Human Rights Day 2007 - Overview on Main Human Rights Concerns in Bahrain
Overview on Main Human Rights Concerns in Bahrain Bahrain Centre for Human Rights 10 December 2007
Content: • Political Background and Main Concerns • Sectarian Discrimination: Main Source of Conflict, Violations and Unrest • "Al Bander-Gate": Maintaining Sectarian Division and Penetrating NGO’s • Failure of the National Assembly to Promote Human Rights - Restrictive Laws • Women Rights and Female Migrant Domestic Workers • Arbitrary Detention and Unfair Trials • The BCHR: An Intensive Case Study • Follow-up to Recommendations Adopted by Treaty Bodies and Special Procedures on Bahrain • Other Issues and References
Political Background and Main Concerns:
“The Al-Khalifa extended family has ruled the country since the late 18th century and continues to dominate all facets of society and government. The King, Sheikh Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa, governs the country with the assistance of his uncle, the Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa Al-Khalifa; his son, the Crown Prince Salman Bin Hamad; and an appointed cabinet of ministers” ..
“Bahrain is a monarchy with a population of approximately 725,000, approximately 430,000 of whom are citizens. Members of the Al Khalifa royal family hold about half of the cabinet positions, including all strategic ministries. In 2002 the government adopted the current constitution that reinstated a legislative body with one elected chamber, the Council of Representatives (COR), and one appointed chamber, the Shura Council..
“The constitution provides that the king is the head of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government. Citizens are not able to change the government and experienced restrictions on civil liberties such as the freedoms of press, speech, assembly, association, and some religious practices. Though citizens were not able to form political parties, the law authorized registered political societies to run candidates and participate in other political activities. Reported judicial abuses included lack of judicial independence and allegations of corruption.
“Occurrences of domestic violence against women and children were common, as well as discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, sect, and ethnicity. Trafficking in persons and restrictions on the rights of expatriate workers remained problems. The Shi'a majority population was routinely discriminated against in leadership positions” .
Sectarian Discrimination: Main Source of Conflict, Violations and Unrest:
“A little over four years after Sheikh Hamad bin `Isa al-Khalifa announced a sweeping reform plan, Bahrain's fragile liberal experiment is poised to stall, or, worse, unravel. The overlap of political and social conflict with sectarian tensions makes a combustible mix. If steps are not urgently taken to address the grievances of the large and marginalized Shiite community -- as much as 70 per cent of the population -- Bahrain, which is often touted as a model of Arab reform, could be in for dangerous times. The U.S., which has extolled Bahrain's reforms and is the country's principal benefactor, should moderate its praise, urge the government to see through what it started in 2001 and find ways of raising the delicate issue of sectarian discrimination.
“Bahrain's problems go beyond sectarian discrimination to include protracted conflict between government and opposition, mounting unemployment, high rates of poverty, and a rising cost of living: establishing a stable political system requires altering relations between government and citizens as a whole.
“The government recently has taken steps to repair what was once a dysfunctional autocracy. Still, it so far has failed in two important respects. First, reform has been uneven, leading many domestic critics to view it as an attempt less to establish a new political contract between rulers and ruled than for the royal family to formalize and institutionalize its grip on power. Secondly, it has done virtually nothing to tackle sectarian discrimination and tensions. Indeed, the latter have been exacerbated, as the majority Shiite community feels increasingly politically marginalized and socially disadvantaged.
“Of greatest concern today are increasingly aggressive moves by the government, which resorts more and more to police tactics and authoritarian measures to maintain order. At the same time, the moderate Shiite leadership's control over more confrontational elements within its community is showing signs of wear. While some opposition members advocate reconciliation, others are pushing for a more dramatic showdown. As this dangerous dynamic sets in, government and opposition moderates may lose their tenuous hold on the situation. Both need to act quickly to prevent this from happening”
"Al Bander-Gate": Maintaining Sectarian Division and Penetrating NGO’s
According to a report released by Dr. Salah Al Bandar, a Strategic Planning’s Chancellor at the Council of Ministers Affairs, a secret web lead by a high government official, who is a member of the royal family, has been operating in Bahrain with an aim to manipulate the results of elections, maintain sectarian distrust and division, and to ensure that Bahrain's Shias remain oppressed and disenfranchised. As a result of leaking the information, Dr Al Bander was deported to the United Kingdom on September 13th as he is a British citizen. BCHR: "Al Bander-Gate": A Political Scandal In Bahrain
The 216-page report, which was distributed by the Gulf Centre for Democratic Development (GCDD), contains almost 200 pages of cheques, receipts, letters, bank statements and accounts sheets to support this claim. The full 216-page report (in Arabic) can be downloaded from here (31MB).
