Guest piece by Gerry Liston of GLAN: Universal jurisdiction invoked before Dublin District Court in Bahrain torture case

Gerry Liston is a Legal Officer with the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN).

On September 15th of this year, Bahraini national Jaafar Alhasabi made an application in the Criminal Courts of Justice before District Court Judge Gráinne O’Neill for a summons requiring the attendance before the court of the Attorney General of Bahrain, Ali Bin Fadhul Al Buainain. Al Buainain was due to visit Dublin for the annual conference of the International Association of Prosecutors in his capacity as Vice-President of that organisation. The conference, which was hosted by Claire Loftus, the Director of Public Prosecutions, took place between the 11th to the 15th of September.

In his ‘sworn information’, upon which his application was grounded, Mr Alhasabi accused Al Buainain of being liable, inter alia, as an aider and abettor of his torture in late 2010. Under the Criminal Justice (United Nations Convention Against Torture) Act, 2000, Irish courts are vested with universal jurisdiction over acts of torture committed by public officials and, by the application of the principles of common law accessory liability, this jurisdiction extends to persons who have aided or abetted the commission of such an act.

Mr Alhasabi provided evidence to the court of the torture he endured after being arrested at Bahrain International Airport upon his return to Bahrain in 2010. By that time Mr Alhasabi had already secured asylum in the UK, having been tortured in 1995 for his involvement in political activism. He returned to Bahrain in 2010 to visit family under the belief that it was by then safe enough for him to do so.

The court heard that over the course of the first two months of the detention which followed his arrest in 2010, he was he was subjected to severe torture. This included being being beaten to the point of being knocked unconscious on several occasions, being sexually assaulted, being subjected to electric shocks and being deprived of sleep for several days at a time. All of this was done to secure from him a “confession” that he was engaged in subversive activity.

An affidavit of Joshua Colangelo-Bryan, a New York-based attorney and author of several Human Rights Watch reports on Bahrain, was also opened to the court. This affidavit described how, as head of Bahrain’s Office of the Public Prosecutor, Al Buainain was ultimately responsible for authorising the majority of Mr Alhasabi’s detention. It further provided evidence of Al Buainain’s direct involvement in Mr Alhasabi’s case by reference to several public statements made by him.

Mr Colangelo-Bryan also outlined in his affidavit how he had met personally with Al Buainain one year prior to the arrest of Mr Alhasabi and told him at that meeting of the routine occurrence of torture in the detention centres in which Mr Alhasabi was subsequently detained. And he further referred to a joint urgent appeal sent by several UN Special Rapporteurs to the Government of Bahrain soon after Alhasabi’s arrest which expressed concern for the physical and psychological integrity of Mr Alhasabi and those arrested with him.

Finally, a translation of an order extending the detention of Mr Alhasabi for a sixty day period during which he was subjected to some of his most extreme abuse was produced to the court. The order expressly stated that it was made on the instruction of the Attorney General himself. It was also dated as having been issued soon after the communications were made by the UN Rapporteurs to the Government of Bahrain.

To the extreme disappointment of Mr Alhasabi, Judge O’Neill refused to issue the summons sought by him. She stated that he had not established a “sufficient nexus” between his torture and the conduct of Al Buainain. The decision appears to conflict with Ireland’s obligations under the Convention Against Torture which requires that the State either prosecute or extradite individuals who are complicit in torture and who set foot on Irish territory.

The bringing of this action was coordinated by the Global Legal Action Network (‘GLAN’) working in partnership with the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (‘ECCHR’) in Berlin. GLAN and the ECCHR are now exploring the possibility of bringing the decision of Judge O’Neill to the attention of the UN Committee Against Torture.

GLAN would like to thank Michael Finucane and David Thompson of Michael Finucane Solicitors and Giollaíosa Ó Lideadha SC and James McCullough BL, who represented Jaafar Alhasabi before the District Court, for giving so generously of their time and expertise in relation to this case.




Sustaining Partners