Bahrain Center for Human Rights and Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL Fourteenth Session

Joint Written Statement submitted by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), a nongovernmental organization in special consultative status with the Human Rights Council, and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)

Title: Bahrain’s Universal Periodic Review: Broken Promises to Voluntary Commitments

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), a nongovernmental organization in special consultative status with the Human Rights Council; and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) would like to express grave concern over the deteriorating state of human rights in the Kingdom of Bahrain and the failure of the government to Implement the voluntary pledges and recommendations received in the country’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

During Bahrain’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR)[1] in March 2008, there were a number of recommendations and commitments for improving human rights accepted by the Kingdom of Bahrain. Among the major pledges Bahrain has made, whether in the voluntary pledges presented in its National Report[2] or the recommendations during the UPR, are ratifying international and regional human rights conventions, implementing previously signed conventions, cooperating with Special Procedures mechanisms, and addressing particular human rights violations which have arisen in the past. Some areas which are of significant concern are the continued discrimination against the rights of women; the infringement on the rights of religious minorities (mainly Shiites); the violation of the rights of migrant workers; human trafficking; torture; and the breach of the freedom of association. Although there are some positive steps taken by the government of Bahrain to sign international human rights treaties and conventions, nonetheless, there remain a lot of deficiencies – in addition to an obvious lack of desire- to comply with such international conventions and treaties.

1. Women’s rights and the discrimination against women continue to be a pervasive problem in Bahrain. On the international level, Bahrain has maintained reservations to Articles 9, 16, and 29 of CEDAW. Domestically, Sharia law- the country’s legislative law- has important ramifications for the rights of Women in Bahrain. Women in Bahrain have been denied the ability to acquire citizenship for their children in cases of non Bahraini fathers. In almost all fields women are discriminated against despite female dominance of higher education and some fields of occupation.

2. Bahrain has pledged in Item 4C[3] to be more cooperative with Special Procedures and Human Rights Mechanisms. Nonetheless, with the exception of the Special Rapporteur on Human Trafficking in 2007, no Special Rapporteur has been invited to Bahrain. Moreover, while Bahrain has improved its response to inquires of the Special Procedures, many responses have been misleading concerning the government’s abuse of human rights. Furthermore; Bahrain has not met deadlines for presenting reports to human rights treaty bodies such as the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination, as well as the Convention Against Torture.

3. Shia Muslims continue to face a wide variety of discrimination. The Islamic Sharia law has been legislated for the country. However, the Sharia law legislated only covers the Sunni Muslim minority. A separate version of the Sharia law for Shia Muslims or a Unified law for both sects has not been passed.

Furthermore, a Proposal on eliminating discrimination by opposition MPs was blocked by pro-government MPs. The government refused to reveal the discrimination policies and practices against the Shia majority. Discrimination against Shia, women and opposition is rampant in the administrative and legislative bodies. The electoral system is designed to marginalize the Shia majority resulting in disproportionate representation within the government. No measures have been taken to address the CERD concerns regarding the discrimination against Shiite, and no implementation of its recommendations following its review of Bahrain in 2005. Bahrain is also three years late in its submission to the committee.

4. Moreover, Bahrain has taken some administrative measures to address the plight of migrant workers such as the right to transfer to other employers. Still, Bahrain does not recognize non-national workers as migrant workers. Instead these migrants are given temporary worker status. The government has claimed to have canceled the role of Al Kafel or Custodian system, however in reality this system still exists.[4] Additionally the labor law does not go far enough in safeguarding the rights of migrant women domestic workers, while there is no law for domestic workers.[5]

5. The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its first optional protocol have been acceded to by Bahrain. Bahrain also passed anti-trafficking legislation. Nonetheless; the implementation of this has been problematic as demonstrated by selective prosecution of human traffickers. A report of the National Taskforce revealed the symbolic and cosmetic nature of Bahrain’s anti-trafficking campaign.[6]

6. The government’s position in regard to torture is one of complete denial of the practice. The government of Bahrain continues to torture, harass, and prosecute human rights defenders and journalists[7]. In fact torture and inhumane treatment are widespread practices which prevail throughout the period of detention. Testimonies in courts have revealed that torture is routine. The High Penal Court has decided to acquit the defendants of the Karzakan group, after considering the exposure of defendants to torture in custody.[8]

7. Positive measures have been taken in drafting a law on the rights of children by the legislative authority. However, there is much work to be done regarding this issue. Officially under the criminal code of Bahrain, children lose their status of child at the age of 15. According to local and international human rights organizations many children are victims of widespread persecution of protesters and tortured while in custody. [9]Child labor still practiced in Bahrain while the minimum age of marriage is 15 for females and 17 for males falling below international standards.

