25 May 2012

(London/Geneva) – UN member states expressed strong concerns over Bahrain’s human rights record during the second cycle of their Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva on Tuesday. States issued a total of 176 recommendations, which is a marked improvement from the 9 recommendations issued by states when Bahrain was the first state chosen for review in the first cycle in 2008. This indicates that states are taking the UPR process more seriously and know they cannot let Bahrain’s human rights abuses pass without censure.

Many member states expressed strong concerns regarding the lack of progress made towards realizing the recommendations made by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI). These recommendations were submitted to the King in November 2011 in a report which confirmed that the regime committed serious human rights violations during their efforts to suppress pro-democracy protests since February 2011. The regime in Bahrain insists that the recommendations in the report have been accepted, but that their implementation will take time; many member states expressed the opinion that this progress is too slow or all together lacking.

The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) called the opening statement by Bahrain’s delegation ‘bemusing’, saying that Bahrain’s Human Rights minister “spoke vaguely yet optimistically of Bahrain’s ‘culture of respect’ for human rights” while avoiding specific mention of last year’s protests beyond references to ‘unfortunate events’. The conflicting narratives of the Bahrain regime and international human rights bodies was in evidence throughout the session and in the way it was reported, with an article by the state-owned Gulf Daily News titled ‘Bahrain Defends Rights Success’.

Four years of failure

Bahrain began by thanking the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, for its technical and financial support for the implementation of the last UPR recommendations, for which it was given $1.4 million and which resulted in the creation of a Government controlled human rights group and a few training sessions. The majority of the previous recommendations were never implemented.

Bahrain did not mention the fact of its failure to implement the 2008 recommendations but stated that it had begun a national human rights education plan to ‘encourage a human rights culture’. Looking at the 2008 recommendations, it can be seen that this was not one of the suggestions at the time. The delegation then attempted to pretend that the creation of the Supreme Council for Women in Bahrain was a way of furthering the role of women in society, when in fact it is used by the regime to give political jobs to female members of the royal family. The women’s rights activist Ghada Jamsheer was banned from appearing on national media in 2007 when she dared to criticize the Supreme Council for Women for not taking any steps towards implementing a family law on citizenship, a recommendation from 2008 which still has not been achieved[1]. The Council for Women is said to be studying the recommendation to remove reservations from the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which was another recommendation from 2008 that is not yet implemented.

Bahrain has not confirmed any visits from UN Special Rapporteurs. The Government has earlier postponed the visit of the Special Rapporteur on Torture days before it was planned to take place. So far no new date for the visit has been set.

The 2011 Uprising

Far from admitting failures in the handling of last year’s crisis, Bahrain’s delegation stated that the events “enabled Bahrain to realize significant human rights reforms and achievements in favor of citizens.”[2]

The delegation then made a number of statements which are entirely misleading as per reports from victims and international NGOs. They said that ‘trials of the aftermath’s events were conducted before the civil courts in compliance with international standards. Each prosecuted person is allowed access to a lawyer. A lawyer is also appointed for each person accused in a criminal case who has no lawyer of his own. The court provides the accused person with all guarantees which enable him/her to defend himself/herself. All court trials are held in public’, and also that ‘charges related to freedom of expression and opinion have been dropped’.

Trial observers have repeatedly questioned the independence of trial judges, the lack of access of prisoners to their lawyers and the necessary provisions to properly defend themselves. Many charges related to freedom of association are ongoing or new, and prominent activists like BCHR’s President Nabeel Rajab are being sentenced for crimes related to freedom of expression.

ISHR noted that “Throughout the review, the Bahraini delegation tried to direct attention to the future when questioned about human rights violations related to the protests, defeating the regularly reiterated commitment of States to a ‘frank and productive dialogue’.”[3]

Recommendations

The Bahrain government engaged to some extent with recommendations which dealt with the rights of women, children and migrant workers, but delegates were dismissive of those relating to freedom of expression, torture, freedom of the media and retrials for civilians convicted in military courts. ISHR referred to a worrying trend of deflecting responsibility from the government for these problems, and seemed to believe that setting up the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry was enough to absolve the regime from responsibility for their actions.

Some of these deflections of responsibility looked disingenuous, as when the delegation dismissed the call from Denmark, the US and other delegations for the release of Abdulhadi Alkhawaja for medical treatment by saying that they could not interfere with the ‘perfect independence’ of the judicial system. The Bahraini delegation reiterated the government line that there are no political prisoners in Bahrain.

