Keeping an eye on the Bahraini regime, next task for human rights defenders

Nabeel Rajab. (Photo: Avaaz)

The regime of Bahrain accepted completely 145 recommendations and 13 partially out of the 176 submitted by other States to the UN Human Rights Council last May, as a result of the sustained efforts made by local and international civil society organizations at the session of the organ that is taking place in Geneva. But the Bahraini Human Rights Observatory warned that implementing the suggestions will require “international monitoring”.

The adoption of the recommendations means that the government of the Arab country has recognized the abuses it committed against citizens, political leaders and activists, according to a statement issued by the Bahraini Human Rights Observatory.

The Observatory saluted the States and organizations that supported the “demands of the Bahraini people” for “freedom, social justice and democracy,” and considered that the international community and the civil society must focus now in keeping an eye on the fulfillment of the commitments made by the regime to the Council.

The Council confirmed “the awareness of the international community of the enormous violations practiced by the government in the field of human rights,” according to the Observatory. However, it warned that implementing the recommendations will require “a timetable” and “international monitoring.”

The submission presented by the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND), the Bahrain Transparency Association (BTA) and the Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS) takes note of many abuses committed by the authorities against human rights, especially against the rights to adequate standards of living, to work, to education and to health, since the beginning of the peaceful uprisings for change in Manama in 14 February 2011.

“Demands for equality and non-discrimination were at the core of protests alongside the call for institutional, political, economic and social reforms aimed at reducing social inequalities and creating better economic and social conditions for all,” added the report.

“The significant violations of various rights witnessed in the reaction of the government of Bahrain reflect the shortcomings of the steps undertaken to declare” the performance of that country “a best-case example for the first cycle” of the Universal Periodic Review revisions by the Council in May.

In spite of the pledges made by the Bahraini government in May, “the citizen’s movement for change has faced excessive use of force and violence” and “abuses of economic and social rights were used as tools for oppression against those civilians demanding reforms and change,” remarks the civil society organizations’ report.

“The demands of the citizens during the movement for change have indicated the deep inequities in the Bahraini society, and highlighted the inadequacy of many policies at the political as well as economic and social fronts, including corruption and nepotism,” they warned.

The killing of 80 people since February 14, 2011, among many other facts, shows “that the government continues to deny a majority of Bahraini’s fundamental rights on a daily basis” and uses its structures “to attack or control the population rather than protect it, creating an atmosphere of mistrust and fear among the population,” declared Tunisian activist Souhayr Belhassen, president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

Estimates by the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) put the number of political prisoners at 3,000 as of today, and rights groups continue to record cases of torture and mistreatment in prison.

“We must remind the international community that human rights defenders such as Nabeel Rajab and Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, remain in prison today solely for exercising their legitimate rights to freedom of expression and assembly,” added Belhassen before the Council considered the Bahraini situation.

“We call on the international community to support the establishment of an international monitoring mechanism to be set-up, through a resolution” of the Council, she stated.

FIDH took into account for its report both official declarations and actions, and accounts from the local civil society, notably reports of the Federation two member organizations in the country, the BCHR and the BHRS.

FIDH also signed an international appeal to end the persecution of human rights defenders in the country, jointly with the Bahrain Press Association, the Bahrain Rehabilitation & Anti Violence Organization, the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, the World Alliance for Citizen Participation (CIVICUS), Front Line Defenders, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), International Media Support, Khiam Rehabilitation Centre and No Peace Without Justice.

The statement urges “the international community to call for the unconditional release of human rights defenders, bloggers, peaceful opposition activists, and all those jailed for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” and to ensure that those who participate in the session in Geneva “do not face reprisals.”

The organizations remarked the cases of jailed activists Nabeel Rajab, Zainab Al-Khawaja, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Abdul-Jalil Al-Singace. The appeal adds that many other people “from all walks of life including journalists, doctors, teachers, lawyers and athletes have been jailed, tortured, threatened and persecuted for speaking out about human rights violations.”

Nabeel Rajab, FIDH Deputy Secretary-General, president of the BCHR and former president of the GCHR, was sentenced on August 16 to three years imprisonment in relation to three cases brought against him for calling for and participating in peaceful gatherings that the government deems “illegal”. His family has reported his ill-treatment in prison, where he is held separately from other political prisoners.

Zainab Al-Khawaja was arrested on August 2 after she staged a one-woman protest calling for the release of her father, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. It was her fifth arrest since April. On August 4, she was accused of tearing a photo of the King at the police station and remains in detention, facing 13 charges in total. She requires medical attention for a broken leg suffered during a demonstration.

The live sentences against Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Abdul-Jalil Al-Singace, were upheld by the High Criminal Court of Appeal on September 4 in the high-profile case of 13 political and human rights defenders. Despite allegations of confessions made under torture, the men were among 21 originally sentenced by military court in June 2011 to between two years and life in prison on charges including “setting up terror groups to topple the royal regime and change the constitution.”

In the same case, blogger Ali Abdulemam was sentenced to 15 years in absentia and his whereabouts are unknown.

More information
Silencing Dissent: A Policy of Systematic Repression:
Universal Periodic Review (Council’s official site):
UPR Watch:

Joint submission (ANND, BTA and BHRS):
Bahraini Human Rights Observatory