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Discrimination In Granting Citizenship In Bahrain

Motives & Serious Impacts On Humans Rights And Social Security

March 2004

The Bahraini leadership's policy regarding the naturalization process reveals wide practice of discrimination, abuse of power, defect in the rule of law, absence of transparency, manipulation of the democratic process and weakness in scrutinizing the executive authority.

The huge increase in naturalized citizens worsened the already deteriorating economic situation in Bahrain. The result was escalation of unemployment, poverty and housing problems, thus affecting the rights of women, children and weaker segments of society (1). The process of exceptional naturalization, employment of these naturalized persons in security departments and providing them with privileges, have psychological and social impacts on the social structure, provocation of racial and sectarian conflicts, hatred towards foreigners (xenophobia) (2). Although the motives behind discrimination are political, the form it takes is sectarian and racial.

The BCHR fears that social and economic impacts of this issue will further damage the citizens' confidence in the government and intensify public resentment, resulting in the re-occurrence of political and security unrest.

This report sheds light on the issue, analyzes its motives and put forth suggested recommendations:

The law in Bahrain allows granting citizenship with conditions. Among these conditions are residing in Bahrain for 15 years if the applicant is Arab; and 25 years for non Arab (3). However, in reality, the authorities in Bahrain followed discriminatory policy, by secretly and exceptionally granting citizenship in the last ten years to thousands of individuals and families of Sunni tribal origins, though they already hold citizenships of other countries and residential conditions do not apply to them. On the other hand, thousands of eligible people were denied citizenship although most of them had no other citizenship (4) and did not live in any other country besides Bahrain. This denial created difficulties for 'stateless' people especially in owning properties, having jobs, and traveling or mobility (5).

Granting citizenship with exceptions and secretly without adherence to the law is still a worrying matter regardless of the political openness that was introduced by Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa who came to power after years of internal political unrest and international pressure – this resulted in granting citizenship to many eligible people – a move that was endorsed by human rights organizations and by the public. Most people are reluctant (6) that the authorities have no transparency and make no effort to resolve the issue.

The Council of Representatives formed a committee to investigate the issue, but the 'law on the Consultative Council and the Council of Representatives' issued by a decree before the formation of the later, prevents the Representatives from questioning the government on matters preceding its formation in December 2002. The Committee is also restricted from reviewing the process of naturalization, which was granted by the King's exceptional authority (7).

Despite, the political limitations and restricted information obtained by the committee, its members were able to reveal serious breach in granting citizenship. The committee's report also pointed out that the increase in the number of naturalized citizens had a negative impact on security, social, economic and living standards. It recommended that the law on citizenship should be amended, citizenship granted outside the scope of law be reviewed, the directorate of citizenship be re-organized, and criteria for exceptional residence conditions be put forth. The report held the Minister of Interior Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Khalifa responsible (8). The discussion on the report was postponed to next month. Many doubt the representatives' ability to disclose political facts, let alone taking measures in this regard.

Six political societies held conferences, and visual-taped samples of granted passports. These societies also issued detailed reports on breaching of the law, and sent questions to the undersecretary of immigration and passports, but no response was received until now (9).

It is possible to conclude motives behind the discrimination in granting citizenship through the following points:

  • Most of those granted exceptional citizenship are of Sunni tribal origins, of which the 'Al Khalifa' ruling family belong to. They are a minority in the country, though they dominate the political and economic life, as well as the military and security institutions.
  • Persons who were utmostly denied the citizenship for a long period of time belong to Shia sect of Islam who form the majority of population. Shia are discriminated against in government, army and security jobs and in educational and housing services (10). Thus, they are the unemployed majority with wide-spread poverty, opposition tendencies and protest activities.
  • All those granted citizenship with exception were employed in the Defense Forces, National Guard and security forces. They and their families reside in semi- remote areas (11). They were actively engaged in suppressing protests. These institutions marginally employ a few Shias. During the 90s unrest, tens were killed and injured due to excessive use of forces, to crush down demonstrations. While, approximately 7,000 citizens (mostly Shias) (12) were detained and tortured.
  • The authorities took initiatives to grant the citizenship to a large number of individuals from the Saudi Al Dawaser tribe, who had never resided in Bahrain. These people were brought to Bahrain only to participate in the elections of the Council of Representatives (13). The authorities also issued orders to army and police associates to take part in the elections (14). The authorities amended the law just before the election to allow the newly-naturalized citizens to participate in the elections, rather than wait for 10 years to be eligible to vote, according to the previous law (15).


