Civil Societies in Bahrain

 

Civil Societies in Bahrain
 
Civil Societies in Bahrain
Bahrain is considered a pioneer among Arab countries ,that familiar with public societies and clubs, currently known as civil society organizations (CSOs), and the oldest among other Arabian Gulf countries. The establishment of public societies and clubs started during the twenties of 20th century as The Literary Club atMuharaq in 1920, The Public ( Ahli)Club in 1936, Al-Oruba Club 1939,Writers and literary Family  1969, Engineers Society 1972,and Medics Society 1972.Concerning human rights it late concept , which became in circulation during post-independence 14 Aug.1971 era.(1)
Several cultural and sport clubs were established since the fifties of 20th century in the country. Since the sixties of 20th.century, Bahraini students associations, which comprise Bahraini university student abroad, were established and culminated with the establishment of The National Union of Bahraini Students in 1973.
With the declaration of The Reform Project , along with the takeover of HE, The King, Sh. Hamad bib Essa Al-Khalifa, the rule in 1999, several public societies  , concerned with human rights , were licensed ,amongst The Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRO), and Bahrain Transparency Society (BTS), then other societies of different mandates were licensed
2-Legal International Background
The international rights conventions, stipulate the right of public associations, and non-restriction of its activities, where ICCPR , stipulates at its article 22:
“No restrictions to be imposed on the practicing this right ,except those stipulated by law and form necessary measures in democratic society , to safeguard the national security , public safety and public order or  to protect the public health , the public manner and the rights of others and their freedoms”(2)
The National Security points to political or military threat to the nation as whole, or spreading pro-war propaganda, while The Public Safety, points to the safety of persons, their life, their physical integrity and health.(3)
3-Constitutional Background
The Constitution of Bahrain, stipulates at article 27 on:
“The freedom of establishing societies and syndicates on national bases and for legitimate objectives, and peaceful means …etc”
Article 31 of The Constitution prohibits restrictions of the freedom of establishing the formation of the societies “The regulation of the rights and public liberties  , stipulated in this constitution , or restrictions is only by law or based on it, conditional that regulation or restrictions does not affect the essence of the right or liberty.(4)
4-Legal Background
The Law on Societies, social and cultural clubs, and special instructions in the field of youth and sport No21/1989, regulate the establishment, affiliation and the relevant activities to the objectives of the societies, amended by decree 44/2002. and  relevant Ministerial Decisions, which contravene  tge essence of the rights, where The Ministry , is entitled to restrict the right of establishing independent societies currently.(5)
The Ministry of Social Development (MoSD), responsible for the establishment and monitoring the public societies since has proposed draft law in 2013, which is not up to the civil society expectations, as will be detailed.
5-Difficulties before CSOs
The voluntary activities in Bahrain faces several problems, created by The MoSD, its methodology and control by its bureaucratic employees , lacking the culture of the voluntary work, which deepens the public societies problems of which :
5.1 Undermining society’s establishment
The MoSD imposes several illogical conditions and obstacles, which prohibit the establishment of the new public societies, especially if the founders are not in accord with the  dominant official thinking and  government policy such as :
5.2-Dissolving or suspending societies
The MoSD , not only  prohibited the establishment of undesirable  societies, but  undermined continuously the work of those societies  not in accord with the government as follows:
5.2.1 In 2006 , the MoSD dissolved The Board f BTS, and appointed employee to administer it.
The MoSD dissolved The Board of BHRS, and appointed employee to administer it. Because the case went to the court , the MoSD conceded to the appointment of transitory  care taker with the consent of BHRS.
5.2.3-In April.2011, the Military Prosecutor forced The Medics Society y board to resign, then the MoSD ,appointed pro-government board as care taker,which in turn amended its bylaw, to accommodate foreign medics as full members, mostly government employees, which led to the election of pro-government board.
5.2.4-In Nov. 2011, the MoSD annulled the election results of The Lawyers Society, and appointed pro-government care taker administration, which in turn manipulated the membership record, which enabled it to secure pro-government elected board
