Open letter:  Suspend holding the Formula 1 motor race in Bahrain until the government acts on long standing human rights violations

Salam for Democracy and Human Rights

Open letter:  Suspend holding the Formula 1 motor race in Bahrain until the government acts on long standing human rights violations

To: Secretary General of the United Nations (UN); Secretary General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Director General of the International Labour Organization (ILO):

Dear António Guterres, Secretary General, United Nations (UN); José Ángel Gurría Treviño, Secretary General, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Guy Ryder, Director General, International Labour Organization (ILO):

By email

Re: Sportswashing and this weekend’s Formula 1 Race in Bahrain

Salam for Democracy and Human Rights (SALAM DHR) urges you and your respective institutions to take concrete action in relation to the sportswashing of grave human rights violations in Bahrain by way of the two Formula 1 (F1) races to be held in the country.

On Sunday, 29 November 2020, the first of two such F1 races will be held at the Bahrain International Circuit. The second will be on 6 December 2020.

We urge you to call on the Government of Bahrain (GoB) and Chase Carey from the Formula One Group, as well as John Malone, Chairman of the Board and Gregory Maffei, President and Chief Executive Officer of its parent company, Liberty Media Corporation, to suspend holding the event in the country until the government shows that it meets the minimum human rights standards required for the event to be held there. The benefits of the event should also be shared amongst the entire community, as it is in so many other locations where the F1 is held.

Your respective organisations oversee implementation of international standards guiding the conduct of state-business relations, including international sporting events: the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights; the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises (MNEs); the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, and the ILO Tripartite Declaration on Principles Concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy. 

Principle 9 of the UN’s Guiding Principles states that: “States should maintain adequate domestic policy space to meet their human rights obligations [emphasis added] when pursuing business-related policy objectives with other States or business enterprises […].” According to Section IV, on Human Rights, of the OECD’s MNEs Guidelines, “States have the duty to protect human rights” while enterprises should, “within the framework of internationally recognised human rights, the international human rights obligations of the countries in which they operate as well as relevant domestic laws and regulations: (1) Respect human rights, which means they should avoid infringing on the human rights of others […]” The ILO Tripartite Declaration states that (12) “Governments of host countries should promote good social practice in accordance with this Declaration among multinational enterprises operating in their territories. 

The Government of Bahrain, however, repeatedly refuses to implement recommendations made by independent, United Nations treaty bodies, which access compliance with legally binding human rights treaties and recommendations made by the UN’s Special Procedures. It has refused to engage substantively with human rights organisations, including Salam for Democracy and Human Rights, in relation to its human rights record. For example, in July 2020, its Ombudsman Office for the Ministry of Interior refused to respond to concerns expressed in an open letter from SALAM DHR and others over the administration of justice in 12 death penalty cases.

In line with the principles of respect, protect and remedy, we urge the UN, OECD and ILO to call on the Government of Bahrain to:

  • Release all prisoners of conscience and political prisoners, including opposition leaders, unfairly tried and convicted, where there is no prospect for fair retrial, such as Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, and rescind unfair convictions on those, such as Nabeel Rajab, now out of prison under Alternative Punishment provisions;
  • End torture and ill treatment in Bahrain, including withholding medical care, such as in relation to Hassan Mushaima and/or Dr Abduljalil al-Singace or those in need of care in relation to COVID-19;
  • End restrictions on freedom of expression and association by rescinding the ban on political groups such as al-Wefaq and Wa’ad and by amending the Penal and Press Code to bring them in line with international standards; 
  • Provide independence to Bahrain’s Lawyers’ Association and facilitate it joining the International Bar Association; and
  • Provide redress  to those who have faced arbitrary arrest, ill treatment and arbitrary deprivation of their citizenship. 

These, amongst other measures, must be taken in order to show that the Government of Bahrain respects human rights and, above all, inherent human dignity, notably of those who have suffered.

Salam for Democracy and Human Rights welcomes F1’s Statement of Commitment to Respect for Human Rights. F1’s management must understand that its decision to hold events in Bahrain has, in relation to point (2) of its statement, an impact on the human rights situation in Bahrain. It sportwashes long standing and ongoing violations, documented for decades by the United Nations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other, often Bahrain-focused organisations. 

In keeping with (2c) of F1’s commitment, to “consider practical responses to any issues raised […]”, we call on you to acknowledge the points raised above and commit to raising them with the GoB. In relation to (2d), we urge you to convene, virtually, a formal, joint consultation with human rights groups working on or in Bahrain, including government bodies whose mandate includes human rights.

If such measures cannot be implemented, the UN, OECD and ILO should call on the GoB and F1 to temporarily suspend holding events in the country until they can be carried out. 


For more information:

Jawad Fairooz (English, Arabic) +447449926577 (UK)

Abbas Taleb (French, Arabic, English) +31617679486 (France)

Drewery Dyke (English, French) +447800989221 (UK)


 These include Americans for the Defence of Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) as well as the Bahrain-based Bahrain Center for Human Rights, whose operations are limited due to government pressure.