The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights calls on the authorities and concerned human rights bodies to intervene to push for transparency, whereby the authority reveals all information related to naturalization, mainly in the period of the 90s.

  • To hold open dialogue to discuss and resolve this issue.
  • To carry out administrative reforms in all concerned departments and to prosecute officials who violated the law.
  • To amend the naturalization law, which would clearly specify conditions for citizenship, restrict the authority from abusing this power and achieve transparency by officially disclosing granting citizenship.
  • To introduce procedures that will stop any discrimination in granting citizenship and any newly-naturalized citizen from being given preferences in employment, housing and other privileges.
  • To give priority to the citizens, without discriminating among them, in employment and promotions in the army and security institutions.
  • To give priority to those who are being denied citizenship, to women who have Bahraini children and to children of Bahraini women.
  • To speed up the process of granting citizenship to those who deserve it, and to issue passports to denied Bahrainis, such as the descendents of Mr. Saleh Al-Setrawi, who until now are barred from returning to Bahrain.


(1) See details and statistics in the report of Bahrain Centre for Human Rights on living standards and economic rights

(2) Privileges are given to the naturalized persons in acquiring jobs in the army and security institutions, while Shia citizens who are a majority and consist the majority of the 30,000 unemployed Bahrainis, are denied these jobs. While naturalized persons injoy housing facilities, there are more than 40,000 applicants for public housing, some for more than 10 years and there are approximately 10,000 homes about to collapse and not suitable for living. The naturalized persons are given preference in salaries, allowances and promotions.

(3) Article no. (3) Bahraini citizenship law for 1963.

(4) Universal Human Rights Declaration stipulate that every individual has the right to a citizenship.

(5) Consider reports by Amnesty International, US State Department and Bahrain Human Rights Organisation for 1990-2000.

(6) The passports directorate still places obstacles before many of those who deserve the citizenship, whereby the Bahrain Centre follows-up more than 40 cases of individuals and families, the authorities slows down the process of granting passports and allowing the return of 66 children and descendants of Saleh Al-Setrawi, who are in exile.

(7) Most cases of exceptional citizenship is believed to have happened in the 90s, with special decrees issued by the late Amir.

(8) Statements by the vice chairman of the parliamentary investigation committee regarding naturalization- Al Ayam newspaper 16/2/2004.

(9) Consider reports and working papers presented by Al Wefaq, the National Action, the Islamic Action, the National Forum, Al Wasat Al Arabi and Al Menbar Al Taqadoumi.

(10) Statistics report published by Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.

(11) Such areas are houses of Defence Forces, Safiriya and parts of Hamad Town.

(12) The committee for victims collected data on the number of victims. The committee submitted a petition containing 33,000 signatures of victims and their sympathizer, demanding compensation and prosecuting of officials. Refer also to reports by Amnesty International and UN’s mechanisms on violation in Bahrain during the 90s unrest.

(13) In the beginning, the authorities did not admit to naturalizing members of Saudi Al Dawaser tribe. However after providing solid evidence in a public seminar by opposition societies, the King revealed that they were given the citizenship because their ancestors lived in Bahrain in the 1920s.

(14) Considering that these segments are of Sunni tribal origins, their participation in the elections would benefit the nominees of these segments on the expense of the others.

(15) The authorities intended to stamp passports of the voters, to find out who failed to participate in voting, mainly those in the military and newly-naturalized citizens. The opposition societies called for boycotting the elections, because of the constitutional changes made by the King, that among other matters, he appoints half the members of the parliament.

