Bahrain: International human rights agreements not observed and violations continue
Paper brought forward by SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights for Bahrain Forum Conference for Human Rights
Beirut – Lebanon
22-23 April 2015
Bahrain has signed 24 international agreements in an array of fields, including agreements relating to unions and the rights of workers, and specifically in the human rights domain where 7 agreements have been signed. They are:
- International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
- Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
- Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
- Convention on the Rights of the Child
- Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict
- Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
1- International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
Convention was adopted and opened for signature by the United Nations General Assembly resolution on 21 December 1965, entered into force on 4 January 1969, and signed, ratified and acceded by the authorities in Bahrain on 27 March 1990.
Actions of the Bahraini Authorities
Discrimination in Bahrain is determined by the level of affiliation to the ruling family, and degree of loyalty to them. To compound the issue, on the upper level, the King governs the three constitutional powers, and appoints members of the ruling family in senior positions in the power structure. On the lower level, the rest of the positions within the power structure are gifted to citizens considered “loyal”, with positions distributed depending on strength of loyalty, rather than merit and qualifications.
Discrimination in Bahrain can also be illustrated by statistics. Bahraini Shia Muslims represent approximately 65% – 75% of the Bahraini population, yet they occupy only 15% of the executive bodies, 12% of the judiciary, and 10% of government-owned companies and institutions. As for the army, the Royal Guards, and the Royal Court, the Bahraini Shia Muslims approximately represent no more than 1%. Whilst from 2011 – 2013, 14.9% of all ministers, judges, and advisers were appointed directly by decrees, King’s orders, or Interior Ministry decisions.
Further, there is an additional layer of discrimination in Bahrain, whereby the Bahraini Defence Council – the highest authority in the country – is made up of 14 members, 13 of whom are members of the ruling family, and 1 from the Sunni Bahraini community. There is not a single Bahraini Shia Muslim in it.
Discrimination against Bahraini Shia Muslims is felt on a wider scale, where Bahraini Shia Muslims do not occupy many official positions, many were sacked from their previous employment, yet remain redundant despite an array of qualifications.
Also, many towns’ names inhabited by Bahraini Shia Muslims were changed in order to erode the historical identity and presence of Bahraini Shia Muslims. Examples include areas like Juffair, Karbabad and Nuwaidrat. In addition to this, streets, schools and hospitals are never named after Shia historical or recent figures.
2- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
Convenant was adopted and opened for signature by the United Nations General Assembly resolution on 21 December 1966, entered into force on 4 January 1976, and signed, ratified and acceded by the authorities in Bahrain on 27 September 2007.
Actions of the Bahraini Authorities
On the question of the rights of the national, which is supposed to be equal for all citizens, the Bahraini authorities assume complete ownership of all these rights, exercising a form of reward system to whoever shows loyalty. Bahraini nationals may lose all of their rights if they demonstrate political differences, which is what happened with the 123 citizens who had their nationality stripped, losing all their rights in the process.
Another example of Bahraini authorities’ actions breaching the ICESCR was the sacking of 4,500 employees and workers during the State Emergency imposed in March 2011 after the start of pro-democracy protests. Whilst systematically restricting the rest of the workers in the public and private sector who are affiliated in any way with the opposition in general, and the Bahraini Shia Muslim community in particular.
Other examples showing the disregard of Bahraini citizens’ economic, social and political rights because of sectarian reasons are:
- Shia Bahrainis are prevented from building mosques in Shia majority cities like Riffa, Hamad Town or Isa Town, and not allowed to build hussainiyat (Shia Muslim religious centres) in close proximity to public roads, diplomatic areas or business districts (prevention imposed from building the Hassan Al-Aali mosque near Seef Mall).
- Prevention of building of Shia religious centres for Shia Bahrainis in Hamad Town.
- The construction of the three most recent cities, Isa, Hamad and Zayid Towns (built in the seventies, eighties and nineties, respectively), have an approximate total of 73 mosques, but only 14 out of the 73 are Shia Muslim mosques that were allowed to be built. (5)
- There are thousands of Shia Bahrainis in the Buhair area in Riffa, but no permission was given to use any of the land for the purpose of building a mosque for the Shia Bahrainis there. (6)
- In 2011, during the imposition of emergency law – commonly referred to as period of national safety – the Bahraini security forces with the assistance of GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) forces demolished 38 mosques. A further eight hussainiyat (Shia Muslim religious centres) were subject to part-destruction and vandalism (reportedly many more were further vandalised according to the Shia Endowment Authority). Additionally, two gravesites were vandalised and damaged during the same period. (7)
- The Bahrain Independent Commission Inquiry (BICI) documented and confirmed such violations against mosques, and independently investigated the demolition of five mosques and concluded no official or persons have been sentenced to this day.
- The repeated demolition of mosques that were rebuilt during the three years after the original demolition. Further preventions have been placed from rebuilding demolished mosques, one example being the Barbaghi mosque. There is strong evidences that these demolitions are not isolated events, rather a political policy that is being sustained.
