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BCHR at HRC32: Comparing Technical Cooperation Programs in Bahrain

On Tuesday 14 June 2016, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), in conjunction with the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), and the European Centre for Democracy & Human Rights (ECDHR) and partner sponsors, held a panel discussion at the 32nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva titled “Comparing Technical Cooperation Programmes in Bahrain.”

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Jeremie Smith, Director of the Geneva Office at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) moderated the panel. He opened the event by thanking participants despite the difficulties faced by the recent travel bans preventing Ebrahim Demistani, from the Bahrain Nursing Association and Husain Radhi, from the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, from joining the panel.

Amanda Milani, UN Liaison at ADHRB, began by speaking about the overall situation in Bahrain. She then discussed Bahrain’s lack of political will to cooperate with OHCHR, despite their public announcement of such commitment. There has not been an agreed programme of cooperation with OHCHR, which means that there have been no practical outcomes. She then spoke about the recent bilateral cooperation agreement between Bahrain and the Government of Switzerland, arguing that these agrIMG-20160614-WA0011eements need to outline concrete benchmarks which show genuine actions to improve the human rights situation on the ground. There are systematic and continuous violations on the ground, which are outlined by ADHRB’s recent report. She ended her speech by stating that the Human Rights Council must react to this; there have been five different HRC Joint Statements which remain largely unaddressed.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at BIRD, first discussed recent developments in Bahrain, including the travel ban preventing civil society from participating in the 32nd session of the Human Rights Council and the arrest of human rights defender Nabeel Rajab. He then spoke about the lack of implementation of the BICI recommendations before giving examples of torture. He stated that torture is still taking place systematically in Bahrain and that there is a serious lack of accountability. Following this, he discussed the UK technical assistance to Bahraini institutions, such as the Ombudsman, NIHR, PDRC, stating that UK assistance has been ineffectual in bringing these institutions into conformity with international standards. Finally, he ended his speech by discussing the case of Mohammed Ramadan, a Bahraini prisoner sentenced to death on the basis of a coerced confession.

Sara Katrine Brandt, Policy and Research Officer at CIVICUS, began her speech by discussing her work on Bahrain, in particular on shrinking civil society space, attacks on journalists, and the criminalisation of national and international human rights groups. She stated that the attack on community activism in Bahrain is very concerning. She then argued that while international pressure is working, it is getting more and more difficult, and it is unfortunate to see how repression by the Bahraini government is becoming more emboldened. The forced exile of Zainab Al-Khawaja and the arrest of Nabeel Rajab on the first day of the of the Human Rights Council are serious signs of deterioration thIMG-20160614-WA0014at indicate that the government has no intention of conducting reform or respecting human rights. Sara closed by stating that the situation has deteriorated so gravely that the Human Rights Council must pass a resolution on human rights in Bahrain.

The final speaker was Nicholas McGeehan, the Bahrain, Qatar and United Arab Emirates researcher at Human Rights Watch, who joined the discussion on Skype. He began by giving an overall picture of the recent abuses in the country before briefly discussing the different institutions in Bahrain and their ineffectiveness. He stated that the lack of accountability in Bahrain is a clear sign that these institutions fundamentally do not work. Torture is still ongoing because there is no accountability.

A brief Q&A session followed the discussion.

Charting the Seas of Abuse: Analysis of United Nations Special Procedure Communications to the Kingdom of Bahrain 2011 – 2016

On 14 February 2011, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Bahrain calling for more democracy and greater political liberties. A majority of Bahrain’s population participated in the peaceful protests, occupying the Pearl Roundabout, a symbol of the country. The Government of Bahrain’s response to the demonstrators and their demands was not peaceful. Beginning in February 2011, the Bahraini government embarked on a systematic campaign of repression to silence activists, suppress dissent, and preclude opposition. This campaign has not ended. It continues to this day, with protests and violent clashes nearly nightly.

The United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteurs, a body of independent experts associated with the United Nations, have tracked this unrest since it first garnered international attention in 2011. In the five-year period between then and now, the mandates of 11 Special Rapporteurs have combined to issue around 60 communications, many jointly issued. These 60 communications have gathered 217 Special Rapporteur signatures between them. The communications detail the Government of Bahrain’s systematic efforts to discriminate against its Shia population and suppress opposition to its rule. In this way, it targets human rights defenders and political activists. The communications also allege the government’s repeated violation of its populace’s right to freedom of expression, assembly, and association. In addition to filing the communications, seven Procedures—torture, expression, assembly, human rights defenders, extreme poverty, migrants, and arbitrary detention—have outstanding visit requests to Bahrain since 2011.