8. The independent civil society institutions, particularly human rights groups, are persecuted by the government. Some have been banned, their activities are restricted, and their members are harassed.[10] Routine activities require permits which in most cases are denied. Government funding of CSOs is discriminatory and goes to government made organizations (GONGOs) [11] .In contrast, the government created GNGOs, enjoy a significant amount of state patronage. They are represented in the different national bodies of which the National Institution for Human Rights has been established which is not in accordance with the Paris principles.

After an eight year wait, and promises made by the Bahraini government a national institution for human rights was established. However, the appointment of this committee through royal order contradicts the proposed parliamentary bill by MPs to form this institution according to the Paris Principles, as most of its members are non independent and government backed.[12]The list of names of the 20 appointed members show that 5 members hold high ranking positions in ministries and government bodies; another 6 are currently appointed on or were previously appointed in the hand-picked upper house of parliament (the Shura Council); 5 members are members of other human rights organizations that are government-associated or backed; 4 members are close associates to the government which include a journalist, two former officials in the Interior Ministry and Defense Ministry and an academic; the final 3 members are controversial figures associated with different NGOs.

The establishment of this institution failed to consult with community and civil society groups. The composition of membership does not reflect the voices of genuine NGOs responsible for human rights, trade unions, or trends in philosophical or religious thought. In addition, the composition also violates the principle that government officials should participate in the institution in an advisory capacity only. Several of the institution’s members hold positions in the Labour, Health and Education Ministries.

Thus, it is nothing more than a facade to improve the discredited international reputation of the government. It is also an attempt to counter the efforts carried out by genuine and independent human rights defenders in the country. This is not a new policy as other bodies such as the Higher Council for Women (established to contain feminist movements), and the Institute for Political Development (to contain the training of political leaders and parliamentarians) is run directly by the Royal Court.

Thus, The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights call on the government of Bahrain to carry out the following steps as required by internal legal standards and the ratified recommendations of the UPR, and urge all UN member states to call on Bahraini authorities to:

1- Stop the systematic discrimination against the indigenous peoples of Bahrain, the Shias, and comply with the articles of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

2- Legislate new laws to protect the rights of migrant female workers

3- Lift all reservations on international treaties an conventions; especially articles 9,6, and 29 of the CEDAW

4- Comply with the purpose and intent of the Convention Against Torture and refrain from using torture in detention centers.

5- Submit all over due reports to international treaty bodies; such as the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination, as well as the Convention Against Torture.


References: ----------- [1] All recommendations herein are cited from the Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of Bahrain. Available at http://lib.ohchr.org/HRBodies/UPR/Documents/Session1/BH/A_HRC_8_19_Bahrain_E.pdf

[2] All pledges herein are cited from: The National Report Submitted In Accordance With Paragraph 15(A) Of The Annex To Human Rights Council Resolution, March 11, 2008. Available at http://www.upr-info.org/IMG/pdf/Bahrain_State_report_Off_EN_2008.pdf)

[3] Supra 1 at Item 4C

[4] "Slow Reform." Human Rights Watch, 27 Apr. 2010.http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2010/04/28/slow-reform-0

[5]Please see “The Situation of Women Migrant Domestic Workers in Bahrain” , Available at: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cedaw/docs/ngos/CARAMASIABahrain42.pdf

[6] Please see the Bahrain Trafficking-In-Persons (TIP) Report, Available at: http://bahrain.usembassy.gov/news_from_washington/bahrain-trafficking-in-persons-report.html

[7] observatory for the protection of human rights defenders annual report 2009 http://www.omct.org/pdf/Observatory/2009/obs_report09_02_MMO_eng.pdf

Front line http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/2447

[8] "Bahrain: Court Ruling Disregards Torture Evidence." Human Rights Watch. 30 Apr. 2010. http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/ 04/30/bahrain-court-ruling-disregards-torture-evidence

[9] United States Department of Labor, 2007 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor - Bahrain, 27 August 2008, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/48caa45d8.htm

[10] "Trialing the Human Rights Activist Mohammed Al-Maskati in Response to his Human Rights Work ." Bahrain Center for Human Rights. http://bahrainrights.no-ip.info/en/node/3084.

[11] "A Report Presenting the Documents that Reveal the 'GONGOs' Organizations in Bahrain, Their Role, ." Bahrain Center for Human Rights. http://bahrainrights.no-ip.info/en/node/2983

[12] "The King of Bahrain recently formed a governmental body under the name of “the National Human Rights Institution”." Bahrain Center for Human Rights. http://bahrainrights.no-ip.info/en/node/3086