London / Beirut
31 January 2023
Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)
Briefing for parliamentarians attending the 146th Assembly of the IPU
in Manama, Bahrain
The Inter-Parliamentary Union’s (IPU) 146th Assembly, scheduled to be held in Manama between 11 – 15 March 2023 constitutes an opportunity for parliamentarians to advance the principles and practices of international human rights standards and democracy.
Salam for Democracy and Human Rights (SALAM DHR) urges parliamentarians attending the Assembly to join with other parliamentarians from across the globe to call on the Government of Bahrain (GoB) to:
- Rescind provisions detailed below that restrict parliamentary life, and MPs’ freedom of expression and association;
- Resolve the two outstanding cases that the IPU’s own Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians (CoHRP) has lodged with the GoB;
- Implement in an objectively verifiable manner, all recommendations arising from the GoB’s human rights treaty obligations; as many recommendations as possible arising from the 2022 UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and those made by the UN’s Special Procedures; and
- Examine the cases of 15 former Bahrain parliamentarians whom the government has targeted, including by way of arbitrary arrest and detention; unfair trial and imprisonment and arbitrary stripping of citizenship.
SALAM DHR urges parliamentarians to inform themselves of other, widely-shared human rights concerns in relation to Bahrain, and to meet with human rights and other civil society activists while in Bahrain. Recommended actions in respect to such concerns include:
- Respect, protect and fulfill Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), providing for the “right and the opportunity […] to take part in the conduct of public affairs”
Despite the guarantee of democratic principles set out in Article 1(e) of Bahrain’s Constitution; or the assertion in Article 4 that freedom, equality, and equal opportunities are the pillars of society, guaranteed by the state, the authorities have enacted laws at variance with international human rights standards: they have expressly legislated to restrict public participation in public life and thereby eroded rights and freedoms provided by Bahrain’s own Constitution.
Decree-Law No. 14 of 2022, amended in 2018 stripped prisoners of their right to vote and barred Bahrainis convicted of vaguely-worded and arbitrarily imposed “political” (sic) crimes from running for parliament. Article 3 states that:“He shall be deprived of the right to exercise political rights, during the execution of his sentence, whoever is convicted of a felony or misdemeanor of a penalty depriving him of liberty”.
As set out in a 2022 SALAM DHR report, in June 2016, the GoB announced the arbitrarily-imposed and unfair dissolution of the Al-Wefaq Islamic Society. The GoB closed its headquarters, seized its accounts and property and accused it of “helping to foster violence”. In May 2017, the authorities forcibly and arbitrarily dissolved the National Democratic Action Party (Wa’ad), likewise closed its headquarters, and seized its properties.
June 2018’s Law No. 25 prohibited leaders of the unfairly dissolved political associations from running for parliament. The authorities imposed the same measure regarding those who had resigned from parliament. These measures appear to have also been expanded to include the right to vote.
On the basis of these unfair provisions, in advance of the 2018 parliamentary elections, the authorities rejected at least 12 applications to stand for election. Those deprived of the right to vote and to run for office included unaligned candidates with an imputed sympathy for arbitrarily banned associations.
In November 2018, the United Nations’ Human Rights Committee (HRC) stated that it was:
“[…] concerned that the opposition parties Al-Wefaq and Wa’ad have recently been dissolved and that their leaders and members have been prosecuted. In addition, the Committee is concerned about allegations of gerrymandering and voter fraud during elections […]”
The HRC called on the GoB to:”guarantee equal enjoyment of the rights of all citizens to ensure effective participation in public life, as required under article 25 of the Covenant; […] review decisions to dissolve opposition parties and ensure that political parties and their members are allowed to participate in political life”
The GoB has rejected this appeal, eroding international rule of law. It has expressly chosen to demean democracy and the very mission of the IPU by virtue of its actions.
Taken with, inter alia, Article 33 and the qualities it ascribed to the King , Article 35 of Bahrain’s Constitution, too, could undermine the principle of parliamentary democracy insofar as it provides for an”inviolate” (Article 33) personage to both introduce and ratify laws.
