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TITLE: BAHRAIN HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1994 AUTHOR: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DATE: FEBRUARY 1995 BAHRAIN Bahrain is a monarchy that has been ruled since the late 18th century by the Al-Khalifa family, which dominates its society and government. It has no political parties or elected representative institutions. The Constitution confirms the Amir as hereditary ruler. The current Amir, Sheikh Isa Bin Sulman Al-Khalifa, governs with the assistance of his younger brother, the Prime Minister; his son, the Crown Prince; and an appointed Cabinet of Ministers. In 1975 the Government suspended some provisions of the 1973 Constitution, including those articles relating to the National Assembly, which the Government disbanded in the same year. The Government faces few judicial checks on its actions. Bahrainis belong to the Shi'a and Sunni sects of Islam, with the Shi'a comprising over two-thirds of the indigenous population. Sectarian and ethnic divisions exist 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 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 does not play any role in internal security. Bahrain has a mixed economy, with government domination of many basic industries, including the important oil and aluminum industries. The Government has used its modest oil revenues to build an advanced infrastructure in transportation and telecommunications. Bahrain is a regional financial and business center. Tourism is also a significant source of income. There was little change in the human rights situation: civil liberties remained broadly circumscribed. The main abuses included arbitrary and incommunicado detention; involuntary exile; the absence of impartial inspection of detention and prison facilities; some instances of abuse of detainees; 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. As a practical matter, the people do not have the right to change their government. In early December, a Shi'a imam and approximately 12 of his followers were arrested for inciting violence against the Government and foreign residents. Protesters staged large and sometimes violent demonstrations in Manama and in several Shi'a villages to demand his release. Three protesters and 1 policeman were killed in the unrest, and the police detained about 500 to 600 persons. Nearly all the detainees were arrested for committing illegal acts such as skirmishing with police or vandalism. Demonstrations continued into January 1995. The police arrested several hundred more demonstrators. RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from: a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing There were no reports of political or extrajudicial killings. b. Disappearance There were no reports of disappearances. c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment The law prohibits torture. Little is known about the treatment of detainees and prisoners because the authorities restrict prison visits. During interrogations, the police reportedly have beaten detainees on the soles of their feet. Credible evidence exists that the authorities at Al-Jaw Security Prison used excessive force to restrain or punish a small number of prisoners who staged a 10-day hunger strike in April. Convicted prisoners, including those sentenced for security offenses, have regular access to medical care and may receive visits from family members, usually once a month. On at least one occasion, a prisoner serving a life sentence for a security offense was given a 1-day furlough to visit his family following the death of his father. 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 because it permits incommunicado detention and detention without trial. The Government is not known to have punished any official in 1994 for human rights abuses committed either in 1994 or in previous years. Prison conditions do not appear to pose any threat to the life or health of those detained. d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile 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. Under normal criminal proceedings, police may detain a suspect for up to 7 days of questioning before filing charges. However, 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. Under the Act, persons may be detained for attempting to exercise the rights of free speech, association, or other rights in opposition to the Al-Khalifa regime. Activities that could lead to detention 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. In April security forces detained 14 Shi'a students following a sectarian schoolyard brawl and held them for 2 months without charge. In early December, a Shi'a imam and approximately 12 of his followers were arrested for inciting violence against the Government and foreign residents. Following their arrest, protesters demanding their release staged a series of large, sometimes violent, demonstrations in Manama and several Shi'a villages. Throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, the protesters attacked two police stations, public security vehicles, and two branches of the National Bank of Bahrain. At least three demonstrators and one policeman were killed in the clashes. The police detained approximately 500 to 600 persons, nearly all of whom were arrested for committing illegal acts, such as skirmishing with police or vandalism. Demonstrations continued in mid-January and the police detained several hundred more demonstrators. The authorities continue to use the revocation of citizenship and exile to punish individuals suspected or convicted of antiregime activity. During the 1980's, in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution and an aborted coup attempt by pro-Iranian elements, the Government deported without trial a significant number of citizens. In 1994 the Amir granted amnesty to 21 of these exiles and their families, allowing them to return to Bahrain. Throughout 1994 the authorities detained individuals at the airport who sought to return without the benefit of amnesty, and returned them to their point of origin. The authorities also revoked the citizenship of two citizens of Iranian descent who were convicted in 1988 