Workshop on Political Pluralism and Electoral Processes in the Middle East and North Africa
Italy - Venice - 21-23 July 2005
Intervention by Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, president , Bahrain center for Human Rights:
I have come from Bahrain, which is the country that is displayed as the model for reform in the region, this was repeated by the American president. I apologize if my speech is not clear for my teeth got broken a month ago in front of the Royal Council in Bahrain, and one of my teeth has fallen off today as you can see. I was also beaten up a week ago on the head and back, I was one of the ten’s of Bahrainis who went on a demonstration in front of the House of Representatives. All this happened while I was contributing in peaceful activities for the unemployed. I would like to mention here the main reason the government gave for closing the Bahrain Center for Human Rights 8 months ago, which was that the Center organized an international petition to demand for political contribution for Kuwaiti women. The Bahraini government regarded this as an involvement in the matters of other countries.
Dividing the countries of the Middle East into open and closed to change and reform is not precise, in reality they should be categorized to countries who oppose the Americans and should be politically changed like Iraq, and others whose governments are allies to the west and they are only subjected to some reforms regarding human rights and economic globalization, and not at all real democracy, Bahrain is a model of this.
In the matter of the election systems, which we are discussing today, I have personally contributed to preparing a study for comparing the election systems in six Arab countries, and Bahrain was relatively one of the best, but here comes the contradiction between the good system which serves the political propaganda for the regime which works within a deformed democratic regime. In Bahrain, according to the constitution which was issued by the new king and blessed by the Americans, the king controls the three branches of government in a direct way, whether its by forming them personally or in its decisions and he appoints the constitutional government officials and the higher judicial counsel and half of the parliament. The other half of the parliament are elected within an unjust division which marginalizes the opposition and the Shiite majority.
And the ruling family in Bahrain controls the main influential positions in the executive authority and the judicial system, and they control the economy, the citizen cannot change the government in a peaceful manner, and there is no party pluralism.
Two days ago the parliament, which is controlled by the government, issued a new law for the political societies. This law puts societies, of which some represent a majority of the people and the opposition, the law puts them under complete control of the government. Control in the formation procedure and restricting its activity and the funding and the party media. And also in regard to the dissolution of the political societies temporarily or permanently. The new law prohibits the societies from any activity outside Bahrain, and also the funding from foreign sources even if governmental or for educating and training purposes.
This arbitrary law has been approved by the parliament, a parliament which was formed with a relatively good election system. The opinions and proposals of the political and other societies were not taken into consideration. The political societies have decided since yesterday to temporarily close in protest to this law, and the biggest societies are considering to dissolve completely.
Concerning the recommendations, in addition to what was mentioned yesterday I would add the following:
- We should not exaggerate in looking at the election system and observing the voting at the expense of the revelation of a democratic process reality. Therefore the surveillance reports on election systems must point out the main flaws in the democratic process. For example the citizens right to change the government in a peaceful manner, and party pluralism, and the independence of the judicial system, and the separation of powers, and everything else that is necessary for a democratic process to take place.
- Creating strategies and programs to reach to the existing political and semi-political powers which could develop into political parties, taking into consideration that it would be natural for these groups to tend to be of a sectarian, religious or tribal nature during this transition phase due to the nature of the societies in the region. On the other hand, depending on foreign support and funding to implement alternative groups, parties and figures which have no standing in real life, should be avoided. Because that would result in the re-occurrence of what has been happening in the region during the past decades, and will increase the foreign influence but wouldn’t lead to a real democracy, political reform or stability in the long run.
Bahrain Government Refers BCHR Activists To The Public Prosecution And Threatens Them With Legal Penalties
The BCHR insists on continuing its activities and urges all concerned to interfere
13 June 2005
The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) followed up with concern the statement made by the Minister of Social Affairs to Al-Ayam daily newspaper, where she said that “the Center has gone beyond the limits in sending a delegation to Geneva, and organizing a seminar in Belad Al-Qadeem on the events in Geneva”. She had added that “the Centre officials had broken the law through involvement in activities without having a proper legal status. Their case had been referred to the Public Prosecution, and there is a legal penalty for these violations”.
On the other hand, the high court of appeal will give its final decision tomorrow, June 14 2005, on the case submitted by the BCHR against the Government’s order on Spt. 2004 to close the Center. The decision by the BCHR’s general assembly to raise a case was a bid to test the extent of reforms and independence of the judiciary. International reports issued recently, including the report by U.S. State Department and the recommendations of the Committee Against Torture, stated that the judiciary in Bahrain is not independent, especially in cases involving the government.