Bahrain’s delegation also dismissed criticism of the draft press law, a recommendation from 2008, which Japan claimed would be even more restrictive than the last one. Despite Bahrain’s ambassador to the UK, Ms Alice Samaan stating in November 2011 that state owned BTV should be reformed due to its clear government bias and inflammatory anti-protest rhetoric, independent media in Bahrain are reporting that they face continual threats and obstructions. A recent report in the Financial Times notes that the editor of Bahrain’s only independent newspaper feels that BTV is hardening its anti-protest rhetoric and aiming veiled threats at his newspaper.[4]

Bahrain’s human rights minister even went so far as to claim that ‘there were no restrictions on journalists’ in Bahrain, stating that many had entered Bahrain in the last year. However there are many recorded incidents of foreign journalists being arrested and deported (A team from the UK’s Channel 4 during the Formula 1 event) and even tortured (France 24 journalist Nazeeha Saeed)[5]. Finally the delegation made the startling claim that ‘Since 2002, no journalist has ever been detained’.[6]

The US, Germany, Denmark and others expressed their opinion that the implementation of the BICI recommendations had been insufficient and little progress had been made on the most important provisions. Other Arab states like Egypt and Jordan also called for the full implementation of BICI. However, Bahrain’s participation in the UPR and ‘implementation’ of the previous UPR recommendations was commended by such notable human rights violators as China, Belarus, Saudi Arabia, and other countries of the Arab bloc.

Conclusion

BCHR is pleased at the number and strength of the recommendations to Bahrain in the second cycle of its UPR. Recommendations to accede to OPCAT, the ICC, Optional Protocols to the ICCPR and the Convention on Protection from Enforced Disappearances, as well as the incorporation of the provisions of the ICCPR into domestic law are a positive step from the international community in holding Bahrain to account. Bahrain was also encouraged again to invite the Special Procedures and to abolish the death penalty.

However, BCHR has worryingly learned that Bahrain does not intend to either accept or reject the long list of recommendations proposed. Instead, it will take them all into consideration. This is precisely what Bahrain said to the recommendation to invite special rapporteurs in 2008, which means that Bahrain intends to stall for time, pretend that processes are in place in order to review and make more recommendations, and in the end nothing will be done. Bahrain’s government is institutionally corrupt and those who hold the reins of power will never accept the kind of deep reforms that Western states want to see. Bahrain has become accomplished at putting on a smile and pretending that everything is fine, but Bahrainis have been waiting since 1975 for a government based on a fair and non-discriminatory constitution. By denying its people even the most basic reforms, it risks a loss of faith in the political process to produce change and an increase in violence.

BCHR encourages the international community to keep its attention fixed on the actions of the Bahraini regime. BCHR remains a banned organization in Bahrain with a number of its leading members currently in jail, yet we will remain vigilant in our reporting of the crisis in Bahrain and call on governments and NGOs to stand with us to protect the rights of Bahrainis and bring the weight of public opinion to bear on the Bahraini government.

During the Council Session for the adoption of the Report, the President of the Human Rights Council, Laura Dupuy Lasserre, has boldly and courageously asked Bahrain to commit as a government not to harass or abuse any of the members of the opposition, the NGO members or activists present at the UPR session upon their return to Bahrain. She pointed to several articles that were written by several pro-government media outlets defaming and calling for action against those members and activists from NGOs and political societies attending the UPR and organizing side events. The BCHR would like to take this opportunity to commend and thank the President of the Human Rights Council for her courageous stance.


Contact: For general comments or inquiries about the BCHR, please email: info@ bahrainrights.org.

Further questions may be directed to: Maryam Al-Khawaja, Acting President: maryam.alkhawaja@bahrainrights.org Tel: +4581757959

For documents from the UN relating to the Universal Periodic Review Second Cycle for Bahrain, see: ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR


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[1]Bahrain has initiated a family law for Sunnis, but not for Shias, and touted this as a fulfilment of the 2008 recommendation. [2]A/HRC/WG.6/13/L.4 scribd.com/doc/94549623/W.., p5 [3]UPR of Bahrain: delegation fails to acknowledge ongoing human rights violations, ishr.ch/upr-news/1.. [4]ft.com/cms/s/0/27b.. [5]One woman is being prosecuted for torturing Nazeeha Saeed, though she claims that many more officers took part in her abuse. Out of the thousands of cases of violations recorded by BCHR in the past year, currently 142 people are being investigated according to the Bahraini delegation. Usually investigations of police abuse do not result in convictions. google.com/hostednews/afp [6]A/HRC/WG.6/13/L.4 scribd.com/doc/94549623/W.., p14