Bahrain’s 3rd UPR Cycle:
This paper has been presented by SALAM DHR President, Jawad Fairooz on the 20th of September 2017 in a side event at the UN’s 36th Human Rights Council in Geneva.
The event was organized by Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) and co-sponsored by a number of International NGOs including ourselves in SALAM DHR.
Bahrain’s first Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) took place on April 7, 2008. Especially since 2011, amid the increasing deterioration of the status of human rights in Bahrain, the UPR emerged to be as one of the awaited events by Bahraini activists and organisations to raise their criticism of the systematic and ongoing violations and abuses committed by the authorities.
Just over a year after the suppression of the popular pro-democracy protests in 2011, Bahrain entered its second four-year cycle of the UPR in May 2012. Several delegations expressed concerned about human rights violations throughout February and March 2011. On 6 July 2012, the HRC submitted 176 recommendations to Bahrain, addressing a wide range of issues.
In its third UPR in May 2017, another—but repeated—176 recommendations were released to the government of Bahrain. This report provides an analysis and evaluation of the significance of the UPR and its impact on the situation of human rights in Bahrain.
Recommendations to Bahrain in 2017
In the third UPR Session of Bahrain, the member countries listed their concerns on Bahrain’s failure to introduce genuine reform despite its promises made at its last UPR in 2012. The majority of countries urged Bahrain to stop human rights violations, and to abide by the international conventions it ratified, as a strong rebuke to the Bahraini government over its rapidly deteriorating human rights record.
For instance, the United States severely slammed Bahrain and its recent measures against political parties and clerics. France expressed worry about freedom of the media, while Germany showed concern over banning Bahraini rights activists from traveling to Geneva to take part in the UN HRC sessions. Canada demanded Bahrain to halt its policy of dissolving opposition parties, and urged it to allow peaceful protests and abolish penalties on assembly.
Denmark expressed both regret and concern over the impunity enjoyed by human rights violators in Bahrain as well as the suppression of free speech. The representative from Denmark raised the case of jailed activists Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja who holds Danish citizenship. Finland called on Bahrain to allow an independent and impartial investigation into these allegations. Iceland spoke about international human rights organisations still being denied access to Bahrain. Honduras also raised the issue of religious discrimination, Argentina and Bulgaria criticized the return to executions, and Chile expressed concern about continuing reports of torture.
Several countries including Netherlands raised the issue of a new constitutional amendment that will allow civilians to be tried in military courts. Switzerland and Slovenia pushed for the implementation of the recommendations of the 2011 independent inquiry into violations that year, and Mexico criticized the stripping of citizenship. Austria urged Bahrain to allow the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture into the country. The Czech Republic wanted to see assurances that the recently adopted “anti-terror laws” are not used to persecute innocent civilians.
Failure in implementing the recommendations
Many of these concerns and recommendations, however, were not new. The majority of them were repeatedly raised not only at the previous UPR session, in which 176 recommendations were submitted to Bahrain, but by numerous rights organisations inside and outside the country on various occasions.
The fact that many of the recommendations were repeatedly issued again in May 2017 implies that most of them had not been implemented by the government of Bahrain. Throughout the 5 years between 2012 and 2017, the Bahraini government did not seek any solution. Despite its commitment to implement the UPR and BICI recommendations, Bahrain has transformed into a police state, full of torture, killing and sectarian persecution. The period has only witnessed an escalating record of executions, political arrests and citizenship revocations against the dissents. As a consequence, Bahrain received 176 recommendations that mirror the 2012 UPR recommendations; they are equally important affirm that Bahrain has failed to implement the previous ones.
In its third UPR in May 2017, another—but repeated—176 recommendations were released to the government of Bahrain. Indeed, the third UPR cycle in 2017 convened at the time particularly when:
• Duraz village had been under total siege
• Prisoners of conscience, activists, bloggers and human rights defenders were behind bars
• Illegitimate arrests and unfair trial were prevailing, including those of Nabeel Rajab
• Numerous activists were being tortured, including Ebtisam al-Saegh
• Political parties and civil associations were being dissolved
• AlWasat Newspaper, popularly seen as an independent newspaper was shut off
• Three dissident youths were executed
• Extrajudicial killings were recorded
• Continuation of travel bans on human rights defenders willing to engage with the UN mechanisms.
• Dozens of citizens were revoked of their citizenship, including Sheikh Isa Qassim
• Family members of activists were targeted as a political retaliation, including those of Sayed al-Wedaei
• Continuation of forcible deportation of Bahraini citizens, i.e. Madiha Hubail.
Despite its commitment to investigate the violations and hold violators accountable, the human rights situation in Bahrain has never been improved to a meaningful level, and the UN member states convinced that UPR and the BICI recommendations were not implemented. Notably, 91 states requested to present interventions on human rights record while in 2012 UPR, just 64 states requested to do so.
Responses of the government and ongoing human rights abuses
The government of Bahrain has claimed that “the Kingdom is a model in freedom of belief” and “has reiterated that reform is an ongoing process,” noting that Bahrain continues to support human rights and development and is “proud to continue our efforts despite challenges such as external interference.”
Accordingly, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published Bahrain’s National Report, which is misleading, repeating the same claims to progress made up by the government, all the while omitting the dramatic escalation in human rights violations, and generally disregarding the reciprocal regression on key UPR recommendations. For instance, the report does not reflect the systematic exploitation of Bahrain’s broad anti-terror legislation as a tool to violate rights to free expression, privacy and due process.
The National Report serves only as a further example of the Bahraini government’s attempts at obfuscation and self-aggrandizement on the international stage – efforts it invests more resources in than both substantive engagements with international human rights mechanisms and tangible domestic reform. In reality, the progress cited by the government fail to address the essence of the recommendations made during the second UPR cycle.
In the lead up to the Bahrain’s UPR, dozens of Bahraini human rights defenders, political activists, lawyers and journalists were summoned for questioning by the Bahraini Public Prosecution. They were charged with “illegal gathering” in north-western village of Duraz and slapped with travel bans, in order to prevent them from attending the Geneva forum.
Throughout the 5 years between 2012 and 2017, the government of Bahrain did not seek any meaningful solution to improve human rights conditions in the country. The period witnessed an escalating record of execution, political arrests and citizenship revocations against dissidents. The 2017 recommendations seem to mirror the 2012 UPR recommendations, as both sets line up to 176 recommendations. They are equally important, affirming that Bahrain has failed to implement the previous ones.
In the 2017 UPR, the majority of the member states were clear and specific about their recommendations, which showed that they are closely following the violations practiced in Bahrain. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that political situation in Bahrain has stagnated since the second session of UPR in 2012 and that although three rounds of national dialogue have been witnessed, they had no significant impact on changing the political scene in the country.
Since the third UPR session in May, the human rights situation in Bahrain has rather seriously deteriorated. The 2017 recommendations come in light of the complication of these heinous violations, in addition to the increased cases of citizenship revocation, peaceful assembly bans, and rejection of the UN special rapporteurs to visit Bahrain.