Letter to His Majesty Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, King of Bahrain

31 March 2003

His Majesty Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa Office of His Majesty the King Rifa’a Palace Kingdom of Bahrain

Your Majesty,

Human Rights Watch is writing to Your Majesty to recommend respectfully that the Kingdom of Bahrain commence the appropriate steps to consider and then ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. We have also written to the other five member governments of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, requesting that they also begin the process of ratification or accession to this important new international treaty.

The Convention, which the United Nations General Assembly adopted on December 18, 1990, will enter into force on July 1, 2003. It establishes basic principles for the treatment of migrant workers and their families, and provides international standards to protect the rights of migrants in countries of origin, transit, and destination.

The Kingdom of Bahrain is home to a significant number of migrants. The Central Statistics Organization estimated the kingdom’s 2001 population at 716,150 people, of whom it said non-Bahrainis numbered 289,969, or 40.4 percent of the total. These statistics indicate an increase in the number and percent of foreigners since the 1991 census, when non-Bahraini comprised 36.4 percent of the population, or 184,925 people. The organization also reported that the number of workers in the labor force in 2001 was 332,521, with foreigners accounting for 64 percent, or 213,007 people.

It is in view of these statistics – and the large number of migrant workers in other Cooperation Council states – that Human Rights Watch urges Your Majesty and other leaders to consider becoming a party to the migrant rights treaty. Such a step would send an unmistakably positive signal that the six regional governments wish to take a lead role internationally to ensure the rights of often-vulnerable migrant men and women. Among other Arab states, Egypt and Morocco have acceded to and ratified the Convention, respectively, as of this writing.

The Convention guarantees the full range of internationally recognized human rights to all migrant workers and their families. These rights – enumerated in Part III of the treaty -- include the right to life, the right to not be subjected to torture or other forms of ill-treatment, the right to due-process of law, and the right to freedom of movement, expression, and religion. With respect to freedom of association, the Convention provides for the right of migrants “to form associations and trade unions in the State of employment for the promotion and protection of their economic, social, cultural and other interests,” in article 40(1). The right to join freely such groups and participate in their meetings and other activities is established in article 26. On this subject, Human Rights Watch notes with interest that the Kingdom of Bahrain promulgated the Workers Trade Union Law in September 2002.

The Convention prohibits private and public actions that target and harm migrants. Article 16(2) guarantees to migrants and their families “effective protection by the State against violence, physical injury, threats and intimidation, whether by public officials or by private individuals, groups or institutions.” Article 21 prohibits the unauthorized confiscation of any migrant’s documents: “It shall be unlawful for anyone, other than a public official duly authorized by law, to confiscate, destroy or attempt to destroy identity documents, documents authorizing entry to or stay, residence or establishment in the national territory or work permits. No authorized confiscation of such documents shall take place without delivery of a detailed receipt. In no case shall it be permitted to destroy the passport or equivalent document of a migrant worker or a member of his or her family.”

Significantly, the Convention recognizes the serious worldwide problem of migrants without legal status whose situations are thus “irregular,” and seeks to promote lawful conditions of employment for all migrants. It stipulates that migrant workers and members of their families may not “be held in slavery or servitude” or “required to perform forced or compulsory labor,” pursuant to articles 11(1) and 11(2), respectively. The treaty seeks to eliminate the inherent exploitation and unfair competition that trafficking in persons represents. Article 68(1) calls for cooperation among States parties to prevent and eliminate such “illegal or clandestine movements and employment,” and requires states to undertake the following measures:

· prevent the dissemination of misleading information relating to emigration and immigration; · detect and eradicate illegal or clandestine movements of migrant workers and members of their families; · impose effective sanctions on persons, groups or entities which organize, operate or assist in organizing or operating such movements; · impose effective sanctions on persons, groups or entities which use violence, threats or intimidation against migrant workers or members of their families in “irregular” situations; and · impose sanctions on employers of workers in “irregular” situations, whenever appropriate.

The protections of the Convention cover the migration process of each individual in its entirety – from pre-departure preparations to eventual return to the state of origin -- and do not single out only those states that host and employ migrants. The Convention also grants broad latitude to states to maintain their own policies with respect to the use of migrant workers in their labor forces. For example, it explicitly recognizes “the right of each State Party to establish the criteria governing admission of migrant workers and members of their families” (article 79), and specifies that states may restrict the access of migrants “to limited categories of employment, functions, services or activities where this is necessary in the interests of this State and provided for by national legislation,” pursuant to article 52(2)(a). In addition, article 34 of the Convention requires migrant workers and members of their families “to comply with the laws and regulations of any State of transit and the State of employment,” and “to respect the cultural identity of the inhabitants of such States.”

In closing, Human Rights Watch takes note that the Kingdom of Bahrain is a state party to the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention against Torture, and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, and has acceded to various international labor conventions. We hope that Your Majesty will conclude that the guarantees and protections in the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families merit support from all members of the international community.

We look forward to timely initiatives in Kingdom of Bahrain to become a party to this treaty, which under the kingdom’s constitution would enable its provisions to acquire the force of law.

We thank Your Majesty in advance for your attention to and consideration of this important matter. Human Rights Watch would welcome the opportunity to discuss our concerns with relevant government officials in the near future.


Hanny Megally Executive Director Middle East and North Africa Division

Cc: His Highness Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, Prime Minister His Excellency Dr. Majid bin Muhsen al-Alawi, Minister of Labor and Social Affairs