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Husain Abdulla's oral intervention @ HRC 33rd _ 14/09/2016

Event in Geneva: Closing Civil Society, Religious & Political Space in Bahrain

Photo by Moosa Mohammed

On 14 September, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), together with the Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) together with a larger group of NGO sponsors organized a panel event entitled "Closing civil society, religious and political space in Bahrain", held in Geneva at the 33rd Session of the Human Rights Council.

Sayed Yousif al-Muhafdha, Vice-President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) spoke of the past few months and the steep intensification of human rights violations in Bahrain, particularly, the re-arrest of BCHR President Nabeel Rajab. He also highlighted that none of his staff from the ground had been able to travel to Geneva. Sayed Yousif, who has been in exile in Germany since 2012, also explained that sectarian discrimination against Bahrain’s majority Shia community continues to represent a key dimension of the situation in Bahrain. He recalled how in just the past months, Bahrain revoked the citizenship of the leading Shia religious cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim, whose trial had since begun in July 2016.  He also pointed to the dissolution of Bahrain’s largest political society Al-Wefaq. In light of recent events, al-Muhafdha concluded with determination: “We are at the human rights council to assure a resolution that establishes an independent monitoring mission in Bahrain.”

Read the full description of the event below. Access the full description in pdf format here.

 

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Today on 14 September 2016, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Bahrain Institute for Rights & Democracy (BIRD) together with a larger group of NGO sponsors organized a panel event entitled “Closing civil society, religious and political space in Bahrain”. The event was held in parallel to the 33rd Session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva, Switzerland.

Michael Payne, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain’s International Advocacy Officer introduced the panel and observed that many familiar faces from Bahraini civil society were missing due to blanket travel bans that had been imposed by the government since last session of the HRC, preventing Bahrain’s grassroots civil society from engaging with the United Nations and its Member States. Welcoming the UN High Commissioner’s comments on the concerning situation in Bahrain yesterday, he presented ADHRB’s new report “Collective Efforts”, a report which assesses international statements made by several actors over past years to raise attention to the concerning human rights situation in Bahrain. He summarized the findings of the report. He concluded that while statements by the international community had helped to constrain the Government of Bahrain, there was a clear lack of progress and political will to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, which demands a much stronger international response towards Bahrain. Description: Displaying IMG_2958.JPG

Sayed Yousif al-Muhafdha, Vice-President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) spoke of the past few months and the steep intensification of human rights violations in Bahrain, particularly, the re-arrest of BCHR President Nabeel Rajab. He also highlighted that none of his staff from the ground had been able to travel to Geneva. Sayed Yousif, who has been in exile in Germany since 2012, also explained that sectarian discrimination against Bahrain’s majority Shia community continues to represent a key dimension of the situation in Bahrain. He recalled how in just the past months, Bahrain revoked the citizenship of the leading Shia religious cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim, whose trial had since begun in July 2016.  He also pointed to the dissolution of Bahrain’s largest political society Al-Wefaq. In light of recent events, al-Muhafdha concluded with determination: “We are at the human rights council to assure a resolution that establishes an independent monitoring mission in Bahrain.”

Ariel Plotkin, Campaigner on Bahrain at Amnesty International stated that Amnesty was also deeply alarmed by the situation in Bahrain. Similarly, she recognized the escalation in past months of violations to freedom of expression, association and assembly.  She highlighted that this recent repression in Bahrain had also been unprecedented. Elaborating on the recent highlights such as the extension of Al-Wefaq’s General Secretary Sheikh Ali Salman’s sentence from 4 to 9 years, the revocation of Sheikh Isa Qassim’s citizenship, and the subsequent arrest of peaceful protesters who staged a sit-in outside Sheikh Qassim’s home in the village of Diraz to protest his denaturalization; Ariel expressed her serious concern over what future measures could be taken by the Kingdom of Bahrain. “The once thriving and courageous civil society in Bahrain, is at risk of disappearing,” said Ariel. She concluded by calling on Bahrain to annul the dissolution of Al-Wefaq, to re-instate the citizenship of those whose nationality was arbitrarily revoked, to release all prisoners of conscience, to end all forms of repression and finally, to comply with all of its human rights obligations.Description: Displaying IMG_2976.JPG