of security offenses, and deported them to Iran after they completed serving their prison terms. The authorities maintain that they present prospective returnees with the evidence against them and give them the choice of standing trial or continuing to reside abroad for a specified period of time. In some cases, the Government maintains that individuals have legally forfeited their citizenship by their acceptance of foreign citizenship or participation in antiregime activities. However, emigre groups and their local contacts challenge both assertions. They argue that most exiles would prefer to stand trial than continue to live abroad, and that the revocation of citizenship without due process violates the Constitution. According to emigre groups, approximately 100 to 150 Bahrainis live in exile. This figure includes those who are prohibited from returning and their family members who voluntarily live abroad with them. e. Denial of Fair Public Trial An arrested persson 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. However, some attorneys and family members involved in politically sensitive criminal cases complained that the Government interfered with normal court proceedings to influence the outcome or to prevent court judgments from being carried out. Allegations of corruption in the judicial system have also been made from time to time, although corruption does not appear to be a pervasive problem. There are precedents in which the Amir, Prime Minister, and other senior government officials have lost cases brought by private citizens. The judgments in such cases were carried out. Security cases are tried directly by the Supreme Court of Appeal, which sits as the Security Court. Procedures in the Security Court do not provide appropriate safeguards. The Security Court is exempted from adhering to the procedural guarantees of the Penal Code, trials are held in secret, and defendants do not have the right to ask for a review of the legality of their arrests. There were no reports of security court trials in 1994. Sentences imposed by the Security Court may, at the discretion of the Court or the request of the defendant's family, be referred to the Amir for clemency. The total number of prisoners of all kinds, excluding those arrested in the December riots, is believed to be between 270 and 300 persons, of whom a small number may be political prisoners. The number of political prisoners is difficult to determine because the Government does not release information on security cases and restricts visits to prisoners convicted of security offenses. The Government denies that there are any political prisoners. It claims that all individuals detained for security offenses, including those arrested in the December riots, the attempted coup in 1981, and a 1987 attempt to destroy Bahrain's single oil refinery, 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 a small number of prisoners, including self-declared political prisoners, on major holidays. The Government released 44 prisoners in March, including 10 convicted of security offenses in the 1980's; in June it released and deported to Iran on the completion of their sentences, 2 individuals convicted of security offenses in 1988; and in December the Amir pardoned and released another 6 to 8 convicted criminals. Government sources have indicated that nearly all of the prisoners convicted for nonviolent antiregime activity in the 1980's have been released by amnesty or upon completion of their sentences. f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence The law empowers the Ministry of Interior to authorize entry into private premises without specific judicial authorization. The authorities monitor some domestic and international telephone calls and correspondence. 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," citizens are not generally free to express public opposition to the Al-Khalifa regime in speech or writing. The Government does not permit political meetings and monitors gatherings that might take on a political tone. The security forces sometimes disperse such meetings. The Government prohibits press criticism of personalities in the ruling family and on certain sensitive subjects, such as the Hawar Islands dispute with Qatar. The local press is free to report and comment on international issues. Discussion of local economic and commercial issues is also relatively unrestricted. In practice there are few restrictions on the discussion of political and economic issues in private settings, provided such discussions do not become public. The Information Ministry exercises sweeping control over all local media. Bahrain's privately owned newspapers routinely exercise self-censorship of stories on sensitive topics. In 1994 the Government prohibited a local editorial columnist from publishing for 1 month following his criticism of government policy during the Yemeni civil war. The Government does not condone unfavorable coverage of its domestic policies by the international media and has occasionally revoked the press credentials of offending foreign journalists. Since the Ministry also sponsors foreign journalists' residence permits, this action can lead to deportation. The Government deported a correspondent of the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) in December for covering the civil disturbances in a manner unfavorable to the Government. In addition, Reuter withdrew its correspondent in April and did not replace him after the Ministry of Information indicated that his residence permit would not be renewed. Other international news services have frequently complained of government restrictions. Several news services have departed Bahrain and established offices elsewhere in the region. The State owns and operates all radio and television stations. The Government does not interfere with radio and television broadcasts from neighboring countries and from Egypt, nor does it interfere with the English-language news from the British Broadcasting Company and Cable News Network. Many senior government officials, ruling family members, and well-to-do citizens receive international television broacasts via satellite receiving dishes. The Ministry of Information closely controls access to these and the importation or installation of them without government approval is illegal. In October the Ministry established a 13-channel subscription cable network and announced plans to add an additional 7 channels by the end of the year. 