Evaluation of Human Rights Conditions in Bahrain

In Terms of Laws, Institutions and Protection Mechanisms

A Paper Presented by Abdul Hadi Al Khawaja, Director Bahrain Centre for Human Rights

Bahrain, 10th December, 2003


  1. Introduction
  2. Legislation: Constitution, Laws and Extraordinary Measures
  3. Public Affairs Societies: Political Parties and Organizations at the Government’s Mercy
  4. Media and Press
  5. International Organisations and International Non-government Organisations
  6. Power of Legislation and Control (House of Representatives and Shura Council
  7. Judiciary: Is it a means of Rendering Justice or Restriction?
  8. Executive Authority (Government)
  9. Conclusion
  10. The Penal Code: Restricts Basic Rights and Freedoms
  11. Societies Law No.21 of 1989: A Sword Threatening Societies

The full report can be downloaded from the link below.

Discrimination in Bahrain: The Unwritten Law

A report by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, September 2003

Introduction and summary of the report

The Kingdom of Bahrain is an archipelago made up of 33 islands, with Bahrain Island being the biggest and mostly populated. Bahrain is located on the eastern shore of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in the Gulf. As of mid 2003, the population was estimated 670,000, of which foreign nationals comprised 38% of the total. Foreign nationals made up around 60% of the total workforce. The utmost majority of Bahrain citizens are Muslims.

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa rules Bahrain. He ascended to the throne in March 1999 following the death of his father, Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa. The Al Khalifa family arrived in Bahrain in 1783. Since that period, the country has been governed through hereditary. Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa is the Crown Prince by virtue of being the eldest son of the King.

In 1971, Bahrain gained its independence from Britain, and witnessed a year democratic experience between 1973 and 1975. Bahrain became a constitutional monarchy in February 2002. According to a new constitution, the King appoints members of the government, senior employees in the executive power, members of the Supreme Council for Judiciary, members of the Constitutional Court and members of the Shura Council, who make up half the members of the National Assembly. The King shares with the National Assembly the authority of issuing legislation. The Al Khalifa family belongs to a Sunni tribe, while the majority of citizens are of urban origins (non-tribal), either Sunni or Shiite, and some are of Persian descendants. The Shiites comprise around 70% of total citizens.

Despite the clear outnumbering of Shiites in society, the percentage of Shiites occupying top government jobs is either low or non-existent, reflecting blatant discrimination in public jobs. Followers of the Shiite sect occupy merely 18% of the total of high-ranking posts covered by the report. Critical jobs such as ministers of foreign affairs and interior are off limits for the Shiite. In fact, the real percentage of high-ranking posts occupied by the Shiite is most likely less than what this report has concluded; so is the case because some establishments not covered in the report do not employ Shiite.

Women are no luckier than Shiite in holding senior jobs in the country. Women held 26% of total manpower in 2001. Women occupy around 8% of the leading jobs covered by the report. There are 16 ministries and government bureaus that have no women in key posts. There are seven ministries and government bureaus where women are holding top key jobs and these are primarily Sunni. Women from the Royal family hold the mentioned significant posts, including undersecretary of ministry, president of university and ambassador. Members of the Royal Family (Al Khalifa) enjoy privileges regarding leading posts. Although the percentage of people belonging to this family is less than 2% of total number of citizens, they hold more than 17% of key posts. The percentage increases more with the level of the job, reaching 51% in the post of minister and rank of minister. Among such posts are the Prime Minister and main ministries notably Defence, Interior, Security and Judiciary. Members of this Family also hold significant posts such as governor of governorates, head of courts, president of university and Chairperson of Supreme Council for Women. Additionally, Al Khalifa members have control over major companies, in which the government has a dominant share, as well as establishments such as sports federations.

Aside from information and tables included in this study concerning discrimination in employment in high-ranking posts, the report also comprises statistics that reveal the practice of discrimination in employment in all levels in three essential establishments, which were created after the recent changes. These establishments are the General Prosecution Office and Shura and Representatives Councils. The report also tackles aspects of discrimination practiced towards the religious practices, as privileges are extended to followers of Sunni Islam.

We hope that this report contributes in disclosing circumstances and practices of discrimination in the Kingdom of Bahrain. The report aims at highlighting wrongdoing practices and more importantly urging the authorities to treat shortcomings in the country for the benefits of ensuring the prevalence of justice and respect for human rights in Bahrain.

