29 Mar, 2014

Britain and Bahrain: still allied against democracy and human rights

An interview with Maryam al-Khawaja, a leading Bahraini human rights activist, on the continuing protests in Bahrain, the regime’s continued repression and the UK’s involvement in the ongoing situation.

Maryam al-Khawaja is the Acting President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and Co-Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights. She comes from a family of prominent human rights defenders in Bahrain, with her sister having served and her father continuing to serve time as political prisoners. 

David Wearing: Let’s start by talking about the legal situation with your dad and your sister. Where do things stand with them at the moment?

Maryam al-Khawaja: My father is sentenced to life imprisonment. He’s been through all the legal processes available in Bahrain. His sentence has been upheld at every level, right up to the end at the Court of Cassation. But of course, when we’re talking about the justice system in Bahrain, there isn’t really due process. Nor do you have any real insight into how the judiciary works because these are political decisions made outside of the courtroom. The courts are not independent, nor are they fair. 

My sister Zainab got out of prison about a month ago after being in prison for approximately a year. She’s now facing three more court cases, so she could be arrested again at any point. 

DW: Can you tell us something about the political demands they were making and the non-violent techniques they employed in their activism?

MK: My father has been a human rights defender for a very long time now. He’s been working on the ground there since 2001. And his demands were very much to do with human rights; demanding civil and human rights for all people in Bahrain. And his way of doing this was to create an awareness in society of what civil and human rights are.

So he would train the youth to work on their own chosen issues, helping to set up thematic committees that would work on a given issue and bring pressure on the government to deal with that issue. But of course, my father’s work wasn’t just limited within the borders of Bahrain. The amount of people he’s trained to work on human rights across the Middle East and North Africa is countless.

And this created a real threat to the regime, the fact that not only was he working on human rights but that he was also sowing the seeds so in the future there would be hundreds of other people doing the same thing. That’s why he was one of their main targets and why he’s sentenced to prison today. 

Zainab is very well known for her use of non-violent methodology in dealing with the situation that you face in Bahrain on a day-to-day basis. Which is, for example, when you’re attacked by the police you don’t run, you stand your ground, which is scary, of course, it’s difficult and not anyone can do it, but for her, non-violence is an active thing.


Continue reading on http://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening/david-wearing/britain-and-bahrain-still-allied-against-democracy-and-human-rights

29 Mar, 2014

Dissident says taking Formula One to Bahrain increases human rights abuses

Jean Todt, the FIA president.

A leading Bahraini dissident, whose father was imprisoned for life for his role in pro-democracy protests, has claimed that taking Formula One to the country increases the number of human-rights abuses.

Maryam al-Khawaja has renewed calls for the Formula One chief executive, Bernie Ecclestone, and the FIA president, Jean Todt, to remove the Bahrain race from the Formula One calendar, believing it legitimises a regime that has been heavily criticised by human-rights organisations and campaigners for press freedom.

The race was added to the schedule in 2004 although it was cancelled in 2011 at the height of sometimes violent protests against the government by pro-democracy campaigners.

"When we first started talking about this we would be told that you shouldn't mix sport and politics. In Bahrain, it's not just that the human-rights situation is bad and therefore Formula One shouldn't come to Bahrain. But having Formula One in Bahrain specifically causes human-rights violations," said al-Khawaja, who was raised in Denmark and returned to Bahrain in 2001 with her father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja.

"The amount of arrests that happen before, during and after Formula One definitely accelerates. We've had women arrested, we've had children arrested."


Continue reading on http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2014/mar/27/formula-one-bahrain-grand-prix-human-rights-abuses 

25 Mar, 2014

Bahrain: Proposed Arab Court of Human Rights: Rewind the process and get it right

During the Arab League's summit, which is being held today and tomorrow in Kuwait, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights joined sixteen other institutions in calling for greater incusion in the talks surrounding drafting a statute for the Arab Court of Human Rights. The full text of the statement is below.


March 20, 2014

Ahead of the Arab League’s summit to be held in Kuwait on 25 and 26 March, national and global human rights organizations today called upon the Arab League’s member States to suspend efforts to adopt a draft statute of the Arab Court of Human Rights (the Arab Court) until broad discussions and consultations have taken place with all interested stakeholders, who must be permitted to participate meaningfully in all stages of the process of establishing the Arab Court.

Our organizations have closely followed the initiatives of the League of Arab States (LAS) aimed at reforming the LAS system since popular uprisings erupted in several Middle East and North Africa countries in 2011. While our organizations welcome efforts to strengthen the LAS human rights system, including by establishing an Arab Court, we are concerned that the entire process of reform over the past three years has been conducted behind closed doors and through opaque procedures that contravene basic principles of inclusive participation and transparency. Consultations should include not only representatives from the LAS member States but also national and global civil society organizations, members of the bar and judiciary, academic and independent experts and other interested stakeholders.

Our organizations are concerned that establishing the Arab Court in a rushed and non-inclusive manner would be detrimental to the efficacy of the Court. We are further concerned that the draft statute, elaborated by the expert legal committee and expected to be submitted for approval at the LAS’s summit, falls short of international, including regional, human rights standards. Areas of particular concern include the means of selection of judges, the independence of the Arab Court, the applicable law and jurisdiction of the Court, the admissibility of cases, and access to the Court.

Our organizations call on the on the member States of the LAS, LAS Summit, and Secretariat to amend the draft statute in order to:

  • Ensure that the nomination of candidates and election of judges is based on transparent and non-discriminatory procedures that protect against undue, inappropriate and unwarranted interference, and that take full account of appropriate personal and legal qualifications, gender balance and a fair representation of different legal systems;


  • Ensure that judges sit in their individual capacity, not as representatives of their national State, and serve for a single, lengthy term;


  • Ensure that judges can only be suspended or removed from office for reasons of incapacity or behaviour that renders them unfit to discharge their duties, following an appropriate procedure, established in advance, that guarantees the rights of the concerned judge to a fair hearing incorporating all due process guarantees;


  • Provide that the jurisdiction of the Arab Court extends to violations arising out of breaches of the Arab Charter and that the Court must interpret the Charter in a manner consistent with the State’s other international human rights obligations;


  • Ensure that the requirement of exhaustion of local remedies does not have the effect of preventing rights holders from accessing the Arab Court, and that only claims brought by the same applicant on the same subject matter before another regional human rights court are precluded from the Arab Court’s jurisdiction;


  • Ensure that all individuals within the territory of a State party, or subject to its jurisdiction, can have access to the Arab Court when they claim to be a victim of a violation, by any of the State parties, that falls under the jurisdiction of the Court; and that States do not hinder access to the Court, in particular by providing for the effective protection of victims and other participants in the proceedings and by ensuring that they are not subjected to any form of pressure or reprisals as a result of their participation in proceedings before the court;


  • Remove any obstacles that may limit NGO access to the Arab Court, and ensure that any NGO, not only those accredited in a respondent State, can bring a complaint before the Court; accordingly, the statute should also provide for other avenues to access the Court, including for individuals or NGOs to join proceedings as interested parties or to submit information as amicus curiae or through expert opinions;


  • Provide for an independent and effective monitoring mechanism that supervises the execution of the Arab Court’s judgments, and provide that the Court is competent to prescribe specific measures to be adopted by member States in order to execute the Court’s judgements; and


  • Ensure that the Arab Court is competent to prescribe interim measures, which may be granted prior to the issuance of a final judgment, to enable the Arab Court to intervene in cases where the