The BCHR urges all defenders of freedom and those concerned with the protection of human rights defenders to interfere immediately. It also warns that the success of the authorities in curbing the Centre’s activities will leave all other civil society institutions under the mercy of the government, and this will never be in the interest of reforms or the protection of rights and freedoms.
Despite a government decision to close the Bahrain Center for Human Rights for organizing a seminar on economic rights and corruption, the BCHR has continued its activities including submitting alternative reports and participating in the Geneva meetings of the U.N. Committee Against Racial Discrimination and the Committee Against Torture. Government delegations in those meetings faced questions on the closure of the BCHR. Recommendations by those international committees were clear in lifting all restrictions facing the activities of human rights organizations and the necessity of cooperating with them. The two committees had reiterated that the non-government activists who participated in their meetings and provided them with information should not be subjected to any kind of threat or pressure.
The position of the BCHR’s general Assembly:
In replying to the Minister’s statement on the legitimacy of the Centre and its activities, Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) reiterates that it does not intend to back track on the decision passed by its general assembly to continue its voluntary activities since this is a right and a responsibility shouldered by the members.
Members of the BCHR obtain their right in pursuing their activities from a natural right stipulated in the international human rights conventions in general and the international agreements to which Bahrain has become a member in particular, and which are now a part of Bahraini laws. All these conventions state clearly that the right of individuals to form associations is an original right which must not be restricted except within a democratic mechanism in such a manner that does not jeopardize this right. The Constitution of the Kingdom of Bahrain stipulates that the law must not jeopardize the essence of the rights stipulated in the Constitution. For all the above, the Law on Societies which was issued in the absence of democracy, does not enjoy any legitimacy both in terms of issuance or content. Therefore, it must not be used to restrict the activity of societies, and is not suitable as a framework for the activities of human rights associations.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights was established with the will of its founders and its general assembly. Its fate is, therefore, decided by its general assembly and not by any government body, especially since the role of the Center is to monitor the government and not to be controlled by it. The founders had agreed at the outset to register the Center within the provisions of the Societies Law, because of penal pressures on one hand, and the promises to amend the law on the other. Now, since the law has not been amended, but used arbitrarily to close the Center, the members of its general assembly have decided to bear all the pressures and disconnect the Center from the Societies Law.
Bahrain: A women's rights activist faces trial and imprisonment
Bahrain Center for Human Rights Ref: 05060301
3/06/2005: The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) is concerned about three criminal charges made against women's rights campaigner Ms. Ghada Yusuf Jamsheer, accusing her of foul language, abusing a shari'ah family court and a former shari'a judge. (The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights)
According to restrictive laws, Ms. Jamsheer could face a sentence of up to 15 years imprisonment. She will face three trials in June and July 2005. BCHR appeals to national and international organizations to intervene urgently and to do whatever neccesary.
Ms. Jamsheer has been campaigning for reforming the General Prosecution and shari'ah family Courts. There are many recent cases where the authorities used restrictive laws, such as the Penal Code of 1976 and Law on the press of 2002, to bring activists and journalists before the courts. BCHR states that another of their concerns is that the General Prosecution and the judiciary in Bahrain are far from independent.
Hence, BCHR considers the criminal charges against Ms. Jamsheer as related to freedom of expression and peaceful activities, and an effort by the authorities to keep pressure on Ms. Jamsheer to cease her activities. The BCHR Appeals to drop all charges against Ms. Jamsheer, to decrease pressure on activists concerning women rights and to amend laws which hinder activism and criminalize the practice of basic rights.
Ghada Yusif Jamsheer is a Bahraini business woman, aged 38, lives in Muharraq. She is the president of Women's Petition Committee (WPC) which has been debating complaints and cases violating the rights and dignity of women in the shari'a family courts, and calling for urgent need to appoint qualified shari'a Court Judges. She is also the president of the Bahrain Social Partnership for Combating Violence Against Women which is under the supervision of Amnesty International.
For the last four years, Ms. Jamsheer has continuously organized protests and vigils in support of reforms of shari'a family jurisdiction in Bahrain. A call by Ms. Jamsheer to dismiss the General Prosecutor Sheikh A. Rahman Bin Jabr Al Khalifa, who was the head of the abolished State Security Court, could be the real reason behind the current cases. The call was declared in a statement issued when Women's Petition Committee (WPC) members and supporters gathered outside the Justice Ministry in a show of solidarity against discrimination.