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 public political demonstrations and meetings. Religious gatherings that may take on political overtones are strictly controlled. In January and March security forces dispersed Shi'a Muslim gatherings commemorating the death of Iranian Grand Ayatollah Golpayegani at the Al-Mu'min mosque in Manama and closed the mosque temporarily, ostensibly on the grounds that the gatherings had become political and confrontational. In July and September, security forces used tear gas to break up large, Shi'a-led demonstrations at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. After each of these incidents, suspected leaders and active participants were briefly detained for questioning, usually on grounds of participating in or inciting violence. All were later released without charge. The Government prohibits political organizations. Some professional societies and social and sports clubs have traditionally served as fora for discreet political discussion, but these are restricted by law from engaging in political activity. Only the Bar Association has been granted an exemption to the regulation requiring all associations to state in their constitutions 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. Since the Gulf War the Government has been more tolerant of informal discussion of some political issues, but organized discussions and meetings are still actively discouraged. The Government requires permits for most public gatherings, and does not routinely grant permission. 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. Religious tracts of all Islamic sects, cassettes of sermons delivered by Muslim preachers from other countries, and publications of other religions are readily available. The Government discourages proselytizing by non-Muslims and prohibits anti-Islamic writings. However, it does not interfere with conversions from Islam to other religions. Both Sunni and Shi'a sects are subject to governmental control and monitoring, but the Government does not interfere with routine 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 citizens permitted to make pilgrimages to Shi'a shrines and holy sites in Iran and Iraq. However, in the past, the Government strongly discouraged religious study in and pilgrimages to Iran. 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 Citizens are free to move within the country and change their place of residence or work. However, the Government may deny issuance of passports on political grounds. 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" to individuals whose travel it wishes to control or whose claim to citizenship is questionable. At least 3 to 5 percent of the indigenous population, mostly Shi'a Muslims of Iranian origin, do not have passports and cannot readily obtain them, although they may be issued travel documents as residents (see Section 5). Noncitizen residents may also obtain "laissez-passers" or temporary passports. These documents are valid for 2 years and may be reissued at Bahraini embassies overseas. "Laissez passer" holders are required to obtain visas to reenter Bahrain. In 1994 the Government continued to allow the repatriation of certain persons who have lived in exile (see Section 1.d.). The Government does not usually accept refugees. However, it does not repatriate those refugees who arrive in Bahrain. The Government has granted some Iranian emigres permission to remain in Bahrain, but has not granted them citizenship. During the Yemeni civil war in 1994, the Government accepted approximately 10 Yemeni casualties for medical treatment. 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 the Government strictly controls all political activity. Since the dissolution of the National Assembly in 1975, there have been no formal democratic political institutions, political parties, or opposition organizations. The Prime Minister appoints all members of the Cabinet. About one-third of the Cabinet ministers are Shi'a, although they do not hold security-related offices. All other government positions are appointed by the relevant ministries. The ordinary citizen may attempt to influence government decisions through submission of written petitions and informal contact with senior officials. The Government established a 30-member Consultative Council, or Majlis Al-Shura, in 1992. The Majlis held its second session from October 1993 to May 1994, and began its third session in October. The members of the Majlis are evenly divided between Sunni and Shi'a and were appointed by the Amir to represent the major constituent groups, including business, labor, the professions, and the religious communities. There are no members of the ruling Al-Khalifa family in the Majlis. The Chairman is a Shi'a who formerly was Minister of Transport and Communications. Although the Majlis has no formal legislative power, it may draft legislation for the Cabinet and Prime Minister to approve and is empowered to summon and question Cabinet ministers. According to the Speaker, the Government responded positively to about 85 percent of the Majlis's recommendations by incorporating them into legislation or by taking other appropriate actions. However, since all Majlis meetings are closed, little information is available to verify this claim. In the autumn and winter, 14 prominent religious and secular figures circulated a petition calling for the return of the National Assembly or elections for a new assembly. The petition reportedly has 20,000 signatures but at year's end had not been formally presented to the Government. The Government is aware of the petition but has not responded to the petition's demands or taken any legal action against the drafters. However, the authorities dismissed a senior employee of the Ministry of Public Works, Power and Water from his job after he disobeyed instructions not to circulate the petition on ministry grounds during workhours. 