5.3- Closure of societies
Post 14Feb.2011 uprising, witnessed the MoSDdecisions of closing some public societies as follows:
5.3.1-Dissolving The Teachers Socity , confiscating its belongings , and imprisoning its President, Mr. Budeeband Vice-President Ms. AlSaman.
5.3.2-Dissolving Nursing Society and imprisoning it President Ms.Alsafar and Secretary Mr. Al-Demstani.
5.3.3-Dissolving Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and imprisoning it President Mr. Rajab, and Board Member, Mr. Alkhawaja
5.4-Refusal of Financial Sponsorship
The MoSD refuses to sponsor independent societies, considered dissident, and refuses to allow these societies to secure sponsorship of its projects in service of thesociety ,by foreign funds. For example, The MoSd ,prohibited BTS, of securing US-MEPI sponsorship for project on ” Integrity Among University Students, while MEPI is sponsoring government and pro-government societies projects. The MoSd terminated MEPI sponsorship of project on empowerment of The Civil Society, by The Bahraini Women Union.
5.5Suspension of independent CSOs in Activities
Since Feb.2011 popular movement for popular participatory democracy in administering the state affairs, The MoSD , and the government at large , became intolerant towards the independent CSOs and its activities, thus terminated their  engagement in joint programs. For example BHRO, BTS, BWU,and BGFWU,were exclude from The Steering Committee on UPR , jointly administered  by MoFA &  UNDP, while more pro-government CSOs were accessed.
6-The New CSOs Law
The MoSD proposed draft Law on CSOs in 2013,considered by the civil society activists ,  worse than the current law of 1989, which was issued during The State Security era, despite the recommendations of The National Dialogue in 2011 for better law.
After the government transfer of the draft law to the Parliament, The President of House of Deputies, sent letter to several CSOs, which grouped into 2 groups, Transparency and White Group,where both  comprising 35 societies, were in agreement in their response  that the draft law is not compatible for modern contemporary law, which contributes to the development of the voluntary work, contrary to the National Dialogue recommendations, presented to HH The King, which he adopted. The observations and recommendations of The Transparency Group is as follows:
1-Non response of the MoSD to the request of establishing society, is considered refusal, thus the adverse party could resort to judiciary, where international norm is that no response is considered non-objection, where objection should be rationalized.
2-Some articles of the draft law contravene with the Bahrain ratified international conventions.
3-The law if approved, will lead to crippling and weakening the voluntary work, and the withdrawal of many members out their societies, because of restrictions and penalties.
4-The draft law stipulates on society premise, accommodation and paid 6 month rent, prior to license, which is  considered over-burden to the founders who are volunteering , and without the MoSD support, which makes it impossible to demand the establishment  new society, especially that the request result is uncertain.
5-The draft law does not stipulate any MoSDcommitments towards the societies, especially financial sponsorship or securing premise.
6-The draft law contravene The National Dialogue recommendations No37,38 &39 on The social aspect, to amend the current law on society or replacing it with modern law which facilitate CSOs.
7-The draft law entails The Minister of Social Development and employees, absolute authority to close any CSO, then its Board could resort to judiciary, while the norm is that the MoSD , could resort to judiciary requesting closure or suspension.
8-The draft law entitles the MoSD , authority to inspect the society premise , even in the absence of its officials. The norm is that the MoSD could demand inspection in the presence of judiciary representative in case of serious offence, based on credible evidence.
9-TheMinister of SD could dissolve the Board of CSO ,and appoint interim administration, which is stark intervention.
10-Restrictions on CSOs to affiliations to Arab and international networks and associations
11-Members of Board are liable to imprisonment due to practicing their duties (8)
7-Conclusions
7.1The new law should be compatible to international conventions and norms
7.2-The law should be drafted by competent committee including CSOs representative and consultancy of OHCHR
7.3- The draft should be debated widely, before being adopted by The Parliament
7.4-Till then the MoSD , should refrain of its arbitrary interference and should resort to judiciary to resolve disputes.
7.5-The dissolved societies and Boards of societies, should resume their legitimacy immediately and to release elected Boards Members.
 
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