BRIEFING NOTES - (1) Bahrain, (2) Chad
Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Marta Hurtado
Date: 30 April 2021
Subject: (1) Bahrain
We are disturbed by the use of unnecessary and disproportionate force by police special forces to dismantle a peaceful sit-in in Bahrain’s Jau prison on 17 April. According to accounts received from eyewitnesses of the incident, special forces threw stun grenades and beat detainees on their heads, badly injuring many of them. The authorities reportedly took 33 protestors to another building in the prison, where they are being kept incommunicado, and have been unable to make contact with families or lawyers, in violation of both national and international law.
The inmates had been protesting about conditions of detention, in particular the lack of access to medical treatment. The sit-in began on 5 April, after a political prisoner, Abbas Mal Allah, died after reportedly being denied timely access to essential health care. The lack of health care in the overcrowded Bahraini prisons has been an issue for years, but has become a chronic problem during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The spread of the pandemic in Bahrain’s prisons has sparked protests across the country. In response, the authorities have detained dozens of protesters for breaching COVID-19 restrictions.
We call on the Government to immediately launch a thorough and effective investigation into the violent repression of the sit-in at Jau prison. We also urge them to provide information on the well-being of the 33 prisoners currently held in incommunicado detention, and to ensure they are able to contact their lawyers and families.
In addition, we call on the authorities to take effective steps to ensure the timely provision of medical treatment for inmates as and when needed.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, several decrees have been issued granting special pardons to 1,253 prisoners, and a total of 1,747 offenders have benefited from alternative sanctions, according to the Public Prosecution. There may be some overlap between these two groups.
We call on the authorities to consider releasing more detainees to ease prison congestion, and reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading throughout the prison population. In particular, those being detained for expression of critical or dissenting views, protected by international human rights law, should be released immediately.
We are deeply disturbed by the apparently disproportionate use of force – including the use of live ammunition – by defence and security forces in the context of protests in Chad this week, particularly on Tuesday when six people were reportedly killed and several wounded in the capital N’Djamena and in the second largest Chadian city of Moundou.
We understand that more than 700 people have also been arrested in relation to the demonstrations. At this point, it is unclear how many remain in detention.
As further protests and general strikes have been called to take place in the coming days, we stress that Chad remains bound by its obligations under international human rights law to protect and respect human rights, including the right to life, and to facilitate the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. The decree imposing a blanket ban on demonstrations without prior authorisation may undermine the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly. We also note that the Transitional Military Council itself declared on 20 April that it would abide by Chad’s international treaty obligations.
Defence and security forces must receive clear instructions to refrain from the use of force against peaceful protesters and to ensure that any violent incidents are handled in line with the rule of law and relevant international human rights laws and standards. These instructions must be in line with the Basic Principles* on the use of force and firearms by law enforcement, which state in particular that firearms can only be used against individuals representing an imminent threat to life or of serious injury, and only as a matter of last resort. All those detained for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly must also be promptly released.
We also call on all relevant State institutions to conduct impartial, prompt, effective and transparent investigations into any human rights violations that may have occurred – including the apparent use of unnecessary or disproportionate force to disperse protests.
At this delicate period for the country, we stress the crucial importance of putting human rights at the centre of all efforts, and ensuring an inclusive, participatory process in charting the way forward towards a return to civilian rule and constitutional order.