Dr. Dwight Bashir, Co-Director of the US Commission on International and Religious Freedom introduced himself as a regular visitor to Bahrain. He said he had been travelling to the country every year since 2009. Having recently returned from Bahrain, he provided a fresh assessment of the situation, citing in particular, the “systematic discrimination” faced by the majority Shia religious group in the country. He recalled that in some of his meetings with the Bahraini government, a common explanation for many of the extreme measures taken was the role of Iran and the concern over foreign agents. He stressed that “nothing had been produced” to justify these claims by the Government. He also highlighted that laws were being applied on this basis, but that these allegations were “not only inaccurate, but outright false.” He further expressed concern that the shutdown of opposition group Al-Wefaq, left nothing open for discussion. Citing his experience, he said what he observed in Bahrain was a polarization of extremes, both on the side of the majority Shia population and the minority Sunni population. This left people only to align with the government, or against the government. He emphasized the importance of religious freedom as a public and private human right that when violated, could have devastating consequences, consequences with which the international community is all too familiar.  “When you go to the heart of someone’s faith and their personal belief – this becomes a huge concern,” he said.  He also marked that while the Government of Bahrain had rebuilt 27 of the 30 Shia religious sites it had demolished in 2011, their position on some key sites was that they would facilitate the legal paperwork and that this was enough. In addition to their other attacks on the Shia, however, they showed little will to diffuse sectarian tensions. Ending on the point of Sheikh Isa Qassim’s potential upcoming conviction, he stressed that if convicted, Sheikh Isa Qassim’s conviction would be seen as a direct attack on the Shia population, leaving open all possibility for extremism to grow in appeal.

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Laila Matar, Human Rights Watch UN advocate, thanked her fellow panellists for painting an “accurately grim” picture of the situation in Bahrain. She recalled that a big group of states had come together in Geneva one year ago (in September 2015) to express concern over the situation, but that the lack of collective action since, from a body that was mandated to address such issues, was unacceptable. She highlighted the extreme level of reprisals that had occurred since the last session of the Human Rights Council and expressed that these actions seemed to suggest that Bahrain felt emboldened by the silence of the international community. She also highlighted that while the international community seemed silenced, the deterioration in Bahrain had not been ignored by the experts of the Human Rights Council, as seen by the many communications of the Special Procedures, the report of the Secretary General and the concern expressed by the High Commissioner. She spoke clearly to Bahrain and the international community, pronouncing that “repression and support for repression is not a long-term strategy for stability.” This became a serious concern once Bahrain closed any political outlet for the frustration of people on the ground.

Upon conclusion of the panellist’s comments, moderator Michael Payne asked Ariel Plotkin whether Bahrain, once recognized as an example of civil society activism in the region, was still representative of this. Plotkin replied that while the restrictions on civil society were challenging and had resulted in a closing of civil society space inside Bahrain, she still felt that Bahrain was a good example because she had seen how voices that had been smashed and particularly, voices of Human Rights Defenders who had been exiled, have only become louder outside of Bahrain. She described that it was fascinating how they have adapted to the circumstances and thus could still be looked to as an example of activism for the region.

Michael also asked Bashir about how the polarization of extremes in the country could be reversed. Bashir responded that the international community had to encourage greater efforts by Bahrain to draw back its repression. He said that there needed to be a genuine will from Member States to look at the early warnings and react. Laila also added that a political impasse had been reached in Bahrain, thus the opposition did not have any more confidence in any government-led political processes. She commented that there was, now, more than ever, a need to provide incentives and costs for Bahrain to take clear and strong measures to rebuild this confidence, and that this push in the right direction could only be directed by the international community.

Ahmed Ali, Legal Officer from the Bahrain Institute for Rights & Democracy raised a question to Ariel Plotkin about UK assistance in Bahrain and Amnesty International’s assessment of this program and its effectiveness. Ariel elaborated on some of the UK assistance programs and added that given the recent turn of events, these programs did not really seem to be having their desired effect.

Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain mentioned reports that torture in Bahrain was no longer an issue in the country’s prisons, he asked Sayed Yousif al-Muhafdha whether these reports were accurate. Sayed Yousif disagreed and cited a number of examples. He noted in particular that the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) mandated to hold the perpetrators of torture accountable, had been totally ineffective and were not transferring any of the complaints they had received to the courts. Thus, he concluded that there was still a strong “culture of impunity” in Bahrain.Description: Displaying IMG_3013.JPG

An audience member from a youth organization also posed a question to the panel, citing a case that he had read about and asking the panel how many children and youth were being held in Bahrain’s prisons. Sayed Yousif opened that over 120 children and youth had been subjected to imprisonment since January 2016.

Finally, Erin Sigmon, from Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain asked what more could be done by civil society to pressure greater action by Member states.  Laila Matar frustratedly concluded that unfortunately it came down to political will of Member States. However, she encouraged civil society to call into question the silence on Bahrain and continue to demand the Council to be non-selective and address country situations based on solid criteria.

This event was organized by Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD).

This event was also sponsored by Amnesty International, FIDH’s Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters Without Borders.

 

Read the full description of the event in pdf format here.

BCHR at HRC33: the arrest of Nabeel Rajab and opression on Shia community

On 14 September, the intervention under Item 2 on the Annual report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was delivered by Husain Abdulla, Executive Director at the American for Democracy and Human Rights (ADHRB) at the 33rd Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, together with the AlSalam Foundation, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Bahrain (BCHR) and the Institure for Rights and Democracy (BIRD).

See full remarks below. Watch full intervention here.

Mr. President,

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Bahrain Institute for Rights & Democracy (BIRD) welcomes the statement of the High Commissioner and thanks him for calling this Council’s attention to the situation in Bahrain.  

Indeed, we share all of his concerns and regret that in the last few months, we have observed an intensification of all violations in Bahrain. In June, we were deeply concerned by the re-arrest of leading Human Rights Defender Nabeel Rajab, coming only weeks after a Bahraini court had extended the arbitrary sentence of main political opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman.

We have also been extremely concerned with the Government of Bahrain’s clear campaign against its Shia population. In June, we were alarmed by the decision to revoke the citizenship of Bahrain’s Shia spiritual leader Sheikh Isa Qassim. Unfortunately the practice of citizenship revocation has become all too customary in Bahrain. However, the denaturalization of Sheikh Qassim provoked an unprecedented number of protests in Bahrain with people gathering in numbers unseen since 2011. Bahrain has since arrested a number of these peaceful protesters and has imposed a blockade on the town of Sheikh Qassim’s residence, Diraz, where several protesters have been unable to exit, and others unable to enter.

We welcome the High Commissioner and his office’s engagement on these and many other issues and ask that he continue to call on Bahrain to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms. We share his view that the last 10 years have shown with “punishing clarity” what happens when peaceful voices are smashed and warning bells ignored by the international community.

Thank you.

Read the intervention in pdf format here. Watch full intervention here.

Collective Efforts: International Calls for Accountability and Reform in Bahrain

In 2011, the Government of Bahrain violently suppressed the country’s peaceful pro-democracy movement. More than half of the population protested structural inequalities, corruption, repression, and a lack of democratic political representation. In response to the protest movement, the Bahraini government dispatched security forces to quell the demonstrations, leading to thousands of arrests, hundreds of injuries, and dozens of deaths. From athletes to lawyers, and students to nurses, the government targeted anyone who raised a dissenting voice with media attacks, home raids, arbitrary detention, judicial harassment, torture, and even extrajudicial killing.

Over the last five years, the government has only intensified its control of civil society by interrogating, arresting, and imprisoning hundreds of human rights defenders, journalists, political opposition leaders, and religious figures. In just the first eight months of 2016, Bahraini authorities have targeted prominent activists like Nabeel Rajab and Sheikh Maytham al-Salman and initiated an unprecedented campaign to restrict the rights of the country’s Shia religious leadership. In response to the increased suppression of religious freedom, in particular, five UN Special Procedures recently released a joint statement urging Bahrain to end its “persecution of Shias,” who continue to be “targeted on the basis of their religion.”

