Bahrain Human Rights Observatory holds event at UN Human Rights Council
High level officials, including Mr. Frej Fenniche, Director of the Middle East at the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, attended a special side event on Bahrain, organised by the Bahrain Human Rights Observatory (BHRO). The audience, including delegates from the missions of Switzerland, Denmark and the EU, heard from a number of panelists who gave evidence on the current situation for human rights in Bahrain, during the two hour session in Geneva.
The event, Chaired by Tara O’Graady, an independent human rights defender from Ireland, heard first the testimony of Hussain Abdulla, Director of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB). Abdulla responded to the speech of the Bahraini Foreign Minister who had spoken at the Human Rights Council the previous week. Abdulla addressed claims made by the Minister regarding a process of reform in Bahrain. He said that whilst the Government can easily implement the bureaucracy of any recommendations made from the international community, in reality the spirit is not there. Abdulla gave the example of the ombudsman position, that was recommended in the BICI, but has since refused to investigate the treatment of imprisoned human rights activist Naji Fateel.
Abdulla was followed by Sayed Mohamed Alalawi, a Swedish based activist and PR Head of the Alsalam Centre for Human Rights. Alalawi set out to discuss the impact of the various form of weapons being used on protesters in Bahrain by the security services. He questioned the role of the international community for allowing export licenses to Bahrain that permit the importing of weaponry that is being used against protesters. Alalawi highlighted the example of the Swedish Government against whom a group of NGO’s have filed a lawsuit for allowing $147 million worth of military hardware to Bahrain.
Baqer Darwish, from the Bahrain Forum for Human Rights, continued by discussing the issue of impunity in Bahrain. He highlighted the recent example of the Bahraini Prime Minister who in July 2013 told a Police Officer who had been accused of torturing medics that he would never be prosecuted. He argued that this attitude of impunity runs right through the political and judicial establishments in Bahrain.
Ali Alaswad, a resigned MP from Bahrain’s largest opposition Society Al Wefaq began by expressing his wish that human rights were improving in Bahrain, but the real situation is very different. He highlighted a recent report released by the Government of Bahrain that claimed full implementation of the BICI, mentioning a number of claims made and contradicting what they said. This included false claims of prosecuting police officers, releasing political prisoners, rebuilding mosques and reinstating expelled students. Alaswad quoted former BICI Commissioner Sir Nigel Rodley who registered his “disappointment” at the lack of progress on the BICI, as well as the refusal to allow the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture into the country.
The resigned MP was followed by Dr. Fouad Ibrahim, Vice-President of the International Council for Supporting Fair Trial and Human Rights. He argued that it is time for the Gulf states to transform towards democracy, although ruling elites in these countries are doing their best to reinforce familial rule.
Rula Alsaffar, President of the Bahraini Nurses Society and one of the previously detained medics, presented her campaign “I am Free”, in which she is trying to document all of the thousands of political detainees in Bahrain. Alsaffar screened a short film about the campaign and then spoke in length about the different types of political prisoners in Bahrain, that includes both women and children. She highlighted about the forms of arrest of detainees and some of the poor treatment they receive whilst in detention. Alsaffar also mentioned the “culture of impunity” in Bahrain that allows violations to continue without prosecution, including deaths of protesters.
Finally Fareeda Ghulam, wife of imprisoned political leader Ibrahim Shariff, presented on the famous opposition leaders who were sentenced to between 5 years and life in prison, known as the Bahrain 13. She also recounted that torture had been used in prosecuting these detainees, along with hundreds of other prisoners in Bahrain. Ghulam spoke in length about the general treatment of detainees in Bahrain and specifically about her husband, who she said is banned from receiving certain newspapers, as well as having his phone calls recorded by prison authorities. She mentioned that the BICI had recommended the release of the political prisoners, although they remain incarcerated today.
The side event gave a unique opportunity to address the international community at the human rights council and to relay the reality of the situation on the ground in Bahrain, challenging the official narrative of the authorities that attempts to whitewash the violations that are committed on a daily basis.