On October 13th, 2006, a hundred prominent figures and activists submitted a petition to the king expressing their enormous shock regarding the dangerous sectarian plan and the existence of a secret organization that was revealed by the published report.
Failure of the National Assembly to Promote Human Rights
Taking advantage of the overfilling positive vote on the National Charter in 2001, the newly pronounced king adopted the current 2002 controversial constitution that reinstated a National Assembly with one elected chamber of 40 members, the Council of Representatives (COR), and one appointed chamber of 40 members, the Shura Council.
As a popular protest against the failure of the reinstated semi-democracy, 82,000 citizens (more than 40% of the electoral block) signed a petition to the United Nation to call for support against the 2002 constitution and to give the people of Bahrain the right to have a decision in the political system of the state.
Manipulation of elections constituencies has secured a majority loyal to the government in the Council of Representatives. Furthermore, the government effectively uses the defect in the mechanism and authorities of the Representative Council in order to subjugate or disable the National Assembly.
On top of this all, the fundamental factor in imposing government power over the National Assembly remains, and that is in the governments ability to use the appointed Shura Council, which shares the legislative authority with the elected members. Shura members proved during the last period their absolute obedience to the government as far as passing bills against freedoms and human rights or in the support of governmental repressive actions.
The National Assembly, since December 2002, has ratified laws that were initiated by the Government and which restrict basic freedoms and punish citizens for exercising their fundamental rights. Among these laws were: the Law on Political Societies that places political groups under the mercy of the government, the Law to Combat Terrorism, that imposes the death penalty and harsh punishments against actions that do not necessary imply the use of violence; the Law to Deprive Citizens of their Civil and Political Rights, this allow for selectively depriving opposition figures and human rights activists from their right to vote or to run for election by fabricating judicial charges in cases related to their opinions and peaceful activities.
The National Assembly has also failed to amend the restrictive laws that were pronounced prior to its existence, such as: the 1974 Penal Code which consists of stringent clauses that facilitate, during the last three decades, the practice of excessive human rights violations that resulted in the loss of tens of life’s and left thousands of victims of arbitrary imprisonments, tortures and forcible exile; the 1989 Law on Societies which hindered the establishment and activities of many societies and was used to close the Bahrain Center of Human Rights; the 2002 Law on the Press, that was used during the work of house of representatives against journalists, activists and internet websites and Law 56 of 2002 that grants impunity to those responsible for committing the aforementioned violations and who have remain in their high and sensitive security and administrative positions.
The National Assembly, instead of monitoring and investigating Government practices, has surrendered to Governmental influence. It had remained silent or supported the government by published statements justifying the excessive use of force against peaceful activities and against hundreds of activists, journalists and human rights defenders who were subjected to physical assault, defamation, arbitrary detention and unfair trials.
Due to government influence, the Council of Representatives has failed to form a Human Rights Committee. Furthermore, it has also failed to approve any bills initiated by its members that would contribute to improving people’s living standards, the questioning of any Ministers who were accused of corruption despite evidences provided by interrogatory committees as in the case of General Organization for Social Insurances (GOSI) and Retirement. The Majority of members refused to pronounce a vote of no confidence against the aforementioned Ministers.
Women Rights and Female Migrant Domestic Workers
Some of the pressing problems facing women in Bahrain are that: • women continue to be discriminated against in the workplace and denied senior posts in both the private and public sectors family law in Bahrain is unmodified and governed by all-male religious Sharia courts -- influential sections of the religious establishment oppose a codified family law, while the government now seems uninterested in pursuing the matter (see Women's Petition Committee statement, 1 Nov 2006 • ); the Sharia courts and Public Prosecution have resorted to threatening activists who dare to criticize its anti-women policies (see BCHR Ref: 05060301 and Ref: 07011401 • children and spouses of Bahraini women married to non-Bahraini men are not entitled to citizenship; • sexual harassment and domestic abuse against women is commonplace, with very little institutional support for victims -- spousal rape is not considered a crime according to Bahraini law.