- The closure of the gravesite of Su’su’a bin Suhaan in Askar, after barring visitors from visiting the site and numerous vandalism attempts.
- Attacks have been carried out on religious mourners, hussainiyat and mosques, aswell as preventing citizens from carrying out religious processions.
- Al Wefaq’s human rights report for the year 2013 described the numerous violations against places of worship and restrictions on religious freedoms. 118 cases were reported, which include an array of violations from targeting and suppression to baseless investigations and destructions. (9)
- The hiding away of any manifestations of religious Shia Muslim festivities, preventing any coverage to the public including newspapers, the news or any other media outlet. Even loudspeakers are banned from use for such festivities to limit any attention.
- Bahraini security forces have been recorded in videos aswell as sound notes, showing them purposely and systematically targeting and destroying Shia religious banners, flags, stalls, and any other manifestations of Shia religious celebration or processions.
- Arrests and torture of many religious Shia scholars simply for their expression of opinion. The issuance of decisions to restrict religious discourse, preventing prayers and speeches in many mosques. Intimidating Shia religious orators, reciters and chanters, and obstructing any attempts by them of exercising their religious activities.
- Revoking the right of Shia scholars from organising propagation activities. This has been demonstrated by the political decision, disguised under a judicial judgment, to close the Ulama Islamic Council. This has been previously revealed in the Bandar Report which exclusively mentions the Islamic Ulama Council and the plan to target and control Shia religious issues aswell as encircle Shia scholars and their institutions.
- The demolition of the Pearl Roundabout monument in March 2011, which was a gathering site for pro-democracy protesters in the period of February 14 to March 15 2011. The monument represents the long history of the people of Bahrain and their long heritage in the Gulf, illustrating the pearl trade in Bahrain before the discovery of oil.
3- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Convenant was adopted and opened for signature by the United Nations General Assembly resolution on 16 December 1966, entered into force on 23 March 1976, and signed, ratified and acceded by the authorities in Bahrain on 20 September 2006.
Actions of the Bahraini Authorities
Prejudice against political rights – manipulating the distribution of voting districts
Bahraini Authorities systematically target civil and political rights of the citizens, with representation depending on strength of loyalty rather than an equal vote for every citizen. Thus, the winning and largest parliamentary bloc with the majority of votes in the election will form the smallest bloc in the legislative branch in Bahrain.
– Targeting of civil society organisations
Bahraini authorities have consistently targeted civil society organisations, obstructing the work of NGOs that were established for the purposes of public utility and service to the Bahraini society. NGOs are restricted by law under the ‘Social and Cultural Associations, and Private Bodies working in Youth and Sports Institutions (No. 21/1989)’, which is one of the toughest legislation currently in action in Bahrain. This law puts all political societies and NGOs under strict official control of the Ministry of Social Development, which is ultimately under the control of the Ministry of Justice. In this context, several NGOs were dissolved, including: Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Association of Teachers, Islamic Action Association, and Islamic Scholars Council. In addition, Al Wefaq National Islamic Society and the National Democratic Action (Wa’ad), the two largest political societies in the country, have continuous administrative and security harassments. Further, all the secretaries-general of opposition political societies are imprisoned, and they are: Sheikh Ali Salman (Al Wefaq), Ibrahim Sharif (Wa’ad), Sheikh Mohammed Ali Al-Mahfouth (Islamic Action) and Fadel Abbas (Wahdawi party). Other secretaries-general of a number of political societies have already been sentenced to life imprisonment, and they are: Abdulwahab Hussain (Tayaar Al-Wafaa’ Al-Islami) and Hassan Mushaima (Haqq).
– Restriction on freedom of expression, prevention of public assembly, and pursuance of users on internet social platforms
Internet social media platforms have become the key outlet for freedom of expression, and the prominent outlet the Bahraini Authorities use to target, restrict and litigate citizens that express their opinion. A key example is the female rights activist Ghada Jamsheer, who was arrested early in September 2014 for posting “inflammatory tweets” on social media platform. Another similar example is the human rights activist Nader Abdalimam, who was arrested in August 2014 for a tweet made on social media site Twitter. A third example is the numerous accusations against Nabeel Rajab, and that he “insults official bodies”, after he posted a tweet regarding Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense. He was detained a day after his return from his travels abroad. He was summoned by the Department of Electronic Crimes and remained in custody for approximately one month. He was then released on 2 November 2014 after pressure from an international human rights campaign demanding his release. However, he was prevented from traveling and was arrested again on 2 April 2015 for a similar reason.
The fourth incident is a regarding a tweet made by Jamil Kadhim, chairman of Al Wefaq’s Consultative Council, in October 2014, where he said ahead of the parliamentary and municipal elections that bribes are likely involved in the elections and how they are being used to support candidates. He was summoned for investigation in the Criminal Investigation Department, after a lawsuit was filed against him by the President of the Supreme Commission for Elections to the Minister of Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowments. His case was escalated to the courts, where he was sentenced to 6 months in prison and a 500 BD fine on 13 January 2015.