The First Case
The General Prosecution has forwarded Case 8610/2005 to the higher penal Court and allocated a hearing commencing 4 June 2005. The trial has been rescheduled for 1 July 2005. The General Prosecution charged Ms. Jamsheer for committing criminal acts during the period commencing from October 2002 to June 2003 as follows:
- She has criticized publicly the shari'a judges in Bahrain as "Corrupted, Personalized and Un-Qualified" through a publication distributed to the Public;
- She has criticized a judge of the higher shari'a Court, named Jassim Mutlaq Al Thawadi, for his rudeness and not being fair during practicing his duties;
- She abused the above mentioned shari'a Judge, during his practices of his task, by using abusive language as per records of documentation.
Accordingly, the General Prosecution decided that Ms. Jamsheer has committed a crime which is should be penalized according to articles No 2/76, 3-1/92, 107/item 1, 216, 222/1, 365/1, 3-1/366 of the Penal Code and article 70/B from Law decree No 47 for the year 2002 on Press and Publishing.
The Second Case
Case No. 1793/2005 was raised against Ghada Jamsheer by one of the shari'a Judges for abusive language with reference made to articles No 2/92 and 2/1/365 of the Penal Law in front of the Primary Penal fifth Court. A session for litigation has been appointed for the forthcoming date 15th June 2005.
The Third Case
Case No. 3938/2044 which was raised against Ghada Jamsheer through the General Prosecution by an ex-husband of a divorced woman whose case was adopted by the Women's Petition Committee (WPC) headed by Ms. Jamsheer. Criminal charges were based on articles No 2/92 and 2/1/365 of the Penal Law. Litigation date will be on 19th of June 2005 in front of Primary First Penal Court.
Furthermore, an older case which was raised by eight of shari'a court judges against a group of journalists and activists including Ghada Jamsheer is still pending.
Women's rights activist to face trial and imprisonment
25 May 2005
The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) has received with grave concern the appealing of the General Prosecution of three Criminal cases against women's rights campaigner Ms. Ghada Yusuf Jamsheer, accusing her of foul language abusing a shari'ah family court and a former shari'ah judge. According to the restrictive lows, Ms. Jamsheer could face a sentence of up to 15 years imprisonment. She will face three trials, on the 4th, 15th and 19th of May 2005. BCHR appeals to national and International organizations to intervene urgently and to do whatever neccesary.
Taking in consideration that women rights activist Ms. Jamsheer has been campaigning for reforming the General Prosecution and shari'ah family Courts, ..and based on many current cases where the authorities used restrictive lows, such as the Penal Code of 1976 and Law on the press of 2002, to bring activist and Journalists before courts, ..and as the General Prosecution and the judiciary in Bahrain are far from being independent,
Hence, the BCHR considers the criminal charges against Ms. Jamsheer as related to freedom of expression and peaceful activities, and as an effort by the authorities to keep pressure on Ms. Jamsheer to cease her activities. The BCHR Appeals to drop all charges against Ms. Jamsheer, to decrease pressure on activists concerning women rights and to amend laws which hinder activism and criminalize the practice of basic rights.
Ghada Yusif Jamsheer is a Bahraini business woman, aged 38, lives in Muharraq. She is the president of the Women's Petition Committee which has been debating complaints and cases violating the rights and dignity of women in the shari'ah family courts, and calling for urgent need to qualify shari'ah Court Judges. She is also the president of the Bahrain Social Partnership for Combating Violence Against Women which is under the supervision of Amnesty International.
For the last four years, Ms. Jamsheer has continuously organized protests and vigil in support of reforms of shari'ah family jurisdiction in Bahrain. A Call by Ms. Jamsheer to dismiss the General Prosecutor sheikh A.Rahman Bin Jabr Al Khalifa, who was the head of the abolished State Security Court, could be the real reason behind the suit cases. The call was declared in a statement when Women’s Petition Committee members and supporters gathered outside the Justice Ministry in a show of solidarity against discrimination.
1. The First Case:
The General Prosecution has forwarded Case 8610/2005 to the higher penal Court and allocating a session for the date commencing 4 June 2005. The General Prosecution charged Ms. Ghada Yusuf Moh'd Jamsheer for committing criminal acts during the period commencing from October 2002 to June 2003 as follows:
a. She has criticized publicly the shari'ah judges in Bahrain as "Corrupted, Personalized and Un-Qualified" through publication distributed to the Public.
b. Through a telephone call, She abused a judge of the higher shari'ah Court named Jassim Mutlaq Al Thawadi for his rudeness and not being fair during practicing his duties.
c. She abused the above mentioned shari'ah Judge, during his practices of his task, by using abusing language as per records of documentation.
