Ius Gentium

University of Baltimore School of Law's Center for International and Comparative Law Fellows discuss international and comparative legal issues


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The Bahrain Blues

Elizabeth Hays

Bahrain, its name meaning “two seas,” is a small island nation located on the eastern coastline of Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf.[i] Dating back to the time of the Romans, Bahrain was an important trading center.[ii] Centuries later, the Al Khalifa tribe rose to power in 1820 and established a treaty relationship with Great Britain.[iii] Bahrain became an independent state in 1971.[iv] Considered a constitutional monarchy with an elected legislative assembly, Bahrain has been ruled by King Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa since 1999.[v] When he first became Head of State in 1999, King Khalifa released all political prisoners and gave women the right to vote.[vi] Lately, however,  the Bahrain government has been accused of major human rights violations and has seen an increase of low level unrest between security forces and protestors.[vii]

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On February 21st 2017, Bahrain’s Council of Representatives voted 31-1 on a proposed amendment to Bahrain’s Constitution that would enable military courts to try civilians.[viii] The Council of Representatives is the elected lower house of Bahrain’s National Assembly and is made up of 40 seats.[ix] Next, the proposed amendment will go to the upper house of Parliament,[x] the Consultative Council, which is made up of 40 members that are appointed by King Khalifa.[xi] Article 120 of Bahrain’s Constitution states that proposed amendments to the Constitution require the approval of 2/3 of both chambers of Parliament and approval of King Hamad.[xii] If approved there and by King Khalifa, the amendment is implemented and could have detrimental effects on the Bahraini people.[xiii]

Currently, Article 105(b) of Bahrain’s 2002 Constitution states that “the jurisdiction of military courts shall be confined to military offenses committed by members of the Defense Force, the National Guard, and the Security Forces.”[xiv] If approved, this bill effectively removes limitations on military courts by expanding their jurisdiction to civilians[xv] This change would further empower security forces amid a crackdown on dissent at a level not seen since the 2011 Arab Spring protests.[xvi] Yet, Brig. Gen. Yussef Rashid Flaifel, head of the country’s military courts, said the change is necessary to fight rampant terrorism in the nation.[xvii] The explanatory note on the proposed amendment confirms this intent by citing that the spread of terrorism in the region and the military courts flexibility and speed in investigations and sentencing justifies removing the restriction.[xviii]

Despite the national security concern, activists are outraged over this potential amendment.[xix] “The Bahraini king is effectively creating a police state with this de facto marital law” said Sayed Alwadaei, the director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy.[xx] The last time military courts prosecuted civilians was in 2011 in state of emergency in Bahrain. During that three-month time frame, the courts convicted approximately 300 people of political crimes in prosecutions designed to punish those in the opposition and to deter political opposition [xxi] Doctors, nurses, and the Bahrain 13 (a group of political leaders and human rights defenders sentenced to between five years and life imprisonment) were among the 300 convicted.[xxii] In June and August 2011, King Hamad transferred these cases to civilian courts, which upheld the results of the convictions, which were based on exercising basic rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.[xxiii]

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Furthermore, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (“BICI”), an international panel appointed by the King to investigate abuses, determined that the fundamental principles of a fair trial, including prompt and full access to legal counsel and inadmissibility of coerced testimony, were not respected in the courts.[xxiv] This has been an ongoing trend as civilian criminal and military Bahraini courts have been a part of the subpar fair trial standards in the wake of political dissent.

For instance, Bahrain civilian courts have routinely convicted defendant’s purported crimes that involved merely a defendant’s expression of political views.[xxv] To justify sentencing prominent opposition activists to long prison terms, a civilian court found that while unlawful means, such as the use of force, must be employed to qualify an act of terrorism, the force need not necessarily be military because terrorism can be the result of moral pressure.[xxvi] The increase of more speed and flexibility into an already unjust justice system in Bahrain is the wrong direction to go in.[xxvii]

Besides the clear and obvious unfairness, international human rights bodies have determined that trials of civilians before military tribunals violate the right to be tried by a completely independent and impartial tribunal.[xxviii] Civilians should be tried by military courts only under exceptional circumstances and only under conditions that genuinely afford the full due process.[xxix] Leading Bahraini legal experts expressed fear that civilians will be prosecuted and denied fair trials and access to lawyers.[xxx]

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This prediction stems from the execution of three torture victims in January 2017 after civilian criminal courts convicted them and sentenced them to death under a broad anti-terror law.[xxxi] Judges dismissed the credible reports of torture and denied defendants access to legal counsel. UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings investigated and determined that executions were, in fact, extrajudicial.[xxxii] Also in January 2017, the king reinstated the Bahrain National Security Agency’s (“NSA”) power to arrest. NSA is Bahrain’s intelligence service, that was involved in a systematic arbitrary detention and torture in 2011, resulting in death of at least one detainee.[xxxiii] The re-empowerment of the NSA began exercising its renewed power in February 2017 with the arrest of medical professional for providing treatment to a protestor.[xxxiv]

The unconditional support provided by its allies in London and Washington has influenced and increased these dictatorial efforts, which ultimately harms the people of Bahrain.[xxxv] With important allies like United States ignoring such human rights violations and preparing to sell arms without reform conditions, the problem will only worsen without a strong international censure of this move. This is exactly why President Trump’s deal to approve a sale of fighter planes to Bahrain without any conditions is concerning.[xxxvi] Instead of giving aid to countries unconditionally, the United States should be using that leverage to promote basic human rights. It is even more necessary to promote this for allies, such as Bahrain, in order to continue international progress and ensure human rights are respected worldwide.