The pursuance, persecution and punishment of activists, blogger and tweeters reveals the extent of the systematic restrictions on freedom of expression in Bahrain, contrary to all human rights, as well as media and publishing standards.
Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Convention was adopted and opened for signature by the United Nations General Assembly resolution on 10 December 1984, entered into force on 26 June 1987, and signed, ratified and acceded by the authorities in Bahrain on 6 March 1998.
Actions of the Bahraini Authorities
Testimonies of torture victims have been documented in the Bahrain Independent Commission Inquiry (BICI), which illustrated the systematic torture and degrading treatment, both in the investigative rooms or in detention centres. All those who have been arrested have gone through similar experiences of severe torture, which entail:
- forced standing for long periods
- beatings with cables and iron sticks
- threats to family member
- sleep deprivation, food deprivation
- denial of carrying out prayers
- prevention from toilet use
- beatings on sensitive places of body such as the genitalia
- soaking with cold water
- forced to stay in very cold rooms
- one-handed suspension
- sexual harassment
- solitary confinement
Numerous statements and reports have come out stating that thousands of Bahrainis are still being tortured in Jaw Prison. Bahrain has denied entry to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. Juan Mendez stated in his speech to the United Nations in New York in October 2013, that he is concerned about the situation in Bahrain.
Moreover, Redress, in their report released in April 2013, titled “Fundamental reform or torture without end?”, stated that the increasing number of reports on torture and ill-treatment in detention raises serious concerns, because the initial contractions that appeared immediately after the issuance of the fact-finding report (BICI) became counterproductive, with torture and ill-treatment later continuing unabated.
Convention on the Rights of the Child
Convention was adopted and opened for signature by the United Nations General Assembly resolution on 25 May 2000, entered into force on 12 February 2002, and signed, ratified and acceded by the authorities in Bahrain on 21 September 2004.
Actions of the Bahraini Authorities
BICI documented many of the grave violations against children in Bahrain. Amnesty International released a report on 13 December 2013 regarding the targeting of children, stating:
“Dozens of children have been arrested on suspicion of their participation in anti-government protests, including those who are 13 years-old. They were blindfolded, beaten and tortured while in detention during the past two years.” Amnesty further said that others had been threatened with rape in order to extract forced confessions.
In addition, there were many complaints lodged to UN Special Rapporteurs in the Human Rights Council regarding the abuse of children in arrests and detention. Specifically concerning two Bahraini children, Jihad al-Habashi and Ibrahim al-Miqdad, who were sentenced to ten years. This further illustrates the indifference Bahrain has to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Main reasons why Bahrain does not abide by International Agreements
After following and documenting violations committed by the Bahraini authorities that are in contravention of signed and ratified agreements, there seems to be obscure and pretense projects and organisations, and inapplicable laws organised by the authorities to hide away the extent and show false improvements. To demonstrate this fully, no meaningful recommendations from the BICI report in 2011 or the UN Universal Periodic Review in 2012 have been implemented.
SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights has followed the activities of the Bahraini authorities and monitored events to confirm that there is a complete absence of will to cease violations to any international agreement, or torture practices. This is principally down to the make-up of the current political system, which is strictly built on exclusivity and control rather than democratic principles. As such, demands for freedoms and rights are perceived as dangers that would open the floodgates for the rest of the Bahraini society to obtain their rights. Further, there are protests in every decade, thus a torture and detention policy and manipulation of domestic law is seen as necessary even though it contravene international agreements.
Bahraini authorities’ anti-freedom stance existed prior to the popular uprising in 2011, and the uprising resulted in the full documentation of violations by all international human rights organisations and portrayed in the mainstream media. Even though the Bahraini authorities have continued contravening the agreements and continue violations, the international community has remained largely quiet and uninvolved. Some world powers, predominantly the UK, have provided reprieve and diplomatic protection to the Bahraini authorities, allowing human rights abusers and torturers to escape justice – making the authorities more confident to carry out further agreement-contravening violations.
1- For the international community, represented by the United Nations, oversees the restructuring of the political system to ensure the involvement of all citizens in the political process and the proper distribution of wealth, all based on equal citizenship rights and duties without any discrimination, whilst ensure the creation of real and accountable institutions.
2- For the international community, represented by the United Nations, to utilize an international court to bring to justice all officials involved in abuses and torture.
3- For the international community to put Bahrain on a list of countries that violate human rights, and that the world powers, like the UK, to take the issue of human rights and democracy as a basis for building and continuing relationships.
4- For the United Nations to assume a protective role for the Bahraini people, by preventing countries that export weapons from dealings with the authorities in Bahrain.
5- For the United Nations to activate UN laws and compel Bahrain to implement all the recommendations presented by the UN Human Rights Council.