In Charting the Seas of Abuse: Analysis of United Nations Special Procedure Communications to the Kingdom of Bahrain 2011 – 2016, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), and the Bahrain Institute for Rights & Democracy (BIRD) track the work of the Special Procedures to document the ongoing human rights violations in Bahrain. The new report seeks to both catalog the communications and the government’s responses for efficient reference and also provide added context for the disturbing trends of abuse revealed by a comprehensive examination of the Special Procedures’ work.

Taken in their entirety, the Bahrain-focused communications of the Special Procedures fully describe the campaign of repression waged by the Bahraini government. However, while as a whole the communications offer a thorough view of Bahrain’s human rights situation, an analysis of each Rapporteur’s individual comments is valuable for detailing various patterns of abuse, discrimination, violations of fundamental human rights, marginalization, and outright violence. This report therefore sets out to present an analysis of these communications by examining trends and patterns in the issues the Rapporteurs expressed concern. Each section of the report concerns a cluster of mandates—as with the section on torture and extrajudicial killings—or a single mandate—as with the section concerning religion. It finds that the Rapporteurs, and thereby the UN, express varying but universally significant concern regarding a host of human rights issues in the country, including most prominently torture and killing, due process issues, and free expression and assembly but also cultural issues, extreme levels of poverty, and public health.

For the full the report, click here.

Bahrain: fresh arrest of human rights activist Nabeel Rajab is 'alarming'

Responding to news that the prominent human rights activist Nabeel Rajab was arrested in Bahrain this morning, James Lynch, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said:

“The arrest of Nabeel Rajab appears to be another alarming example of Bahrain’s zero-tolerance stance towards peaceful dissent and activism, which it enforces through arbitrary measures including revolving-doors detention."

“It has become painfully clear in recent weeks that the authorities in Bahrain have little interest in what the world makes of their deteriorating human rights record and think nothing of preventing Bahraini activists from speaking out on the international stage.”

Read the full article here

My release is not a sign of change for Bahrain's regime

When fellow revolutionaries and activists had to flee Bahrain, I was always grateful not to be in their shoes. I was born and lived in exile until I was 17. Until then, I had never seen my own country, didn’t know most of my relatives, and had absolutely nothing official to prove my nationality. But that made me more passionate about Bahrain, and more determined to help my people.

An emir had to die for me and my family to finally be allowed to return to our land. And as soon as I set foot on its soil, and took a deep breath of humid air, I knew I was home.

Fifteen years later, I walk back into that same airport, with two children and a heavy heart, forced to leave my land, my home and my relatives.

Read the full article here

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights criticised increasing Bahrain repression of rights

13 June 2016 - The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights today warned that repression "will not eliminate people's grievances" in his opening statement at the 32nd UN Human Rights Council session, in a statement welcomed by the undersigned NGOs.no

High Commissioner Prince Zeid bin Ra'ad Al-Hussain stated: At least 250 people in Bahrain have reportedly been stripped of their citizenship by the Government because of their alleged disloyalty to the interests of the Kingdom. In addition to these severe restrictions on freedom of expression, which contravene Bahrain’s international human rights obligations, an indefinite ban on gatherings in the capital has been in place since 2013. Dozens of people – including minors – have been prosecuted for participating in protests. Repression will not eliminate people’s grievances; it will increase them.

We welcome the High Commissioner's strong words, which come on the same day that Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, is unfairly arrested. Last week, human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja went into exile, leaving Bahrain for Denmark, after she received threats of rearrest, following her release from prison at the end of May.

Human rights activists have also been blocked from travelling to Geneva. Five activists who tried to board a flight to Geneva this week were denied entry, and told that they had travel bans, placed into effect from 10 June. They are the largest group of people Bahrain has placed under travel ban at a single time. This is a clear restriction of civil society’s free movement, to prevent them from speaking at the UN Human Rights Council.