Elizabeth Hays is a third year law student at the University of Baltimore School of Law. She completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Baltimore, where she majored in Jurisprudence. Her legal interests include administrative law, national security law, and maritime law. Elizabeth has previously interned with the U.S. Army JAG Corps and the U.S. Coast Guard JAG Corps. Additionally, she participated in the winter study abroad program in Curaçao in 2015/16. She is currently the Co-President of University of Baltimore Students for Public Interest (UBSPI) and a Staff Editor for University of Baltimore Law Forum.

[i] Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights, NGOs to Bahrain: Do Not Allow Military Courts to Judge Civilians, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, Feb. 6, 2017.

[ii] Bahrain, Word Atlas, (2017).

[iii] Id.

[iv] Id.

[v] Bahrain Country Profile, BBC News, Sept. 1, 2017.

[vi] Bahrain, World Atlas, (2017).

[vii] Jon Gambrell, Bahrain Lawmakers Approve Military Trials for Civilians, Yahoo News, Feb. 21, 2017.

[viii] Bahrain: proposed military trials of civilians, Human Rights Watch, Feb. 23, 2017.

[ix] Jon Gambrell, Bahrain Lawmakers Approve Military Trials for Civilians, Yahoo News, Feb. 21, 2017.

[x] Bahrain: proposed military trials of civilians, Human Rights Watch, Feb. 23, 2017.

[xi] Jon Gambrell, Bahrain Lawmakers Approve Military Trials for Civilians, Yahoo News, Feb. 21, 2017.

[xii] Bahrain: proposed military trials of civilians, Human Rights Watch, Feb. 23, 2017.

[xiii] Id.

[xiv] Id.

[xv] Jon Gambrell, Bahrain Lawmakers Approve Military Trials for Civilians, Yahoo News, Feb. 21, 2017.

[xvi] Id.

[xvii] Id.

[xviii] Bahrain: proposed military trials of civilians, Human Rights Watch, Feb. 23, 2017.

[xix] Jon Gambrell, Bahrain Lawmakers Approve Military Trials for Civilians, Yahoo News, Feb. 21, 2017.

[xx] Id.

[xxi] Bahrain: proposed military trials of civilians, Human Rights Watch, Feb. 23, 2017.

[xxii] Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights, Bahrain: Constitutional Amendment Frees Military Courts to Try Civilians, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, Feb. 21, 2017.

[xxiii] Bahrain: proposed military trials of civilians, Human Rights Watch, Feb. 23, 2017.

[xxiv] Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, Bahrain: Constitutional Amendment Frees Military Courts to Try Civilians, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, Feb. 21, 2017.

[xxv] Bahrain: proposed military trials of civilians, Human Rights Watch, Feb. 23, 2017.

[xxvi] Id.

[xxvii] Id.

[xxviii] Id.

[xxix] Id.

[xxx] Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, Bahrain: Constitutional Amendment Frees Military Courts to Try Civilians, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, Feb. 21, 2017.

[xxxi] Id.

[xxxii] Id.

[xxxiii] Id.

[xxxiv] Id.

[xxxv] Id.

[xxxvi] Josh Rogin, The Trump’s team deal with Bahrain could ignore its human rights abuses, The Washington Post, Feb. 19, 2017.

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From the Age of Big Brother, [TITLE CONTENT CENSORED (and that *might* not be a terrible thing…)], Greetings!

Margie Beltran

 

 

The mystique of a dystopian society has maintained a consistent intrigue across the history of mankind.  The imagination of man runs wild when he thinks about the “what ifs” and how they would affect the way we live.

The Time Machine; 1984; Brave New World; Planet of the Apes; The Giver; The Hunger Games; The Divergent Series; and, of course, that paramount episode of The Twilight Zone when all that poor man wanted to do was read his books – he becomes the last man on Earth and can finally sit on the remains of the post-apocalyptic library, reading for the rest of his days. And then, he accidentally steps on his glasses and yells, “That’s not fair, there was time now!”

We have seen the same theme time and again: mankind begins to self-destruct and in the bout of chaos and anarchy, a powerful leader/governing body rises from the ruins and reshapes society into a peaceful and balanced ecosystem.  Beautiful, no? So, what’s the catch? To have order and peace, one must forego the right to freedom and privacy.