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 would face major obstacles. A number of groups based abroad claim to report on human rights violations, including the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Bahrain in Damascus, the Bahrain Freedom Movement in London, and the Bahrain Human Rights Organization (formerly the Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners in Bahrain) in Copenhagen. These groups are composed of small numbers of emigres and often receive funding from governments hostile to the Al-Khalifa regime. The Government has consistently characterized as baseless charges of torture and denial of access to detainees, but it has not taken practical steps to refute such charges. The Government maintains that it is "not opposed" to visits in good faith by "bona fide human rights organizations," and it has engaged in dialog with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Amnesty International (AI). However, by the end of 1994, there were no substantive visits by ICRC or AI representatives, despite tentative "invitations" extended by the Government. In practice, international human rights organizations have found that operating in Bahrain is difficult. Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status Women Women encounter various forms of discrimination. Islamic law, or Shari'a, governs some of the social and legal rights of men and women. Specific rights vary according to the Shi'a or Sunni interpretation of Islamic law. While both Shi'a and Sunni women have the right to initiate a divorce, religious courts may refuse the request. Occasionally Shi'a women seeking divorce 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; by contrast, Sunni women--in the absence of a direct male heir--inherit only a portion, with the balance divided among male relatives 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 is awarded to the father once the children reach those 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 travel abroad without the permission of a male head of the household. Women are free to work outside the home, drive cars without escorts, and wear the clothing of their choice. Many women wear Western dress outside the home. 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. The 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. Except for a few exempted professions, such as nursing, 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 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 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. There is virtually no public discussion of the issue. No government policies explicitly address violence against women. Women's groups and health care professionals state that spouse abuse is relatively common. 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. Foreign women working as domestic servants sometimes report assault and sexual abuse to local embassies and the police, but most victims are too intimidated to sue their employers. Those who do sue appear to be received sympathetically in the courts. Children The Government has often stated its commitment to the protection of children's human rights and welfare within the country's social and religious framework. The Government honors this commitment through enforcement of its civil and criminal laws and an extensive social welfare network. The 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 and procuring. They deal harshly with violators. In some cases, the authorities reportedly return children arrested for prostitution and other crimes to their families rather than prosecute them, especially for first offenses. The regular courts hear juvenile cases. Some legal experts have called on the Government to establish a juvenile court, but other citizens insist that the protection of children is a religious, not a secular, function and oppose greater government involvement. Independent and quasi-governmental organizations 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. National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities A group of 3,000 to 5,000 mostly Iranian-origin Shi'a, commonly known as "bidoon" (those without), enjoy less than full citizenship. Many are second- or third-generation residents whose ancestors emigrated from Iran. Although they no longer claim Iranian citizenship, the law does not grant them Bahraini citizenship. Without citizenship, they are officially unable to buy land, start businesses, or obtain government loans, although in practice many do. 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. Those bidoon and Bahrainis who speak Farsi, rather than Arabic, as their first language, also face significant social and economic obstacles, including difficulty finding employment. Religious Minorities Although there are notable exceptions, the Sunni Muslim minority enjoys a favored status in Bahrain in comparison with the Shi'a Muslim majority. Sunnis generally receive preference for employment in sensitive government positions and in the managerial ranks of the civil service. Shi'as are not allowed to hold significant posts in the defense and internal security forces. However, they 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, lower paid workers in the private sector tend to be Shi'a because of the larger proportion in that group--and the much larger absolute number--who are poorly educated. Social and municipal services in most Shi'a neighborhoods, particularly in rural villages, are inferior to those 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. People with Disabilities The law protects the rights of people with disabilities, and a variety of governmental, quasi-governmental, 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. Society tends to view people with disabilities as special cases in need of protection rather than as fully functioning members of society. Nonetheless, the law requires the Government to provide vocational training for disabled persons wishing to work. 