Bahrain after Geneva Report
On Wednesday September 19th 2012, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva adopted the outcome of its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Bahrain – a four-yearly report card on the country’s human rights record.
This report, which consists of 176 recommendations for improvement of the human rights situation in this small island, was published in May 2012 and, prior to its reading in the September 19th session, was delivered to the government of Bahrain. This number of recommendations to an Arab country is unprecedented and is indicative of widespread violation of human rights by the Bahraini authorities, a country which, since February 2011, has been the scene of a serious crisis between the people and the regime. Bahrain's Foreign Minister, who was the head of his country's delegation in this meeting, informed the Council of Human Rights of the complete agreement of his government with 143 recommendations and its partial agreement with 13 other recommendations. He rejected 20 recommendations which were mainly related to the right of self-determination of the people of Bahrain.
Among the UPR’s recommendations accepted by the Bahraini government were 16 measures related to fair trial guarantees – including the release of those behind bars for exercising their right to freedom of expression.
Despite repeated assurances by the Bahraini government to respect the rights to freedom of expression and association, numerous prisoners of conscience remain behind bars and recent weeks have seen a renewed clampdown on these freedoms.
Bahrain’s government also accepted 22 of the UPR’s recommended changes to national legislation, but rejected nine proposed legal amendments which would bring national law in line with the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
Delegations of civil organizations and societies of Bahrain were also present in Geneva and explained the objectionable situation of human rights in their country for reporters, non-governmental organizations and human rights activists. Reactions of the world community and even Western allies of the government of Bahrain were all indicative of their mistrust with regard to Bahrain's honesty in fulfilling its promises. The following are some positions taken by different countries and organizations.
"While official media have reported some initial progress on accountability, including charges brought against police officers announced earlier this week, much more needs to be done," Michael Posner, US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, said in a speech.
"Today Bahrain is at a crossroads," he declared. Bahrain had shown "great courage" last year in setting up and accepting the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry led by Egyptian-American jurist Cherif Bassiouni.
"Ten months after the release of the report, however, we remain concerned that the government is losing momentum on implementation," Posner said.
Pursuing reforms would help create an environment where "meaningful dialogue" can take place.
The UK representative mentioned in his speech “A clear timeline should be set to implement Geneva Recommendations as well as BICI recommendations. The UK also demanded the Authorities in Bahrain to guarantee the right to protest and hold all violators to account, stressing that Bahrain should protect the rights of human rights defenders.”
An all-inclusive dialogue that addresses the legitimate aspirations of all Bahraini communities is the best way to promote lasting peace, stability, justice and economic progress in Bahrain.
That's what the Secretary-General told Bahrain's Foreign Affairs Minister this week in New York.
Ban Ki-Moon discussed the current developments in Bahrain, including the human rights situation, with Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa.
He has called on the Government to complete the implementations of the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry.
In this regard, the Australian delegation asked for:
1. The release of all prisoners of conscience.
2. The stop of torture.
3. A stop to revenge against opponents
4. The transfer of Abdul Hadi Al-Khawaja for treatment in Denmark.
“A new United Nations review of the human rights situation in Bahrain will have been a hollow exercise unless the Gulf kingdom follows it up with real action to implement its recommendations”, Amnesty International said.
“We’ve already seen Bahrain pledge human rights reform on the world stage – after the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, made up of international experts, published its findings last year – but the sad reality is that such pledges remain hollow without real action to back them up,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International.
Amnesty International calls on the Bahraini authorities to ensure accountability where human rights violations took place, and to make public the outcome of any investigations into allegations of torture and killings by the security forces.
Human Rights Watch
Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said the government’s acceptance Wednesday of the U.N. recommendations must be “quickly followed by releasing leaders of peaceful protests, holding accountable high officials responsible for policies of torture, and adopting broader reforms to uphold human rights.”
The representative of the Human Rights Watch organization stressed holding security forces accountable for torture and that the authorities must hold accountable high-ranked officers who committed violations. Human Rights Watch spoke out about the increasing violations against prisoners and demanded the authorities to respect the freedom of expression.
It stressed that the penal code that regulates the activities of societies is counter to international standards, demanding Bahrain to seriously consider the implementation of the recommendations. Human Rights Watch demanded the government of Bahrain to release all prisoners of conscience who have been kept in jail for freely expressing their opinion like Nabeel Rajab and other opposition figures (the group of 21) and called for a stop to abuse against human rights defenders.
International Women Organization: Children are still detained
The representative of the International Women Organization said that doctors in Bahrain are still paying a high price because they treated injured protesters. She added that injured people are defaced because they fear going to the militarized hospitals and fear being abducted.
