The State Department web site below is a permanent electronic archive of information released prior to January 20, 2001.  Please see for material released since President George W. Bush took office on that date.  This site is not updated so external links may no longer function.  Contact us with any questions about finding information.

NOTE: External links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views contained therein.

Department Seal


DATE:  JANUARY 31, 1994


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 

     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 

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 

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 

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 

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 

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 

     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 

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 

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 

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 

     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. (###)

[end of document]


Department Seal

Return to 1993 Human Rights Practices report home page.
Return to DOSFAN home page.
This is an official U.S. Government source for information on the WWW. Inclusion of non-U.S. Government links does not imply endorsement of contents.