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 that access be provided to disabled persons. Most large public buildings (including the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense, the University, and schools) are equipped with ramps and other aids which make them accessible to disabled persons. Section 6 Worker Rights a. The Right of Association The Constitution recognizes the right of workers to organize, but trade unions do not exist, and the Government does not encourage their establishment. However, labor regulations allow the formation of elected workers' committees in the larger Bahraini companies. Worker representation is based on a system of Joint Labor-Management Consultative Councils (JCC's) established by ministerial decree. In 1994 four new JCC's were established in the private sector, including one in a major hotel. Twelve preexisting JCC's cover 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 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. The JCC-GCBW system represents close to 70 percent of the island's indigenous industrial workers, although both government and labor representatives readily admit that nonindustrial workers and expatriates are underrepresented by the system. Expatriate workers, who comprise 67 percent of the work force, may participate in JCC elections. No expatriate worker, however, currently sits on the board of the GCBW. The Labor Law neither prohibits nor guarantees the right to strike. The 1974 Security Law forbids strikes that are perceived to be detrimental to the "existing relationship" between employers and employees or to the economic health of the state. No major strikes took place in 1994, but small-scale walkouts and other job actions have occurred, often with favorable results for the workers. The GCBW represents workers at the International Labor Organization and in the Arab Labor Organization, but does not belong to any international trade union organizations. A Bahraini Ministry of Labor official currently chairs the governing body of the Arab Labor Organization. b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively As in the case of strikes, the Labor Law neither prohibits nor guarantees the right to organize and bargain collectively. The GCBW represents workers' interests in tripartite negotiations with management and government representatives. While the JCC's are empowered to discuss labor disputes, organize workers' services, and discuss wages, working conditions, and productivity, the workers have no independent, recognized vehicle to represent their interests in these or other labor issues. JCC's make suggestions to management on some working conditions and limited aspects of wage issues, but management must agree before a proposal can be put in force. Minimum wage rates are established by Council of Ministers' decree. Increases in wages above the minimum, which are subject to discussion in the JCC's, are set by management, with government salaries for comparable work often serving as an informal guide. Private businesses generally follow the Government-JCC lead in establishing their wage rates. There are two export processing zones, but labor law and practice are the same in these zones as in the rest of the country. c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor Forced or compulsory labor is legally prohibited, and the Labor Ministry is charged with enforcing the law. The Ministry enforces the labor laws with periodic inspections and routinely fines violators. New provisions to the Labor Law passed in November 1993 stiffened the maximum fines and mandated imprisonment for certain violations. The press often performs an ombudsman function on labor problems, reporting instances in which private sector employers compelled foreign workers from developing nations to perform work not specified in their contracts and other abuses, as well as Ministry of Labor responses. The press regularly reports the results of labor cases brought before the courts. In September Bahraini courts awarded three Filipino domestic workers back pay and damages in cases against their employers. 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 Bahrain. The Labor Law stipulates that any Bahraini found guilty of illegally sponsoring foreign workers may be sentenced to 6 months in prison for each worker. However, the Government's efforts to deport illegally sponsored workers make these domestic workers reluctant to bring cases of abuse to the courts. The intense fear of deportation almost certainly allows some sponsoring employers to impose abusive conditions, which approach coerced or bonded labor, on their employees. d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children The minimum legal 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. Ministry of Labor inspectors effectively enforce child labor laws 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 $237 (91 dinars) a month. Wages in the private sector are determined on a contract basis. For foreign workers, employers consider benefits such as paid 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. Complaints brought before the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs that cannot be settled through arbitration must, by law, be referred to the labor 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, and the rulings in such cases are often published in the local press. Under the Labor Law, workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to their employment. The Labor Law stipulates significant fines and jail sentences for 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. 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. The local press has reported instances of foreign workers denied full wages, days off, vacations, or other guaranteed conditions of employment, 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 formal complaints. The Labor Law favors Bahrainis and Arab expatriates over other foreign workers in hiring and firing. Because employers include housing and other allowances in their salary scales, expatriate workers legally may be paid lower wages than their Bahraini counterparts, although they sometimes receive the same or greater total compensation because of home leave and holiday pay allowances. Women are entitled to 60 days of paid maternity leave, nursing periods during the day, and up to 1 year of unpaid maternity leave. However women are generally paid less than men. (###)
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