For further details and recommendations related to the reality of discrimination in Bahrain, please find the following annex:

  • Sectarian discrimination in the kingdom of Bahrain: The Unwritten Law (English): Nabeel Rajab: Vice president of Bahrain Center for Human Rights.
  • Prerogative and Discrimination (Arabic): Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, Executive Director of Bahrain Center for Human Rights.
  • Discrimination: Legal view (Arabic): Lawyer Jalila Al Sayed.

Nabeel Rajab Documenting Committee of related to Discrimination. Bahrain Centre for Human Rights October 16, 2003

Circumstances facing Migrant women (Domestic Workers) in the Gulf

Paper presented by BCHR Vice President Nabeel Rajab to the Annual Conference of the World Association of Non-Governmental Organizations, Bangkok, 25 - 28 September 2003

Labour Law in the GCC countries fails to cover domestic workers, who constitute a large proportion of migrant Women workers. These workers face numerous violations and unfortunately there is no deterrent procedure against the breacher or a law to protect this powerless segment in society.

1 - Aspects and dimensions of the problem:

Unfortunately, the procedures of employing domestic workers, leaves the specification of tasks and its nature to the discretion of the sponsor and the circumstances surrounding the workers. The sponsoring family brings in the housemaid, who is not aware how many members of the family, she will be serving. At this point, the family will decide the role of the maid, be it a baby-sitter, cook, cleaner or car washer or all together.

The family imposes restrictions on the maid's move, place of living and break-time. Whereas the number of working hours is not defined, making her work endlessly. A housemaid will find herself receiving orders from different family members. Occasionally, they would also end up working in other locations outside the family home and normally they are not allowed to practice their religious rituals. They are deprived of the right of possessing their personnel documents, such as the passport, In accordance with the domestic and global laws.

Housemaids are mostly prone to violation and abuse by their employers, supervisors, sponsors, police and security forces, with the least ability to defend their rights, which is attributed to their humble social and economic backgrounds, and cultural discrimination. It is also due to the non-existence of a law protecting this category. Besides, they are unaware of their rights and means of seeking legal assistance, whom to contact, even meet with its fellow citizens or with representatives of their embassy (if there is an embassy in the host country).

Most of these women, sell all their houses and their belongings just to travel to earn their living but they end up paying the recruiting agents, travel expenses, residence permit or accumulative fines for documents not being renewed.

Once the migrant woman arrives in the host country, the series of violations begins. Sponsors introduce changes in the work contract, if there is any. The contract which was previously signed at the embassy is eliminated, leaving the door open for unlimited violation. This Women labour force is treated as a commercial commodity by some sponsors or recruiting agencies. The domestic worker might be sold, transferred, hired or forced to commit adultery, or forced into a mistress of the sponsor who may not consider her circumstances, and her opinion is not taken into consideration.

There is hardly a serious investigation into claims of Women domestic worker to the state bodies. When she resorts to the police, normally she is returned to the employer and his continued violations and harassment. This led to loss of confidence of this migrant Women worker segment in state bodies, which includes police and others.

Unfortunately, the institutions of civil society, in general and women associations in particular, have assumed a negative role in defending female worker, merely because they are non-Citizens.

2 - Proposals and solutions:

Firstly, society must develop a culture, to see the domestic worker of no less value than other family members. There is a need for a change in concepts, which look upon domestic workers as slaves.A working contract is necessity, and before arriving in the region. It should clearly define rights and duties of all parties, especially migrant women and they should be aware of the living and working conditions, the number of the family members that they will work for, working hours, days off and break-time and to be jointly signed by the sponsor, the worker, the embassy, the recruiting agency and the Ministry of Labour. Any modifications in the contract should be agreed by all parties or considered a crime, punishable by law. In Bahrain, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) put forward a proposal for the Government to adopt the contract adopted in Jordan in collaboration with the UNIFEM.