The BCHR feels, however, that special attention must be given to the plight of female migrant domestic workers, as they have been by and large ignored and excluded from the discourse on women's rights in Bahrain. In Bahrain, migrant workers employed as domestic helpers are not protected by the country's labor law.
Upon arriving to the country they are subjected to mandatory health testing related to sexual and reproductive health without consent or counseling. Problems faced by these women include long (or undefined) working hours, low salaries and late payment of salaries, poor and repressive living conditions and psychological, physical and sexual abuse.
Extreme local cases have seen women being trafficked into prostitution. However, few are able or willing to seek legal redress - many because they are unaware of their rights, but also because they do not have access to the institutions where they could seek help. In addition, because domestic helpers are required by law to live with their sponsor (employer), leaving the home to file a court case has lead to the jailing of abuse victims in the past.
Read more: Female domestic workers living under the Kafala system in GCC states , CARAM / BCHR: State of health of Migrant 2007- Mandatory testing in Bahrain and
Arbitrary Detention and Unfair Trials
Since 2004, Bahrain has witnessed an extreme decline in public freedoms, specially in regards to freedom of expression and opinion and the freedom of assembly. In 2006 alone, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights has documented and provided legal support. for seventy one detainees including human rights defenders, political activists and minors who were subjected to severe beatings and arbitrary detention, (some detained for extended periods without charges). While some were tried in criminal courts for charges related to practicing expression of opinion, or participating in protests and gatherings which were related to human rights issues but considered unauthorized. (Please Find Attached a full report on the cases : BCHR: Arbitrary detention and unfair trials in Bahrain during 2006
Socio-economic background of the unrest: Use of restrictive laws and measures leads to increased unrest
The BCHR: An Intensive Case Study
According to official documents submitted to the Bahraini courts, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights was closed on November 2004 for three reasons:
Breaching Article 18 of the Law of 1989 on Societies, which forbids interference in politics, by organizing a seminar and publishing a report on Discrimination and Favoritism in Bahrain: addressed to the 66th session of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), March 2005
Breaching Article 18 of the Law of 1989 on Societies by organizing a seminar and publishing a report on poverty and corruption titled:
• Interference in the affairs of a neighboring country: by staging an online petition to campaign for political rights for women in Kuwait.
Since its official closure in 2004, the BCHR has become more active and expanded its activities specially in economic social rights and migrant workers rights. Its work has expanded internally by playing a major role in supporting the work of more than 12 grass root groups on different human rights issues such as unemployment, housing, victims of torture and women petition committee. The BCHR has taken a leading role in organizing workshops on transitional justice and the creation of the unofficial Coalition for Truth, Equity and Reconciliation.
Externally, since its closure, the BCHR submitted parallel reports and attended the discussion of Bahrains official reports to the UN Committee of Elimination of Racial Discriminations and the Committee Against Torture. In 2006/2007 the BCHR became a member of the FIDH, IFEX and KARAM ASIA among other regional and international networks and organizations.
In response to the aforementioned activities, members of the BCHR, including President and Vice-President have been subjected to harassment, physical assaults, arbitrary detention, unfair trial and defaming campaigns internally and externally.
For more information please refer to: (
Follow-up to Recommendations Adopted by Treaty Bodies and Special Procedures on Bahrain
The BCHR highly recommended the follow-up to recommendations adopted by the following treaty bodies:
• Shadow report to the UN Committee Against Torture • Conclusions and recommendations of the Committee against Torture: Bahrain • Concluding observations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination : Bahrain • BCHR: The UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination Committee Criticizes Bahrain
Other Issues and References:
• BCHR JOINT ACTION: 52 organizations call on Bahrain government to stop clamping down on freedom of expression • AL Khawaja At the Meeting of Human Rights Council: Corruption and inadequate Housing in Bahrain • Bahrain: a Heaven for Investors and the Wealthy ,while workers suffer poverty and discrimination -------------------------------------------------------
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2004, Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, February 28, 2005 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2006, Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, March 6, 2007 Bahrain's Sectarian Challenge, the International Crisis Group, Middle East Report N°40, 6 May 2005 http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=3404&l=1 Arbitrary detention and unfair trials in Bahrain during 2006, This Report is released by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, November 2007