Moreover, by way of its own actions and arbitrary restrictions and in contravention to its own laws, the GoB “[…] violates the freedom of the referendum or election or its procedures by using force or threat or disturbance […]”. The GoB has likewise repeatedly chilled and undermined the principle of participation in public life by the ruler’s repeated use of unchecked legislative power following his periodic (recess) or exceptional dissolution of parliament, permitted for up to five months at a time, during which time his office is empowered to issue law-decrees, free from scrutiny.
- End the use of the death penalty
Ignoring domestic appeals from human rights activists; its own National Human Rights Institute; His Holiness Pope Francis; tens of other states and appeals from human rights organisations, in December 2022, the GoB voted at the UN General Assembly’s biannual resolution on the death penalty against an imposition of the practice.
In January 2017, Bahrain lifted a then seven year de facto moratorium on the death penalty, sentencing and executing three activists accused of killing three police officers. The most recent executions are a result of unfair trials carried out following nation-wide demonstrations in 2011. In the following years, the number of death sentences issued by the Bahraini authorities has generally increased. This practice has been largely applied in spite of the Kingdom of Bahrain’s express commitment to adopt international human rights standards.
- End the arbitrary revocation of citizenship and restore nationality to all individuals in cases that failed to adhere to the relevant international standards
Since November 2012, the GoB has stripped the citizenship of 990 persons, mostly Shi’a political activists, including at least three former parliamentarians. The authorities charged most of them with vaguely-worded charges relating to national security. As of April 2019, a total of 434 Bahrainis remained deprived of their citizenship following arbitrary processes that failed to meet recognisably minimum international standards in relation to such law.
- End limitations on the enjoyment by women of the rights guaranteed as a state party to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
Women in Bahrain face discriminatory laws and practices with regard to citizenship and nationality, marriage, divorce, and inheritance. These hinder the full and equal enjoyment of their rights. Failure to bring law and practice in line with international standards has produced an unequal society in which women are often regarded and treated as second-class citizens by many Bahrainis.
A SALAM DHR report (for the UN) detailed flaws in respect to:
- Political will, the scope and place of the Covenant in domestic law, reservations and accountability;
- Intersectional factors and corollary human rights violations of other covenants that impact on implementation of the Covenant;
- Inaccurate representation of consultation and engagement with civil society, circulation of information relating to the Covenant;
- Violence against women;
- Denial of the existence of women human rights defenders;
- Justification of torture and ill treatment of a woman human rights defender;
- Effective dependency;
- Conferral of nationality by women
- Inheritance and
In another, joint report, SALAM DHR joined others in calling on the GoB to:
- Abolish the death penalty and, in the interim, limit the death penalty to only the most serious crimes;
- Ensure proper gender-sensitive training in the judicial system and protect women in conflict with the law when gender-based violence is involved;
- Develop and implement programmes to prevent gender-based violence and discrimination; and
- Ensure fair access to counsel to women sentenced to death or at risk of being sentenced to death.
SALAM DHR is an independent non-governmental organisation that aims to promote and protect human rights and democracy across the Gulf region, with a particular focus on Bahrain.
The IPU is the global organisation of national parliaments. It endeavours to empower parliaments and parliamentarians to promote peace, democracy and sustainable development.
The IPU, which has had Permanent Observer Status with the UN since 2002, comprises 178 member parliaments yet its Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians (CoHRP) has 727 cases of violations of parliamentarians’ human rights under consideration, of which two are from Bahrain.
At the IPU’s 146th Assembly in Manama, the parliamentarians will address, amongst other issues, promoting peaceful coexistence and inclusive societies and fighting intolerance.
For further information, contact:
Jawad Fairooz @JawadFairooz (Arabic, English)
Abbas Taleb @abbastalebb (French, Arabic, English)
Drewery Dyke @drewerydyke (English)