Migrant Women Workers should be visited by inspectors representing the various state institutions, not only to check upon the interests of the sponsor alone, but also to detect violations committed by him or member of his family and there should be a regulatory body and supervisory mechanism that ensures these women receives all payments and entitlements before departure and impose effective sanctions on persons, groups or entities which use violence, threats or intimidation against migrant women.

It should be seen that these workers are not forced to pay travel expenses, residence permit or accumulative fines for documents not being renewed, because it is the sole responsibility of the sponsor.

There should be a law that includes the domestic workers and specifies their minimum wage. Compulsory insurance should be applied, to ensure that the worker is compensated in case of accident, along with the provision of regular medical care.

It is also important to have labour attachés offices to be concerned with labour cases at embassies of exporting countries to foster cooperation and coordination with government and non-government organizations establishments in labour recipient states, to solve the problems of their fellow citizens.

Complaints of harassment by these women should be seriously taken by the government, without negligence. The recruiting offices must be monitored to make sure they comply humanitarian criteria and standards, license must be withdrawn if violation against these powerless workers is proven. There must be a shelter for these harassed women, when needed, which should provides services of translation, medical check-up, as well as legal support.

It is urgently required to join the international convention on the protection of the rights of all migrant workers and members of their families, which has been enforced as from first of July 2003. This treaty provides clear-cut global standards for the safeguarding of these workers, in countries of origin, transit, and destination. It is essential to incorporate the role of specialized Human Rights and women organizations to protect the rights of migrant workers, through out all stages, as advisors and observers. (Such as the Migrant Workers Group established by the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights).

Petition to King Hamad to bring torturers to justice

Petition organized by the National Committee for Martyrs and Victims of Torture calling on King Hamad to alleged torturers to justice, and give reparations to victims.

In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

His Majesty King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa, the King of the Kingdom of Bahrain:

May peace and blessing of Allah be upon you.

We submit to your Majesty a number of national demands concerning the martyrs of Bahrain and the victims of torture, basing our demands on Allah’s commands on punishing assaulters as He stated “ .. life for life, eye for eye, nose for nose, ear for ear, tooth for tooth, and for wounds there shall be reprisal ..” and as He stated “In the law of equality (punishment) there is saving of life to you, O you men of understanding..”.

Also, based on Article 19 – D of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bahrain and based on the National Action Charter – Article 3 in Chapter one “Law ensures punishment of those who commit an offense of torture, a physically or psychologically harmful act.”

Moreover, following the ‘Convention Against Torture .. ’ that was ratified by the Kingdom of Bahrain and became part of its national legislation which articulates in article 4: “each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law. The same shall apply to an attempt to commit torture and to an act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture ” and Article 13: “Each State Party shall ensure that any individual who alleges he has been subjected to torture in any territory under its jurisdiction has the right to complain to and to have his case promptly and impartially examined its competent authorities.”

And in recognition to the ‘Vienna Declaration’ that was adopted in World Conference on Human Rights - 1993 which recommends states of the world to ‘.. abrogate legislation leading to impunity for those responsible for grave violations of human rights such as torture and prosecute such violations, thereby providing a firm basis for the rule of law.’

Furthermore, based on the demands of your people, which was expressed in different ways, to support your reform plan, and to change the previous status of the country, where people of Bahrain suffered from, many were killed, and thousands were subjected to torture and degrading treatment; all these have created a huge national wound that cannot be cured except by applying the Sharia (religious law); the Kingdom of Bahrain Constitution; the National Action Charter; and the international treaties.

Based on the aforementioned, we demand from your Majesty:

  1. Nullification of the Royal Decree 56-2002.
  2. Investigation in all murder and torture cases by a national committee consisting of individuals from judiciary, and representative from human rights & political societies.
  3. Bring all those who have committed murder or torture to justice in accordance to the international standards.
  4. Recognition for all martyrs and considering them as National Martyrs. Also compensate their families.
  5. Compensation for all victims of torture; and rehabilitation for those who are still suffering from torture.

May God succeed your Majesty in directing the country’s boat and in pursuing the rights of your people.

May peace and blessing of Allah be upon you.

National Committee for Martyrs and Victims of Torture 25th January 2003