It is against this backdrop that the international community has issued numerous statements expressing concern for ongoing human rights violations Bahrain and calling for reform. In this report, Collective Efforts: International Calls for Accountability and Reform in Bahrain, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), and the Bahrain Institute for Right & Democracy (BIRD) analyze all the statements and resolutions of the member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), the European Parliament (EP), the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR), and the UN Secretary-General since 2011 in order to track the international reaction to the deterioration of Bahrain’s human rights situation.

Specifically, this report examines the five joint statements on Bahrain issued by the UN Human Rights Council, the eight resolutions on Bahrain passed by the European Parliament, and all statements and press releases issued by the UN Secretary-General, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the UN Special Procedures since 2011. ADHRB, BCHR, and BIRD have found that despite numerous calls from these widely respected institutions and leaders, the Government of Bahrain has largely continued to violate basic human rights including those to free expression, assembly, and association. In 2016 alone, the authorities have: arrested and forcibly exiled activist Zainab al-Khawaja; rearrested human rights defender and BCHR president Nabeel Rajab; dissolved the largest political opposition group, Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society; extended the sentence of Al-Wefaq’s secretary-general, Sheikh Ali Salman; issued multiple travel bans against human rights defenders and activists; and, denaturalized Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim, who is widely regarded as the spiritual leader of Bahrain’s Shia community. As one Bahraini activist recently described these developments to ADHRB, “[in the] last few weeks, civil society came under direct and open assaults by authorities and the government became bolder than ever in targeting religious leaders, human rights defenders and civil society organizations that expose corruption, highlight human rights violations, and demand democratic reforms.”

By providing a brief overview of the international community’s past engagement on Bahrain, this report also provides a clear picture of what new action the international community must take to improve the country’s human rights situation. Though the statements and resolutions described here represent significant international efforts to drive positive change in Bahrain, ADHRB, BIRD, and BCHR find that the current approach is no longer appropriate for the scale of ongoing human rights violations. To effectively pressure the government to reconsider its intensified assault on civil society and the public freedoms, it is time for the HRC to issue a resolution on Bahrain. A resolution will best reflect the increasing seriousness of the situation and send a clear message to the Government of Bahrain that the international community will not tolerate the continued violation of basic human rights.

For the full report, please click here.

BCHR at HRC33: discussing issues faced by human rights defenders in Bahrain

The intervention was delivered under Item 3 on arbitrary detention in Bahrain by Sayed Alwadaei, the Director of Advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy at the 33rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, together with the American for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy.

See full remarks below.

 

Mr. Chair-Rapporteur,

Alsalam Foundation, together with Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy would like to raise our concern over the remarkably high number of arbitrarily detained prisoners in Bahrain.  The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s has regularly raised its concern regarding the systematic use of arbitrary detention in Bahrain, in particular noting cases of prominent political and civil society figures.

For example, Hassan Mushaima, Secretary General of the Haq Movement for Democracy has been the subject of multiple urgent communications by the Working Group since his arbitrary detention began in March 2011, yet the Bahraini government continues his arbitrary life sentence to this day.

Likewise, Bahraini authorities also continue to arbitrarily detain Dr. Abduljalil al-Singace, one of Bahrain’s leading human rights and democracy leaders, and a colleague of Mushaima. Five years into his detention Dr. al-Singace’s health is in poor condition.

Finally, on 13 June 2016, Nabeel Rajab, was again arrested for his work as a human rights defender. Nabeel has been the subject of a number of Working Group decisions, including a similar instance in 2013, in which the Working Group concluded his detention to be arbitrary and in violation of articles 19, 20 and 21 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

These cases are but some of the nearly 4,000 cases of the widespread and systematic arbitrary detention ongoing in Bahrain. Mr. Chair-Rapporteur, in instances such as this in Bahrain, what recommendations does your mandate have toward dismantling and reversing such an institutionalized system of abuse?

Thank you.

Access the intervention in pdf format here.