Reflecting the absence of political will for effective human rights reform, Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid Al Khalifa responded to the High Commissioner’s statements with complete disregard: "We will not delay our journey and the policy of our reformist King. We will not allow the undermining of our security and stability and will not waste our time listening to the words of the High Commissioner who is powerless."

The High Commissioner's strong criticism follows up on his statement in March 2016's 31st Session of the UN Human Rights Council, when he called for "profound reform" in the country.

 

Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)

Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)

Justice Human Rights Organization (JHRO)

European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)

 

Bahrain Arrests Rights Defender Nabeel Rajab, NGOs demand immediate release

13 June 2016- Bahrain security forces arrested leading human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Founding Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and Deputy Secretary General of FIDH, early this morning. The arrest comes on the first day of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)'s 32nd Session. We, the undersigned NGOs, condemn the arrest of Nabeel Rajab and stress that all human rights defenders must have the freedom to operate in their country.

At approximately 5:00 AM (GMT+3) in Bahrain, police, led by the Cybercrime Unit, surrounded Rajab's home in Bani Jamra, in the north west of Bahrain. At 6:12 AM, Rajab's son Adam tweeted: "Police entered the house and arrested my father Nabeel Rajab." The authorities' reason of arrest is not yet known, and it is unknown if new charges have been brought against him. In 2015, police brought two charges against Rajab, together carrying up to thirteen years prison term, both in relation to statements he made on twitter. Rajab was not prosecuted on these charges, nor were they dropped. It is possible that he has been arrested on these old charges.

The arrest comes on the first day of the UNHRC's 32nd Session. In his opening comments, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights criticised recent rights violations in Bahrain and warned: "Repression will not eliminate people’s grievances; it will increase them."

Last week, under extensive pressure from the government, human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja, left Bahrain to begin her effective exile in Denmark. She left Bahrain after the Danish consulate in Bahrain communicated to her threats from a government official that she would be re-arrested and detained indefinitely if she remained. Zainab Al-Khawaja is the daughter of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, co-founder of BCHR and the GCHR and a torture survivor who has been serving a life sentence since 2011, when he was tried by a military court on alleged "attempted overthrow of the regime." Zainab Al-Khawaja, who began serving a 37-month prison term in March 2016, was released from prison on "humanitarian grounds" on 31 May, a day after political opposition leader Ali Salman had his sentence increased to 9 years in prison.

The arrest of Nabeel Rajab and exiling of Zainab Al-Khawaja marks an effective silencing of Bahrain's human rights defenders. Yesterday, in a clear act of reprisal, Bahrain prevented six human rights activists, from boarding their flights to Geneva to participate in the 32nd session of the UNHRC. These activists were informed at the airport that a travel ban was now imposed on them. We condemn in the strongest terms the government of Bahrain's silencing of civil society and restrictions on their freedom of expression, association, assembly and movement, which sends signals that human rights violations will continue systematically.

Rajab has been prosecuted multiple times since the 2011 Arab Spring. Rajab was arrested repeatedly in 2012, and served two years in prison between 2012 and 2014 on charges of organising unauthorised protests. Following his release in 2014, Rajab conducted an advocacy tour of Europe. In September of that year he visited the UNHRC in Geneva, the European Parliament in Brussels, and European capitals. On his return to Bahrain in October 2014 following his participation in the 27th Session of the UNHRC, police arrested Rajab and charged him with insulting the army in a tweet. He received a six-month sentence and a travel ban. He was released on bail during the appeal of the sentence.

In April 2015, police detained Rajab and charged him with insulting the Central Jau Prison administration and undermining the war in Yemen, after he spoke out against widespread torture occurring in prison and criticised the humanitarian costs of the war. Rajab was held in police custody until June 2015, when he received a royal pardon during Ramadan for his six-month sentence. However, his travel ban remained in place, and his charges were not dropped. The threat of prosecution on these charges has significantly hampered Rajab's ability to work.

The first charge of allegedly “insulting a statutory body” comes under article 216 of Bahrain’s Penal Code, based on his social media comments about allegations of severe and systematic ill-treatment and torture of detainees in Jau Prison in March 2015. The second charge accuses him of “disseminating false rumours in times of war,” under article 133 of the Penal Code, based on social media posts criticising Saudi-led coalition air strikes in Yemen. Violations of articles 133 and 216 carry maximum sentences of 10 and three years in prison, respectively. Neither of the alleged acts upon which these charges are based were in any way recognisable criminal offences under international human rights law, and both involved the peaceful exercise of internationally protected rights to freedom of expression and to promote and protect human rights.

