Opening Speech to the Conference by Philip Belau Conference Director

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Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to extend to you all a very warm welcome on behalf of Salam for democracy and Human Rights and to say how grateful we are that so many of you have accepted our invitation to attend this international conference “Persecution of Shia in Bahrain” here at the Press Club Brussels today.

I would like to take this opportunity to especially thank all those involved in the organisation of this event – in particular our partners from No Peace Without Justice who have significantly contributed with all the preparations for this conference.

It is most encouraging to see such a highly distinguished and passionate, and indeed very large audience here today – a clear sign that there is a sustained interest in the subject on the discrimination of Shia in Bahrain. We anticipate this conference to address the barriers facing the promotion and protection of Shia rights in Bahrain thus exploring creative and practical solutions to end this ongoing discrimination against the majority of the population. We believe that inclusive multistakeholder dialogue is mandatory for the comprehensive implementation of Shia rights.

Adequate institutional and policy frameworks can effectively contribute to the elimination of all forms of discrimination against members of Bahraini Shia, as well as promote their full equality within the boundary of Bahraini citizenship and access before domestic and international law.

This Conference provides an excellent opportunity for progress in pursuit of the aims I have mentioned. We have the pleasure to host here an impressive group of high level stakeholders from some of the most relevant bodies involved in the research as well as the promotion of Shia rights in Bahrain and across the world.

I would therefore like to propose the following main objectives for this Conference, on which I would like to discuss and propose conclusions at the final session:

  • – First, identifying actual and potential barriers to combatting discrimination against Shia in Bahrain
  • – Second, to provide concrete guidance on effective measures to prevent the human rights violations that result from discrimination
  • – And third, develop the essential elements for strategies to guarantee accountability, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms as a means to end discrimination.

Our desire is that tangible recommendations on these issues are provided from each session.

The conference is divided in 5 separate sessions. Each panel discussion runs no longer than one and a half hours, during which two, three, or four specialists will present their research.

The sessions take the format of an Interactive Dialogue that will focus on prioritising highly critical issues, identifying challenges, and key recommendations to eliminate all forms of discrimination against Bahraini Shia. We therefore invite all participants to share their

thoughts, questions and comments with all of us. Each session will be chaired by an expert who will introduce the speakers, call on people from the audience who wish to comment, and, when appropriate, end the session. We ask the speakers to be mindful of keeping to time so as to enable plenty of opportunity for full and robust discussion from the audience.

But the most important: You won’t be left hungry during the next two days. We have made arrangements with a local caterer who will provide all of us with a light lunch to regain power.

Let me conclude by saying that we strongly believe in the value of dialogue and the importance of focusing on using this to work towards finding solutions. It is not enough to blame those responsible for the lack of justice in the country, without also proposing solutions and improvements. We have seen other opportunities in the past where similar events have explored the challenges facing religious groups in the region. Lets try to ensure that over the coming two days we not only share our stories, but we also take advantage of the opportunity to develop innovative ways to overcome to these challenges. We look forward to stimulating presentations and discussions during the two days of the conference leading to positive outcomes to guide us in future.

Thank you.