Statement – On the occasion of the International Day of Democracy

Democracy is the rule of the people for itself and a form of political rule based on the peaceful circulation of power. This form of government is characterized by free and fair elections, respect of the rule of law and of the constitution. The separation of powers is a guarantee of human rights and freedoms for all people. It ensures that people within a given society are free from forms of dictatorial rule. In contrast, in dictatorial regimes such as Bahrain, authorities hold one person or a ruling family in power.

The ruling regime in Bahrain is still represented by the dictator of the ruling family, which controls all parts of the state and holds the reins of all authorities. The rule of law does not apply to members of the ruling family. In 1972, ruler Sheikh Issa al-Khalifa issued a decree giving birth to the constitution of the country. Only one parliamentary election was lost in the 1973 constitution, but Governor Issa al-Khalifa canceled the parliamentary elections, dissolved the Legislative Council, suspended the constitution in 1975 and ruled the country under emergency law until 2002. This led to protests demanding a return to the constitution and democracy, where people asked to rule for themselves through free elections.

After the death of Issa Al Khalifa, his son, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, ascended to power and sought to end the protests that characterized the events of the 1990s in Bahrain. He announced democratic reforms and a return to constitutional rule. The people and the king agreed that Bahrain would become a constitutional monarchy. In 2001, the King instituted the National Action Charter, which would transform the country into a constitutional regime, but the people and the opposition found changes made to the charter, which was drafted without the consent of the people. The Parliament was transformed from a single chamber (according to the 1973 Constitution) to a bicameral parliament. The king attempted to circumvent the opposition to guarantee a vote on the National Action Charter and signed a document clarifying that the elected House would have the power to legislate and that the Council would be appointed as a consultative authority only. Based on these claims, the opposition accepted to participate in the vote on the Charter of Action. In 1998, the charter was approved by 98.4% of voters.

But in 2002, King Hamad issued a new constitution without any consultation or public referendum, in which he gave extended powers to the Shura Council, granting it equal legislative powers with the elected parliament, in violation of a promise announced publicly in 2001. As a result, the opposition boycotted parliamentary elections. The electoral districts in the country reflect this kind of blatant sectarian discrimination and persecution of religious minorities. The division of constituencies has been engineered in a manner designed to ensure that the opposition remains a minority in parliament, enabling the non-elected government to pass laws and policies one after the other. But in fact, Bahrain is still governed by the king and his family. He is still the main source of authority, and the people’s rule is non existent. This has resulted in the country starting a revolution again in 2011, where people protested the exclusive nature of decision-making processes, the monopolization of the wealth of the country, the financial and administrative corruption, as well as ongoing human rights violations that violate human dignity. Among these figure the closure of news outlets Al-Wasat and Al-Arab TV, a day after the channel opened, the issuance of death sentences, the use of citizenship revocation, the forced expulsion of individuals from the country, as well as the country’s involvement in international conflicts. Bahrain is now participating in the war against Yemen.

For decades, the people of Bahrain have been demanding democracy as guaranteed by international conventions such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states in Article 21, paragraph 3:

« The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures. »

Sovereignty is an essential element of self-determination and plays an important role in international law.

Democracy, in turn, provides an environment which fosters the protection of human rights, justice and accountability of all without discrimination, including those responsible for human rights crimes such as torture, extrajudicial killings and other grave violations in Bahrain. Democracy also ensures the promotion of the rule of law at the national and international levels, and respect for international treaties and instruments. It guarantees a fair distribution of wealth, reduction of corruption in all its forms, the establishment of effective, transparent and accountable institutions at all levels, the protection of fundamental freedoms in accordance with international conventions and the separation of powers. With an ultimate goal of achieving sustainable development.

SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights urges the King of Bahrain to fulfill his commitments and to open channels of constructive dialogue in order to ensure a transition to democracy, which represents a compass to move forward in the future.