It is time for the EU to live up to its commitment to put an end to torture, starting with its partners in the Gulf, writes Isabel Cerdá Marcos.
Isabel Cerdá Marcos is an advocacy associate at the European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights.
Article 4 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights clearly states that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Any form of torture and/or ill-treatment is absolutely banned in the European Union, and the EU claims to be fully committed to the total eradication of torture in the world. In its foreign policy and external relations, the Union is theoretically raising the matter with countries still practicing torture.
Further, in its Council Guidelines to EU policy towards third countries on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, adopted in 2008 and updated in 2012, the EU commits to working towards the eradication of torture in third countries when engaging in Foreign Policy or Security Policy. Also, in its newly adopted EU Action Plan on democracy and human rights, a special section is dedicated to the eradication of torture and ill-treatment.
Bearing in mind the Union’s strong commitment to the unconditional abolition of torture in its external relations, it is surprising to see the number of third country EU partners who still use torture.
Take Bahrain, for example. It is the smallest member of the Gulf Cooperation Countries, a tiny archipelago in the Persian Gulf, especially when compared to its neighbours Saudi Arabia or Iran. But Bahrainis are faced with torture and ill-treatment from the government and police authorities on a regular basis. The problem is just as prevalent here as in the country’s bigger, stronger neighbours.
In February 2011, hundreds of thousands of Bahrainis took the streets, peacefully, to demand their place in an honest, impartial and representative democracy, and to ask the Bahraini government to put an end to constant human rights abuses. Over four years on, the situation has barely changed in the country, and the use of torture and ill-treatment remains commonplace. There are particular concerns over prisoners detained in government or police custody. Beatings, insults, physical violence and even sexual assaults are some of the torture practices and abuses many Bahraini prisoners have to endure.
These practices are generally carried out by prison guards or security officers, but the Bahraini ruling family takes torture to the next level, not only by tolerating it, but by directly being involved in the perpetration of such atrocities. Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the son of the King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, has personally tortured prisoners on several occasions, which has won him the name of “Prince Torture” among Bahraini human rights defenders and peace activists. Due to his activities, the United Kingdom, historically a praised ally of the Bahraini ruling family, removed Prince Nasser’s diplomatic immunity in UK in October 2014.
Prince Nasser took his torture practices one step further in May this year when he presented a team of thirteen international triathlon athletes who will compete worldwide on his newly created team, the Bahrain Endurance 13 team. So far so good. However, Prince Nasser did not come up with such a catchy name himself. The ‘original’ Bahrain 13 was a group of peaceful political activists, bloggers, human rights defenders and regime opponents who led the February 2011 peaceful protests in Bahrain. As a consequence of their involvement in this civil movement, in which hundreds of thousands participated, all of the Bahrain 13 are now imprisoned, serving sentences ranging from five years to life imprisonment. All of them suffered police brutality, coercion, abuses and even torture whilst in detention and in prison.
Unfortunately, Prince Nasser’s horrifying behaviour goes unpunished, and so do the torture and ill-treatment practices of the Bahraini government.
The EU has the key texts, has the resources and has the power to achieve more when it comes to the absolute abolition of torture and human rights abuses. The European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights believes that it is time for the European Union to step up its efforts in eradicating torture worldwide and introduce stronger measures in its foreign policy to ensure human rights for all.