My friends, hold on to your Mockingjay pins, for the dawning of the dystopian society may be upon us.

On November 29, 2016, The Investigatory Powers Act (IPA) was passed in the UK set to be enforced in January 2017.[i]  Not the first of its kind among the EU Member States, the IPA was satirically dubbed the “Snooper’s Charter” by those who opposed it. The Act grants law enforcement easier access to the private communications of UK citizens.[ii]  Some of the major provisions[iii] include, but are not limited to:

  1. Power to issue warrants for intrusive surveillance granted to ministers.
  2. Easier access for the government to retain browser history from popular websites.
  3. Ability to collect bulk communications data and to hack suspect’s electronic devices.

Over the past few years, terrorist attacks have become a consistent and troubling threat throughout Europe.[iv]  Although aware of the threat posed by terrorism, many within the EU are concerned since allowing the government into their phones and personal computers was not quite what many had in mind, as far protective measures go.[v]  Amnesty International (AI) criticized the UK, a nation considered to be a fierce protector of human rights, for setting such an example to other EU-Member States.[vi] According to AI, the Snooper’s Charter is “a modern twist of the Orwellian ‘thought crime,’ [in which] people can now be prosecuted for actions that have extremely tenuous links to actual criminal behavior.”[vii]

I sympathize and empathize with this issue under two lenses: the first, my rose-colored-goggles human rights activist perspective, in which I feel the rights of the people should be staunchly protected and the foremost concern of the governing body to any nation because it is what is just and humane; and the second, as a young American adult who remembers being a nine-year old, enveloped with gut-wrenching fear for reasons I could not even comprehend, living just minutes from Washington D.C. on September 11, 2001, and seeing the glazed-over eyes and clenched jaws of my peers whose parents worked downtown trying to hold back their tears in school for weeks following the attack.

The day the government is definitively tracking every communication we send and receive will be a disturbing one for sure.  Even if they have nothing to hide, many people are bothered knowing a third party is always reading, analyzing, and judging everything they type or say.

While freedom of speech is of the utmost importance, I continually find myself reverting to the lenses of nine-year old me.  If the ones I love are at risk of being hurt, I would give up my right to privacy within the confines of this act.  Maybe not permanently – and that is a risk that holds high with a law challenging a fundamental freedom – but at least until this state of emergency in Europe eases.

Think about The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act (far more commonly known as The USA PATRIOT Act) enacted during the George W. Bush Administration in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks which enabled law enforcement to detect and prevent terrorism attacks by expanding the scope of their investigatory practices.[viii]  The USA PATRIOT Act passed in Congress across the bipartisan margins.[ix]  In the Senate, the act passed with nearly a unanimous at a 98-1 vote, while the House voted in favor with a 357-66 vote.[x]

Regarding terrorist attacks, the US has not faced an attack of the magnitude of 9/11 since the act was decreed.  While the USA PATRIOT Act has its flaws, as most laws do, the original purpose for introducing the bill has generally been satisfied.  The UK appears as if the IPA has received the same treatment by Parliament.[xi]  According to London-based journalist, Ewen MacAskill, the bill passed “with barely a whimper.”[xii]  Further, he said the marginal resistance to the bill did not come from outside of the parliament’s four walls, indicating the people of the UK and Parliament are both in support of the IPA.[xiii]  If the citizens of the UK are not complaining about the new law and choosing to exercise their right of privacy by foregoing their right of privacy, then so be it.  They have the right to invite Big Brother into their lives.

To the future or to the past, to a time when thought is free, when men are different from one another and do not live alone – to a time when truth exists and what is done cannot be undone…from the age of Big Brother – greetings!” – George Orwell, 1984[xiv]

 

Margery Beltran is a third year law student at the University of Baltimore School of Law (Candidate for J.D., May 2017).  She holds a Bachelor of Science in Family Science with a minor in Psychology from Towson University.  Her interests include mental health and disability law and international alternative dispute resolution. Margie currently serves as the Volume V Comments Editor for the University of Baltimore’s Journal of International Law. She participated in the 2016 Summer Abroad Program at the University of Aberdeen School of Law in Aberdeen, Scotland.  She is currently an intern in Washington D.C. for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Alternative Dispute Resolution Division.

[i] http://www.natlawreview.com/article/uk-investigatory-powers-act-2016-how-to-prepare-digital-age

[ii] Id.

[iii] Id.

[iv] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jan/17/uk-counter-terror-laws-most-orwellian-in-europe-says-amnesty

[v] Id.

[vi] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2017/01/eu-orwellian-counter-terrorism-laws-stripping-rights-under-guise-of-defending-them/

[vii] Id.

[viii] https://www.justice.gov/archive/ll/highlights.htm

[ix] Id.

[x] Id.

[xi] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/19/extreme-surveillance-becomes-uk-law-with-barely-a-whimper

[xii] Id.

[xiii] Id.

[xiv] 1984 by George Orwell