All other government positions are filled by the relevant ministries. About one-third of the cabinet ministers are Shi'a Muslim, although they do not hold security-related offices. The ordinary citizen may attempt to influence government decisions through submission of personal written petitions and informal contact with senior officials, including appeals to the Amir, the Prime Minister, and other officials at their regularly scheduled public audiences, called majlises. In 1992 the Government established an appointed 30-member Consultative Council, known as the Majlis Al-Shura. The Majlis held its third session from October 1994 to May 1995, and began its fourth session in October. The members of the Majlis are evenly divided between Sunni and Shi'a and are appointed by the Amir. They 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, and religious "extremists" are conspicuously absent. The chairman is a prominent Shi'a who formerly was Minister of Transport and Communications. The Majlis debates issues and may summon Cabinet ministers to answer questions. However, it does not have the power to introduce legislation, nor can it request to review legislation that the Cabinet has not referred to it. When asked to review proposed legislation, the Majlis may recommend changes, but the recommendations are not binding. In 1995 the Majlis debated a number of contentious social and economic issues, including unemployment, labor policy, and education, drafting proposals on these and other subjects for government consideration. According to the Speaker of the Majlis, the Government responded positively to about "85 percent" of the Majlis's recommendations by incorporating them into legislation or by taking other appropriate actions. Although the Government views the Majlis as solely an advisory body, the Government in September promised more powers and scope to the fourth session. A petition, written in 1994, calling on the Amir to reinstate the former National Assembly, or to allow elections for a new one, continued to circulate in 1995. The petition reportedly has more than 20,000 signatures. Despite opposition charges to the contrary, there is no evidence that the Government has arrested anyone for signing or circulating the petition. During the year, one of the original 14 signers, Sa'id Abdulla Asbool, lost his job at the Ministry of Works, Power, and Water, reportedly for circulating the petition at the Ministry during work hours. There are reports that other employees have lost their government jobs for participating in the petition drive. Ahmed Shamlan, a local newspaper columnist, was reportedly suspended from his job for signing the petition, and a doctor at Salmaniyah Hospital was stripped of his department chairmanship, but retained his job. Other signers, like Munira Fakhro, a member of the University of Bahrain faculty, were dismissed from their positions. Abdul Amir Al-Jamri, a prominent Shi'a cleric, longtime opposition activist, and one of the petition's original signers, was placed under house arrest on April 1, where he remained until his release on September 25. Al-Jamri is accused of committing a wide variety of security-related crimes.

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 or public criticism of the Government's human rights policies faces major obstacles. A number of groups based abroad claim to report on Bahraini human rights violations. These include the Damascus-based "Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Bahrain," the London-based "Bahrain Freedom Movement," and "Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain," and the Copenhagen-based "Bahrain Human Rights Organization" (formerly the "Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners in Bahrain"). These groups are composed of small numbers of emigres living in self-imposed exile, and reportedly receive funding from sources hostile to the Al-Khalifa regime. They are viewed by many local observers as espousing a political, rather than a purely human rights, agenda. The Government maintains that it is "not opposed" to visits "in good faith" by "bona fide human rights organizations," and has engaged in dialogue with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Amnesty International (AI). In practice, however, international human rights organizations have found it difficult to conduct activities in Bahrain. By the end of the year, the Government had not agreed to requests by ICRC and AI for unconditional visits.

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

The Constitution states that "liberty, equality, security, tranquility, education, social solidarity, and equal opportunities for citizens shall be pillars of society assured by the state." It further states that every citizen shall have the right to medical, welfare, education, property, capital, and work. In practice, these rights are unevenly upheld, depending on the individual's social status, ethnicity, or sex.


Violence against women is known to occur, but knowledge of incidents is usually kept within the family. In general, there is little public attention to, or discussion of, violence against women. No government policies explicitly address violence against women. 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. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the courts are not receptive to such cases. Cases of foreign women working as domestic servants who have been beaten or sexually abused by their employers have been reported to local embassies and the police. Most victims are too intimidated to sue their employers. Those who do appear to be received sympathetically in the courts. Islamic law (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 outside of Bahrain. 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; the balance is 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, although custody usually reverts to the father once the children reach those respective ages. 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 the male head of the household. Bahraini women are free to work outside the home, to drive cars without escorts, and to wear the clothing of their choice (a large percentage wear western dress outside the home), and have increasingly taken jobs previously reserved for men. 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. Women constitute over 20 percent of the 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. Labor law does not recognize the concept of equal pay for equal work, and women are generally paid less than men. 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 some women have expressed the view that, despite their participation in the work force, women are not significantly advancing their rights and that much of their lack of progress is due to the influence of Islamic religious traditionalists. Other women, however, desire a return to more traditional religious values and support calls for a return to Islamic patterns of social behavior.


The Government 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. It honors this commitment through enforcement of its civil and criminal laws and an extensive social welfare network. The social status of children is shaped 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. The authorities actively enforce the laws against prostitution, including child prostitution, procuring, and pimping. Violators are dealt with harshly and can be imprisoned, or if non-Bahraini, deported. In some cases, authorities reportedly will return children arrested for prostitution and other crimes to their families rather than prosecute them, especially for first offenses. Juvenile cases currently are heard in the regular courts 1 day a week. Some legal experts have called on the Government to establish a separate juvenile court. Other Bahrainis, however, insist that the protection of children is a religious, not a secular, function and oppose greater government involvement. Independent and quasigovernmental 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 and advice, and, in some cases, shelter and financial support to distressed children and families. As many as 200 juveniles were detained or arrested during civil disturbances in 1995. Juveniles received the same treatment as adult prisoners, but were released before other detainees. At year's end, there were no reports of any juveniles in detention for crimes allegedly committed during the unrest.