Opening Statement by Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein about Bahrain "HRC 33rd Regular Session"

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, Calls on the Bahraini Government for Compliance with the Human Rights Mechanisms

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al-Hussein, Calls on Bahraini Government to Comply with Human Rights Mechanisms

In a welcome move, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed his concern about the current situation in Bahrain as the 33rd session of the Human Rights Council opened in Geneva on 13 September 2016.

He articulated his concerns about the harassment and arrests of human rights defenders and political activists. Furthermore, he criticised Bahraini legislation for enabling the revocation of citizenships.

“The past decade has demonstrated repeatedly, and with punishing clarity, how disastrous the outcomes can be when the government attempts to smash the voices of its people instead of serving them.”

 

He called for more intensified cooperation by asking the Bahraini government “to comply with the recommendations of the Human Rights mechanisms” and to engage more productively with his office and the Human Rights Council’s special procedures. Bahrain’s human rights record will be examined under the Universal Periodic Review in 2017. He stressed that, “Only by working together can we solve our common problems. There is no alternative.”

In support of High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein’s comments, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) calls on the Bahraini government to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release all arrested human rights defenders and political activists, including BCHR’s founders Nabeel Rajab and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who are detained for expressing their opinion;
  • Adhere to international human rights standards by respecting as well as upholding the right to freedom of expression without any restrictions;
  • End the practice of arbitrary citizenship revocation and reinstall all citizenships revoked for politically-motivated purposes; and
  • More actively engage with the Human Rights Council and UN mechanisms, including the upcoming Universal Periodic Review.

Listen to Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein's full statement here

Human Rights Watch Testimony at Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Hearing on Human Rights in Bahrain: Next Steps

Chairman McGovern, Chairman Pitts, members of the Commission, thank you for the invitation to testify on Bahrain. This hearing comes at the end of a week when Bahrain’s most notable human rights defender had an op-ed in the New York Times, only to be charged the next day with “deliberate dissemination of false news and spreading tendentious rumors that undermine the prestige of the state.” In response, the Times ran a stinging editorial which notes that relying “on rulers who have responded to dissent with torture, tear gas, jail cells and travel bans is not a defensible long-term strategy.” 

As you know, the majority of Bahrainis are Shiite but the country is ruled by the Al Khalifa family, a Sunni-dominated autocratic monarchy that has shown a clear aversion to meaningful reform, despite a number of cosmetic initiatives. In 2011, the authorities used lethal force to suppress a largely peaceful pro-democracy movement, which proved to be a turning point and required the government to engage more directly – and publicly – on structural reform. Unfortunately, although King Hamad appointed an independent commission – the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) –  to document human rights violations and dutifully accepted all of its recommendations, he has done little to implement the most substantive ones.

 

Read the full statement here.

Human Rights First’s Dooley Testifies on Bahrain before Congressional Committee

In testimony today before the U.S. Congress’s Tom Lantos Commission on Human Rights, Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley will urge U.S. policymakers to take action to press for human rights reforms in Bahrain. He will also urge members of Congress to support a bipartisan bill that would ban the sale of small arms and ammunition to Bahrain until the government demonstrates human rights progress on recommendations laid out in a 2011 report. 

“Through the smallest country in the Middle East, Bahrain exemplifies several of the major challenges for U.S. policy in the region,” Dooley noted in his prepared statement. “2016 promises to be a definitive year as a series of issues converge to threaten Bahrain… The remaining months will be important as President Obama shapes his legacy in the Middle East.”

 

Continue reading here.

Bahrain Clerics Appeal to HRC: Sectarian Persecution Reached Dangerous Levels

Bahrain's Shiite clerics sent a letter to the Head of the United Nations Human Rights Council, and the diplomatic missions of Member States at the Geneva council during its 33rd session.

They declared in their letter that the rising sectarian persecution against the Shiite majority is reaching dangerous levels.

In their letter dated Friday (September 9, 2016) the reigious scholars listed a chain of governmental actions that was recently conducted against the Shiite majority, most serious was the trial of Shiite spiritual leader in Bahrain, Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim, and the revocation of his citizenship, on the basis of performing a Shiite religious obligation (Khums).

 

Continue reading here.