Accordingly, the General Prosecution decided that Ms. Jamsheer has committed a crime which is should be penalized according to articles No 2/76, 3-1/92 , 107/item1, 216, 222/1, 365/1, 3-1/366 of the Penal Code and article 70/B from Law decree No 47 for the year 2002 on Press and Publishing.
The Second Case:
Case No. 1793/2005 was raised against Ghada Jamsheer by one of the shari'ah Judges for abusive language with reference made to articles No 2/92 and 2/1/365 of the Penal Law in front of the Primary Penal fifth Court. A session for litigation has been appointed for the forthcoming date 15th June 2005
The Third Case:
Case No. 3938/2044 which was raised against Ghada Jamsheer through the General Prosecution by an ex-husband of a divorced woman whose case was adopted by the Women’s Petition Committee headed by Ms. Jamsheer. Criminal charges were based on articles No 2/92 and 2/1/365 of the Penal Law. Litigation date will be on 19th of June 2005 in front of Primary First Penal Court.
Furthermore, an older case which was raised by eight of shari'ah court judges against a group of journalists and activists including Ghada Jamsheer is still pending.
Victims of torture are still suffering
Presentation by Bahrain Center for Human Rights and National Committee for Martyrs and Victims of Torture, presented at the 34th session of the UN Committee against Torture (CAT) in Geneva, 11 May 2005.
Draft law to prevent using the media to protect detainees
3 May 2005
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) followed up with great concern the approval of the Cabinet on the draft law criminating the publication of names or pictures of suspected criminals by the local media or providing the international media with information before the issuance of the final verdict on the suspect.
A few years back, the BCHR objected over the government’s manner in publishing the names or pictures of those arrested for political or security reasons, accusing them of vandalism or harming stability before imposing charges or transferring them to the courts. This was considered as clear violation of their rights, and contradictory to the principle that the accused is innocent until proven guilty. Journalists, members of parliament and the civil society protested against this matter.
Nevertheless, the BCHR is worried that the new law aims not at protecting the interests of the suspects but instead a way to prevent the families of the suspects, lawyers and human rights activists from benefiting from the local or foreign media to reveal any violations. Especially since some of the clauses of the state security law are still valid, and the authority continues to use other laws that restrict and punish practices of basic freedoms, such as freedom of press, expression and gathering. Additionally, the executive power continues to control the public prosecution and judiciary, in particular in cases of freedom of opinion and of activists whom the government considers as its opponents.
The cabinet’s decision stipulates legislation of the new law by amending clause no. 5 of chapter 246 of the penal code, issued by decree by-law no.15 for 1976. The draft law has been submitted to the Shura and Representatives Councils. Both Councils have failed over the past three years in amending articles of the state security law of the penal code or any other laws that violate freedoms.
The Center calls on the authorities, and the Shura and Representative Councils to be transparent in publishing details of draft laws, specially those related to freedoms and human rights. The Center demands actual activation of criminating the government for publishing the names or pictures of suspects before the issuance of the judicial verdict, but not preventing those acting to protect the rights of the detainee or defendant from using the media.
Shadow report to the UN Committee Against Torture
Shadow report prepared by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the National Committee for Martyrs and Victims of Torture, submitted to the UN Committee Against Torture for its 34th session in Geneva (12 - 13 May 2005).
About the report
Given the absence of a regional human rights mechanism in the Middle East, the United Nations was the main body monitoring Bahrain’s compliance with its human rights obligations. Bahrain’s decision to accede to the Convention against Torture in 1998, bringing its domestic law and policies under the examination of the Commission Against Torture, is of major importance because Bahrain is not yet a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. However, Bahrain’s first state report to the Committee against Torture is long overdue. Even though Bahrain has not yet acceded to the individual right of petition to the Committee against Torture, Bahrain has withdrawn its reservation under Article 20 of the Convention. This empowers the Committee to initiate an enquiry where it has reason to believe that “torture is being systematically practiced” in Bahrain.
This report highlights the most important violations to the Convention Against Torture as well as focusing on the impunity that has been given to the perpetrators whom are accused of practicing torture.
We gave specific of victim’s cases that had been tortured before and after Bahrain acceded to the Convention.
The full report can be dowloaded from the link below.