People with Disabilities

Bahraini law protects the rights of people with disabilities, and a variety of governmental, quasigovernmental, and religious institutions are mandated to support and protect disabled persons. The Regional (Arabian Gulf) Center for the Treatment of the Blind is headquartered in Bahrain, and a similar center for the education of deaf children was established in 1994. 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 people must 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 that access be provided to disabled persons. Most large public buildings are equipped with ramps and other aids which make them accessible to disabled persons.

Religious Minorities

Although there are notable exceptions, the Sunni Muslim minority enjoys a favored status in Bahrain. 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. They are also 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 citizens on the basis of financial need.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

A group of approximately 9,000 to 15,000 mostly Persian-origin Shi'a are stateless. They are commonly known as bidoon and enjoy less than full citizenship. Under the Citizenship Act of 1963, many of the bidoon are second or third generation residents whose ancestors emigrated from Iran. Although they no longer claim Iranian citizenship, they have not been granted Bahraini nationality. Without citizenship these individuals are officially unable to buy land, start a business, or obtain government loans, although in practice many do. The law does not address the citizenship rights of persons who were not registered with Bahraini authorities prior to 1959, creating a legal problem for such persons and their descendants and resulting in economic and other hardships. The Government maintains that many of those who claim to be bidoon are actually citizens of Iran or other Gulf states who have voluntarily chosen not to renew their foreign passports. Bidoon and Bahrainis who speak Farsi, rather than Arabic, as their first language also face significant social and economic obstacles, including difficulty finding employment.

Section 6 Workers 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 the 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, the Government passed a series of labor regulations which, among other things, allow the formation of elected workers' committees in larger companies. Worker representation today is based on a system of Joint Labor-Management Committees (JLC's) established by ministerial decree. Between 1981 and 1984, 12 JLC's were established in the major state-owned industries. In 1994 four new JLC's were established in the private sector, including one in a major hotel. In 1995 elections were held for representatives to the General Committee of Bahrain Workers (GCBW), which oversees the activities of the JLC's. Workers from all walks of life were elected to the body in 1995, including Sunni and Shi'a Muslims, expatriates, and, for the first time, a woman. These elections, which appeared to be free and by secret ballot, were carried out during the worst of the demonstrations. The Government is considering the further expansion of the JLC system into the tourism and banking sectors. The JLC's are composed of equal numbers of appointed management representatives and worker representatives elected from and by company employees. Each committee is chaired alternately by the 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. The elected labor representatives of the JLC'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 JLC'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 the body's activities. It approves the GCBW's rules and the distribution of GCBW funds. The JLC-GCBW system represents nearly 70 percent of the island's indigenous industrial workers, although both government and labor representatives readily admit that nonindustrial workers and expatriates are clearly underrepresented in the system. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has publicly urged the formation of JLC's in all public and private sector companies employing more than 200 workers. Although 67 percent of the work force is comprised of expatriate workers, expatriates are underrepresented in the GCBW. Expatriate workers can and do participate in JLC elections, and five expatriates currently serve on JLC's. None, however, currently sit on the board of the GCBW. It is a longterm goal of both the Government and the GCBW to replace expatriate workers with Bahrainis throughout all sectors of the economy and to create new jobs for Bahrainis seeking employment. The Labor Law is silent on the right to strike, and there were no strikes in 1995. 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 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, the Labor Law neither grants nor denies workers the right to organize and bargain collectively outside the JLC system. While the JLC'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. JLC's make suggestions to management on some working conditions and limited aspects of wage issues; but management must agree to a proposal before it can be put in force. Minimum wage rates for public sector employees are established by Council of Ministers' decree. Private businesses generally follow the Government's lead in establishing their wage rates. There are two export processing zones. 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 prohibited by law. The Ministry of Labor enforces the labor laws with periodic inspections and routinely fines violators. Provisions to the Labor Law passed in 1993 stiffened the fines and prison terms for certain violations. 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 complaint has been lodged by a worker, the Labor Ministry opens an investigation and often takes remedial action. Although the Ministry takes such cases seriously, abuses undoubtedly go unreported, particularly those involving domestic workers and others working illegally. In some cases, workers arrive in Bahrain under the sponsorship of an employer and 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. However, no substantive action has yet been taken. Amendments to the Labor Law passed in November 1993 stiffened the penalties for engaging in visa switching to include jail sentences of up to 6 months for the sponsor of every illegally sponsored worker. In such cases, the workers involved are likely to be deported as illegal immigrants after the case is concluded. The intense fear of deportation almost certainly allows some employer sponsors to impose abusive conditions on foreign workers. In such instances, the situation approaches coerced or bonded labor on these employees.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum age for employment is 14 years. 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 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 is $236.60 (91 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 and housing and education bonuses 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 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 employee. Under the Labor Law workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to their continued employment. In 1993 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 have sometimes been denied legal salaries. The law provides equal protection to Bahraini and foreign workers, but all foreign workers still require sponsorship 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. Instances of foreign workers being denied full wages, days off, vacations, or other guaranteed conditions of employment without compensation are periodically reported in the local press, as well as the court rulings or Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs actions taken in response. Nonetheless, government attempts to address individual abuses in these and other cases are often hampered by the workers' unwillingness to make a formal complaint. In addition, the Labor Law specifically favors Bahrainis, followed by Arab expatriates, over other foreign workers in hiring and firing. Because employers include housing and other allowances in their salary scales, expatriate workers can legally be paid lower regular wages than their Bahraini counterparts, although they sometimes receive the same or a 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 entitled to 60 days of paid maternity leave, nursing periods during the day, and up to one year of unpaid maternity leave, however women are generally paid less than men.

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