She also said that many children are still detained and demanded the protection of the human rights activists who attended the Geneva meeting because they have been threatened.
The International Federation for Human Rights, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, and BRAVO: The regime punishes activists
The International Federation for Human Rights stressed that the authorities in Bahrain punish people who shed light on human rights violations.
Its representative, Dr. Munthir Al-Khor, also mentioned that the trial of Nabeel Rajab is because of his human rights activities stressing that torture is a clear human rights violation in Bahrain.
The representative of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Mariam Al-Khawaja, said the authorities in Bahrain are still committing violations and refuse to implement the recommendations. She added that the beating and torture of detainees is still ongoing, in addition to targeting human rights defenders and jailing them without fair trials, indicating that most of the victims of violence are below the age of 18.
Dr. Nada Dhaif, the representative of BRAVO, stressed that the popular movement in Bahrain is peaceful and “the people in villages are unarmed, their only weapons are their voices", adding that “women are being oppressed and humiliated, Zinab Al-Khwaja is an example."
Dr. Nada Dhaif demanded the immediate release of all prisoners and recommended the establishment of a permanent human rights office in Bahrain as well as a United Nations rapporteur. She asked the official delegation to show seriousness regarding the release all political prisoners
On Saturday, September 22nd, five groups from the Bahraini opposition held meetings in Karbabad Beach, near the capital, under the title of "Democracy is our demand", with the presence of tens of thousands of Bahrainis, and made assessments of the results of the Geneva Conference. Abdul-Jalil Khalil, former head of the Al-Wifagh Faction in Bahrain's parliament, stated in this meeting that “we will remain in the streets until the recommendations of the Council of Human Rights are enforced. The trial of the elements of suppression and torture must not be summarized to low-level security officers, but high-level military and non-military elements must also be put on trial. Protests will continue until a just political solution is achieved.”
Sheikh Ali Salman, Secretary General of Al-Wifagh, the main opposition group, in a meeting entitled "After Geneva", said:
“The international community found the regime to be a violator of human rights and it was therefore given the highest number of recommendations worldwide.” He mentioned that the democratic regimes clearly condemned the Bahraini regime and its ongoing violations.
Al-Wifaq SG, also, added, “In the UPR, the procedure is that the regime has to accept the recommendations in order for the official report to be adopted. Now, after Geneva, I believe the people of Bahrain have been rewarded with another card, along with the BICI report card, which proved the human rights violations spoken out by the opposition since the twenties”.
He continued, “In Geneva, the highest number of recommendations revealed the magnitude of the human rights violations, and the regime accepted these recommendations. After Geneva, an additional card is added to the list of achievements for the people of Bahrain and must be invested in the nonstop pro-democracy struggle”.
He stressed that political concessions at the expense of human rights are completely impossible. In an open public meeting in the Markh area on Sunday 23rd of September, he said, “There are pledges and implementations for the recommendations on the human rights track that should take place. Our demands seek the interests of Bahrain together with all its social components. We rose for the sake of humanity of all people regardless of their belongings. If we want to step forward at all levels and to realize the permanent stability, there is no way but democracy.”
King Hamad of Bahrain, and Sheikh Khalifa, the Prime Minister, considered the acceptance of the recommendations of the Council of Human Rights as another victory for the government of Bahrain. The same behavior was seen when the report of the Independent Commission was issued and has become a fixed tactic of the regime. By giving promises of reform, they hold victory celebrations but in reality take little steps in this regard. The leverage which gives permission to Al-Khalifa to follow this deceitful behavior is its political and security relations with the US. They are still trustworthy allies for the Americans. On the other hand, the only leverage of the opposition is keeping people's protests and presence alive in daily demonstrations. There is no doubt that if the opposition leaves this tool, Bahraini authorities will, like in the past, forget their promises and there will be no pressure on them by their Western friends. In order to control the protests and distinguish between legal and illegal protests, the government, on the one hand, occasionally issues permission for holding demonstrations, and on the other, deals with any congregation with violence on the grounds of being illegal and causing the economic life of the country to shut down. This behavior is not a sign of acceptance of peaceful protests. Until real reforms occur in Bahrain and the regime fulfills its promises in allowing people to participate in their political destiny, separating legal and illegal protests has no international legitimacy. This is the right of the people of Bahrain and the opposition to be able to use peaceful means to achieve their legitimate demands. On the other hand, as Ali Salman, the Secretary General of Al-Wifagh, the most important opposition group of Bahrain, has stated the only solution for Bahrain crisis is political agreement. Documents like the report of the Independent Commission and the report of the Council of Human Rights and people's protests are tools which must be used by the people of Bahrain to force the regime to accept the political agreement.
Source: Bahrain Observer