Jawad Fairooz: “Now is the opportunity to implement genuine human rights and political reforms in Bahrain”
In November 2022, Bahrain will be subjected to its fourth cycle of the Universal Periodical Review at United Nations in Geneva. Salam DHR was invited to speak at the pre-session of this event on the 31st of August 2022 at the United Nations in Geneva. Director Jawad Fairooz delivered his statement before an audience of State representatives and NGOs. His focus was on the economic, social and cultural rights of citizens and migrant workers, as well as the impact of COVID-19 on prisoners.
Salam DHR’s mission is to promote human rights and representative democracy in Bahrain and the greater Gulf region. It works to protect, and amplify the voices of, human rights defenders and democracy advocates in Bahrain.
This statement focusses on economic, social and cultural rights, the rights of migrant workers and the impact of COVID-19 on prisoners.
No NGO in the country can exist legally without state approval, and many independent NGOs have been dissolved. This is happening despite the recommendations accepted in 2017.
The Bahraini authorities have not consulted with independent NGOs, neither local nor international, while preparing the UPR National report.
Salam DHR attempted to engage with the Ombudsman for the Ministry of Interior and National Institute of Human Rights without success.
During the 2017 UPR cycle, Bahrain was urged to ensure the effective protection of domestic workers through legislative measures and increase Shi’a citizens’ representation. Despite some changes, Shi’a citizens remain underrepresented in public sector jobs, especially in security, armed forces and official media. They have disproportionately high rates of unemployment.
Additionally, domestic labourers suffer a range of economic abuses. These include:
- Not being protected by local labour laws;
- Not being granted their required annual leave;
- Possessing no official dispute mechanisms for resolving disputes;
- If a worker sues an employer, they cannot find alternative employment while the case is ongoing;
- Enduring religious impositions;
- Female domestic workers suffering from physical, psychological, and sexual abuse
- Remove restrictions on marginalised groups working in the public sector;
- Amend local labour laws to include domestic workers;
- Establish transparent complaint mechanisms for domestic workers
- Recruitment in the public sector should be based on competence and equal citizenship
Bahrain only noted UPR recommendations to end citizenship stripping in 2017 and failed to meet accepted recommendations on allowing citizenship transmission via women. Bahrain revoked 985 citizenships since 2012, 635 of which between 2017 and 2019. Citizenship stripping has disproportionately targeted Shi’a citizens, making up 96% of those revocations. Notably, Bahrain has revoked the nationality of the most prominent Shi’a clerics.
Bahrain currently prevents women from passing their citizenship onto their children. These practices may lead to an increase in stateless children.
Members of banned political and civil societies are forbidden from voting and running for public offices. Similarly, they cannot become directors of charitable societies, civil organizations, and sports clubs. This is contrary to the two recommendations accepted by Bahrain in 2017.
- End practice of citizenship revocation and restore all revoked nationalities;
- Amend laws to enable women to pass their citizenship on to their children; and
- End the routine violation of the political and civil rights of members of dissolved NGOs and political societies
In the 2017 UPR cycle, Bahrain accepted the recommendations to combat sectarianism and discrimination. However, there are currently no laws explicitly banning discrimination and enforcing equal citizenship. No progress has been made.
Bahrain continues repressing the Shia community, despite its constitution guaranteeing religious freedom and the recommendations it accepted during the 3rd UPR cycle. We recorded 32 instances of repressive activities during Shia’s festivities (Ashura) in 2021, including confiscation of banners and arrests of participants, including the Shi’a clergies.
During Ashura in 2022, there were:
- The removal of religious Shia flags; and
- Numerous arbitrary arrests,
- Authorities have banned religious Shi’a tourism in the country, meaning that during Shi’a ceremonies no foreign visitors are allowed to participate.
- In 2011, 38 mosques were demolished. Up to now, 5 of them have not been rebuilt.
- End the harassment of the Shi’a community, and the repressive acts during Ashura
- Pass laws criminalizing discrimination; and adopting equal citizenship rights
- Amend local legislation to meet the standards of international conventions signed by Bahrain
COVID-19 & Prisons Reform
In the 2017 UPR cycle, three recommendations were issued, two of which were accepted. While progress was made on issuing alternative sentences to prisoners since 2017, there has been no such progress regarding prisoner treatment, the provision of medical care and allowing independent human rights groups to visit Bahraini prisons.
Bahrain has not allowed UN special rapporteurs to visit the country since 2006. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Bahrain failed to take necessary precautions to protect prisoners. Prison officials refused to supply prisoners in Jau Central Prison with face masks or hand sanitiser and failed to adequately treat prisoners once infected. This resulted in the death of at least one prisoner, Husain Barakat. This reflects a major contrast as Bahrain had a generally effective public response to the pandemic.
- Establish an independent inquiry into the impact of COVID-19 in Bahrain’s prisons
- Allow official visits from UN Special Rapporteurs and human rights groups
- Abide by the ‘Nelson Mandela Rules’ for prisoners’ treatment
Seven recommendations were issued on migrant workers in the 2017 UPR cycle. Since then, Bahrain has partially reformed legislation on migrant workers, so as to allow them to change jobs without their employer’s consent. However, informal Kafala practices continue. This refers to the system of permitting employers to hold the passports of migrant workers. Bahrain still has no specific legal text prohibiting employers from confiscating their migrant workers’ identity documents.
Salam DHR and Migrant Rights were among the NGOs that reported migrants often work and live in unsafe and unhealthy conditions and that some have been withheld several months’ pay from employers. Bahrain has failed to prosecute anyone involved in human trafficking or deploy proactive identification and referral mechanisms for migrants, which has penalised victims.
- Produce plans to implement effective complaints and accountability mechanisms for migrant workers
- Enforce the abolition of Kafala practices by employers and prosecute confiscation of passports; and
- Enforce human trafficking laws and recognize those trafficked as victims, not as criminals
These factors must be considered alongside Bahrain’s coming general elections at the end of this year, as well as the recently-published National Human Rights Plan. There is a clear opportunity here to facilitate reform in Bahrain if the authorities demonstrate a willingness to implement concrete human rights and political reforms.
Jointly with our international network of States, UN human rights bodies, and NGOs, we believe it is possible to achieve concrete, positive results regarding Bahrain’s human rights record. This is shown, for example, by the how the Bahraini government in 2019 reinstated the nationalities of 551 individuals out of the 985 that had been revoked since 2012.
We will therefore continue pushing for effective and tangible human rights reforms in Bahrain: accountability, transitional justice, freedom for all prisoners of conscience, and amendment of local legislations according to international conventions. Our hope is that the Bahraini government will engage in a national dialogue, leading democratization of the state based on equal citizenship, and a strengthening of the rule of law.