Clarification statement on the serious unfounded accusation by the Bahraini minister of labour
March 4, 2005
I was gravely disturbed for the serious accusation made by the Bahraini Minister of Labor against me in his closing statement today during the session of CERD Committee.
The minister accused me of calling for the death of the Bahraini Prime Minister in my speech in a seminar after which I was arrested in September 2004. While the fact is that, in my speech, I connected deterioration of living condition in Bahrain to corruption of the government headed by the Prime Minister.
I also mentioned in my speech that most people in Bahrain see the current government as an obstacle for economic reforms, they hold him responsible for gross violations of human rights during the previous era.
What the Labor Minister accused me of today was not even apart of the charges I faced at court. The charges were “instantiation of hatred and disseminating rumors by accusing the Government and the Prime Minister of corruption”. (Reference could be done on the case to reports by amnesty International, OMCT, FIDH, Frontline and Human Rights Watch)
In addition, the Minister said his statement as an answer to a question about the reason behind his decision to close the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, which was officially connected to a seminar on discrimination in 2003 and has nothing to do with what I said in the last seminar on poverty.
I would like finally to thank the distinguished experts for their efforts and good work.
Abdulhadi Alkhawaja President Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Naturalization as a mean of discriminatory demographic change
Arguments related to discrimination against Shi’a
Presented by: Bahrain Center for Human Rights, March 4, 2005
Shi’a and Sunnis share the same religion (Islam) but not the same origin:
- The ruling Sunnis belong to tribal Arabs who came to Bahrain from Bedouin areas in Saudi Arabia, none of the Bahrainis of tribal origin belong to Shi’a sect.
- Shi’a have always been farmers, fishermen and merchants, none of the Shi’a is of tribal Bedouin origin.
- Shi’a and Sunnis mix in some new districts in the cities, but the majority live in different suburbs and villages.
- You could easily distinguish between a Shi’a and a Sunni from family name and accent.
Therefore it has been easy to discriminate against Shi’a in daily life, in employment and public services.
Does the “democracy” introduced in Bahrain serve unity and the combat of discrimination?
During the disturbances in the nineties calling for democratization, all people who were killed or injured, and all of the many thousands who were arbitrary arrested and tortured were Shi’a.
In 2001, 98.4% of Bahrainis voted in favor of the Charter of National Action, but when the constitutional amendment declared by the new king in February 2002, tension start to build up again. The constitutional amendments give the king the right to appoint half of the members of the parliament, which is considered as monopolizing the democratic system against the well of the majority.
Also, in August 2002 an electoral measure gerrymandered parliamentary district boundaries to dilute Shi'a votes. The Government divided the country into imbalanced sectarian constituencies. For example, in the southern governorate, where newly naturalized persons reside (tribal Sunnis), a block of around 2000 voters hold a seat in parliament, whilst in the central and northern governorate, where the majority are Shi’a, block of around 7800 voters hold one seat.
Naturalization as a mean of gross demographic changes in favor of tribal-Sunnies:
Measures were taken to limit the electoral power of the Shi'a majority included granting Bahraini citizenship and the right to vote to 20,000 tribal Sunnies from Saudi Arabia, without having to fulfill the criteria of citizenship. These people are Suadi nationals who never lived in Bahrain. They belong mainly to "Al Dawaser Bedouin tribe.
On the other hand, the Government secretly and by-passing the normal laws, granted Bahraini nationality and the right to vote to several thousands of tribal Sunnis and their families, who were brought from Jordan, Yemen and Syria, to work in the army and the security force. As a result, four most of Shi'a boycotted the October 2002 parliamentary elections. The outcome, as widely expected, were a victory for pro- government candidates, especially Sunnis, while representation of Shi’a majority is marginal, 12 out of 40 members.
Since discrimination against Shi’a majority is a major form of discrimination in Bahrain that affects the life and rights of the majority of the citizens, and sense it is a main source of social an political instability for a long time, it is essential to address this problem and to seek information about in search for solutions and redress.
(for references and more details, please refer to the alternative report)
What is the reality of granting citizenship to tribal arabs from other Arab countries without fulfilling the criteria of period of residents (15 years)? How many are they? Of what sectarian origin? Where they allowed to participate in recent elections? Is it true, that one of the main official reasons behind the closure of the “Bahrain Center for Human Rights” was a seminar and a report on Discrimination and favoritism in Bahrain?
Discrimination and Favoritism in Bahrain
A presentation by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, addressed to the 66th session of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), March 2005