Bahrain: Citizenship Rights Under National and International Conventions vs. State Practice

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The previous year saw a sharp increase of use of the Bahraini regime’s favourite tool against dissidents: the deprivation of citizenships. In 2015 alone, more than 208 people were stripped of their nationalities, making the total number of citizenships revoked more than 260. By doing so, the state practice in Bahrain breaches a number of national and international laws and conventions, including The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ICCPR and The Bahraini Constitution. Moreover, the process of deprivation of citizenship reveals a hierarchical and discriminatory system in the country, consisting of, what SALAM have identified as, seven levels of citizenships:

1. The Royal family, The Al Khalifas, enjoy the most rights and privileges from their citizenship, including high ranking positions in the public sector and control of the national wealth. Although the family’s wealth is no longer recorded on budget sheets, it has been estimated that, between the years of 1926 and 1970, Bahrain’s ruling family received about a quarter of the nation’s wealth,  in other words, one family got more per year than the health sector, education sector, public protection, combined. The political leadership of the family, notably King Hamad and cabinet ministers, hold even greater power then the “ordinary” Khalifas.

  1. The families close and loyal to the Al Khalifa family enjoy similar privileges as gifts for their loyalty.
  2. Naturalised Sunni citizens, for example members of the security forces and governmental bodies
    4. Regular Sunni citizens
    5. Expats Although expatriets are not classified as citizens, they enjoy a high

employment rate and are generally well treated because of Bahrain’s sensitivity to international reputation. There are, however, vast differences in regards to Western expats and expats from South Asia.

6. Shia Baharna, ethnoreligious group who are the indigenous population of Bahrain
7. Shia Ajam, an ethnic group composed of Shia Bahraini citizens of non-Arab Iranian national background. Due to the Bahraini governments alliance with Saudia Arabia and extreme suspicion in regards to the influence of Iran, the Ajam is the most harassed group in Bahrain: in 2011, prominent figures from the Ajam community were unlawfully targeted during the 14 February uprising.  Historian Ali Bushahri estimates that the Persian population is now about 100,000 or 20% of 550,000 Bahraini citizens.

It is thus clear that citizenship is not equal in Bahrain. Rather, your right to citizenship, and the rights it entails, relies on your level of loyalty, your ethnic background and your religious belonging. Therefore, we demand the Bahraini Government rescind the revocation decisions, takes swift steps to reverse decisions and procedures the Bahraini authorities have already taken to pass the unlawful revocation decision.

In terms of discrimination against Shia (Baharna as well as Ajam) they are a minority in all constitutional and administrative branches. They occupy a proportion of only 15% of the executive branch, 12% of the judiciary, 10% of government bodies and companies, and only 1% of the King’s guard and security apparatus, which includes the army. Between 2011 and 2013, positions for public office like judges, ministers and advisers have been directly appointed by the orders of the King. Thousands of Shia have been made redundant from 2011, with discrimination against them evident in many facets of Bahrain’s society, including employment, teaching, health, and housing.

National Law

The Bahraini Constitution states in Part Three, “Public Rights and Duties”, Article 17 (a) that “Citizenship shall be defined by the law, and no person enjoying citizenship by origin may be deprived of it except in cases of high treason and dual nationality and in accordance with the conditions specified by the law.” And in subparagraph b, that “Citizenship may not be withdrawn from a naturalized citizen except within the limits of the law.”  Article c affirms that “No citizen shall be deported from Bahrain, nor shall he be denied re-entry.” The National Action Charter reaffirms, in its second article, equality before the law, “without distinction of race, origin, language, religion or belief.” However, in regards to nationality, these factors are highly influential.

Regrettably, the July 2014 amendment to Bahrain’s citizenship law, enabled the Interior Ministry, with cabinet approval, to revoke the citizenship of any person who, according to authorities, “aids or is involved in the service of a hostile state” or who “causes harm to the interests of the Kingdom or acts in a way that contravenes his duty of loyalty to it.” This vaguely worded provision has continuously been used to target dissenting voices in the Bahraini society.

International Law

Protection against discrimination and right to citizenship is furthermore emphasised in international laws and conventions. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in article 15:

 (1) Everyone has the right to a nationality; and

(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

In the preamble of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, it is stated that:

“Recognizing that, in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ideal of free human beings enjoying civil and political freedom and freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his civil and political rights, as well as his economic, social and cultural rights.”

Further, under Article 2 it is added that:

“1. Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

“2. Where not already provided for by existing legislative or other measures, each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to take the necessary steps, in accordance with its constitutional processes and with the provisions of the present Covenant, to adopt such laws or other measures as may be necessary to give effect to the rights recognized in the present Covenant.”

Finally under Article 5:

“1. Nothing in the present Covenant may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms recognized herein or at their limitation to a greater extent than is provided for in the present Covenant.”

In reality, hundreds of people have in fact been deprived of their citizenship, not for accusations of high treason or dual nationality, but for allegedly “undermining state security”, stating Article 10 of the Citizenship Law, supposedly permitting the “re-evaluation of nationality”. In fact, citizenships are revoked arbitrarily, without charges, a legal process or evidence.
It thus becomes clear that, in Bahrain, citizens are not treated equally in regards to their nationality rights. The situation is not simply “first class” or “second-class” citizens, but rather a complex, hierarchical system of, what we have identified as, seven levels of citizenship, often correlating to ethnicity, religion, relations and family. This system promotes a sectarian, divided and undemocratic society, where the leaders are free to make arbitrary decisions about its supposedly disloyal subject. In order to create a society where people are treated equally in regards to their nationality, Bahrain and the international community need to react.


  • 1- Demand the Bahraini Government rescind the revocation decision due to its breach of the Constitution, the laws governing citizenship in Bahrain, and its contravention of international treaties and declarations that Bahrain has signed and ratified.
  • 2- That the Bahraini Government takes swift steps to reverse decisions and procedures the Bahraini authorities have already taken to pass the unlawful revocation decision.
  • 3- Declare a decision to restrain the Bahraini authorities from ever using a revocation of nationality as a means to punish political opponents.
  1. – Urge Bahrain to sign the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness
  • 5 – Demand of the Bahraini authorities to accept and allow the visits of the UN Special Rapporteurs to meet with those that have been victims of the stripping of nationality.
  • 6 – A call for the international community to push the Bahraini authorities to correctly comply with signed and ratified international treaties and declarations which confer on a citizen of Bahrain the right to a nationality.