Manama, May 31 (BNA): The Bahrain Ombudsman, the first Independent Ombudsman in the Region, was set up to support the delivery of a commitment to respectful, human rights compliant service delivery by MOI employees, including the police. The Office investigates complaints against employees of the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) and responds also to a great many requests for information and assistance. The Office also has an important role in ensuring that prisoners and detainees are treated in a way that is appropriate and are not subject to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
In his second Annual Report the Ombudsman records that, during the period 1 May 2014 and 30 April 2015, the Office received 908 complaints and requests for assistance. This is an increase of 375% compared with the previous year's total of 242.
Included in the Ombudsman investigations reported outcomes are the fact that 908 of the complaints and requests were received; 19 members of the police were referred to the relevant criminal courts and another 14 were referred to the disciplinary courts.
The Ombudsman reports the efforts that have been made over the last year to develop operational and administrative competence and to further develop investigation capacity. Additional investigators and support staff have been appointed; the Office computerised Complaint Management System (CMS) is now fully operational; serious incident and death in detention investigation methodologies have been further developed and staff have attended an ongoing programme of training and continuous development.
The Ombudsman says that his Office is pleased with the progress made and says also that it was a great honour to this year be awarded the Chaillot Prize for the promotion and protection of Human Rights in the Kingdom of Bahrain. Looking forward, the Ombudsman acknowledges that the Office workload is significant for an organisation just entering its third year and that there is still much to do.
Discussing efforts to make his service accessible, the Ombudsman reports that a significant number of those making complaints or submitting requests for assistance did so by visiting the Ombudsman Office in person. He reports also that boxes, which can only be opened by Ombudsman staff, have now been placed in the main police stations in every governorate in Bahrain. Arrangements for locating boxes in rehabilitation and detention centres will also be progressively rolled out. Meanwhile the Ombudsman has, this year, located a dedicated office at Jau Prison.
More recently, additional resources have also been directed into the investigation of policy, procedural or administrative matters identified during the course of serious incident investigations. Examples of such issues include any allegation that procedures for permitting legal representation were not followed; any allegation that requirements for medical consultations were not properly implemented and any allegation that family contact arrangements were not adequate or timely.
The Report documents some of the important actions that have, over the year, resulted from or been informed by, Ombudsman recommendations. These include: the publication, in July 2014, of the new Law of the Institute of Reform and Rehabilitation which will address many Ombudsman recommendations; the new building programme at Jau Reform and Rehabilitation Centre with significantly upgraded detainee facilities and dedicated space for the delivery of purposeful, rehabilitative activity; new dedicated facilities at Dry Dock Detention Centre to house convicted young persons aged between 15 and 18 away from the general population and action to ensure that all police vehicles should have clearly visible unique identification numbers on the sides.
Over the course of the year, the Ombudsman Office has commenced 11 death investigations, including the death of an inmate murdered in Jau prison. The Ombudsman emphasises the role of his office in ensuring that these investigations identify any important learning that might prevent future tragedies or improve the care of those who are ill or vulnerable. In reporting the death investigations, particular concerns are identified in relation to the number of deaths where the use of non-prescribed medication or illicit substances caused or contributed to the death.
Finally the Ombudsman shares the efforts made over the last year to engage and share information and experience locally and internationally. In Bahrain, this included a programme of visits to educational establishments such as the University of Bahrain and the Applied Science University. A programme of open communication seminars, including ones for the Indian, Pakistani and Pilipino communities in Bahrain, was well attended and provided information about the Ombudsman role, scope and how services can be accessed.
In concluding, the Ombudsman says that the task facing his Office “was always going to be challenging. Delivering a fully impartial, independent service that is evidence based and deals with everyone – those making complaints and those complained about – in a way that is fair and just, requires the highest standards of integrity and decency.
My staff and I take that responsibility very seriously indeed and we will continue to make every effort, moving forward, to further improve and build upon our early efforts to do justice to our important task.”