Rajab's repeated arrests contravene his rights to freedom of expression and association, as protected by articles 19 and 22 of the International Protocol on Civil and Political Rights, which Bahrain acceded to in 2006.

 

We, the undersigned, call on the government of Bahrain to:

  • Immediately release Nabeel Rajab from police custody, drop all outstanding charges and lift his travel ban.
  • Allow all human rights defenders, including Zainab Al-Khawaja, Nabeel Rajab and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, to live and work in their country without unjust restrictions on their rights to free assembly, association, expression and movement.
  • Release all prisoners of conscience and political prisoners.
  • Invite, and allow entrance to Bahrain, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression.
  • Repeal all legal restrictions on civil society.

We  call on the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to:

  • Condemn Bahrain’s violation of the freedom of movement of its civil society, who were prevented from travelling to the UN Human Rights Council Session in Geneva this week.
  • Cease all ongoing technical cooperation programs with Bahrain until such time as proper protection for civil society participants can be effectively guaranteed.

We call on members states of the UN Human Rights Council to:

  • Raise concerns of Bahrain’s violations of the rights of civil society in your individual Item 4 statements.
  • Continue technical cooperation with the government of Bahrain only when substantive conditions are met.

We call on the United Kingdom and United States to:

  • Immediately call for the unconditional release of Nabeel Rajab and an end to restrictions on civil society.
  • Suspend technical assistance programs until legal restrictions on civil society are repealed.
  • Suspend all arms sales to Bahrain.

 

Signed,

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)

Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)

Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)

European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)

Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)

Justice Human Rights Organisation (JHRO)

 

Ombudsman Annual Report 2015-2016

The Ombudsman Office was established by Royal Decree as a result of recommendation number 1717 and paragraph D 1722 of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Enquiry (BICCI) Report 2011. The Office is financially and administratively independent and has an important role to play in ensuring the delivery of fair and impartial policing services in Bahrain.

The Ombudsman Office has had a busy third year and I am pleased to report that progress has been made in a number of important work areas.

Read the full report here

Report on the unannounced Visit to the Jau Rehabilitation & Reformation Center (JRRC)

The Prisoners and Detainees Rights Commission (PDRC) exists to assess the conditions and treatment of detainees and to deter and help prevent torture, inhumane or degrading treatment in places of custody.
It has a legal power to monitor places of custody to help improve conditions and prevent abuses and makes recommendations for change.

The PDRC visited JRRC in November 2015 to investigate current conditions and find out how prisoners experienced the facility. This report gives prisoners’ opinions and describes their experiences; PDRC investigated what prisoners said by looking at other evidence before reaching final conclusions.

Read the full report here

Fundamentalism’s impact on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association

In recent years, there has been a perceived rise in the expression of fundamentalism in many contexts across the world. Despite the frequent use of the term, “fundamentalism” remains a word that is rarely defined with any specificity. Common use generally centers on religious fundamentalism, and this is perhaps what comes to mind first for most people.

But fundamentalism can encompass much more than religion, and in this report the Special Rapporteur takes a much broader view of the term. He believes that fundamentalism can and should be defined more expansively, to include any movements – not simply religious ones – that advocate strict and literal adherence to a set of basic beliefs or principles. Adherence to the principles of free market capitalism, for example, has spawned what has been called “market fundamentalism.” And the unbending belief in the superiority of one ethnic group, race, tribe or nationality can lead to what might be called “nationalist fundamentalism.” Numerous other examples are detailed in this report.

Read the full report here

Bahrain: Lagging Efforts to End Torture

The latest annual report from a Bahrain office tasked with addressing torture and mistreatment of detainees indicates that authorities have made little progress in holding police and security forces accountable.

The third annual report from the Office of the Ombudsman, released on June 1, 2016, indicates that there have been no convictions in alleged cases of torture relating to political unrest since the Office of the Ombudsman was set up to accept complaints in February 2012. The report provides further evidence that the ombudsman routinely refers torture allegations to the Interior Ministry’s Special Investigation Unit, but does not indicate whether that body has taken even limited steps to investigate these complaints.

Read the full text here