Bahrain: Stark contrast between State rhetoric and civil society reports

Human Rights Committee's 123rd session - July 2018

Anti-government protester confronts riot police. Photo credit: The New Arab

The Human Rights Committee reviewed the first periodic report submitted by the Kingdom of Bahrain on 3rd and 4th July 2018 in Geneva. Bahrain informed the Committee of the policies it had adopted on various issues, including combating hate speech and encouraging a conducive environment for civil society participation. However, a Committee member commented that Bahrain presented a rare occasion where the gap between its report and the information the Committee received from other sources was so vast. The delegation questioned the credibility of such information presented to the Committee and alleged that this was a radical and extremist move on the part of human rights organisations to further their hidden political agenda.

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"[Bahrain is experiencing] a deterioration of the human rights situation with the repression of all dissident voices and any type of opposition."

- Human Rights Committee member

Independent Fact-Finding Commission

The Bahraini delegation reported to the Committee that the government had undertaken to adopt the recommendations of the Independent Commission of Inquiry, which was set up to investigate the events of February and March 2011. These included the setting up of an independent oversight unit and a commission for prisoners and detainees, review the provisions of the Penal Code to ensure they were compatible with international standards, and ensure no impunity for perpetrators. The Committee, however, took note that some of the priority recommendations that were made had still not been implemented.

Discriminatory laws and policies

The Committee raised questions on the existence of discriminatory laws and practices against women, the Shia minority and the LGBTI people in Bahrain. The Committee noted that certain jobs were prohibited for women. The delegation stated that such exclusion was based on the physiology of women and for the protection of pregnant women.

On the question of the inability of Bahraini women to pass on their nationality to their children or spouses, the delegation answered that this was to ‘protect them against statelessness’ and added that a new law was under consideration which would allow for a transfer of citizenship from the mother in certain situations.

The Committee also brought to the attention of the delegation that it has received information that indicated that the Shia Muslim population in Bahrain were discriminated against. However, the delegation decried this by stating that it could not permit talks of such discrimination as it was “one united population”. On the issue of LGBTI, the Bahraini delegation simply stressed that an act will be understood to be against public decency if it went against Islamic Sharia.

Refugees

The Committee noted that the Bahraini report stated that there were no refugees in the country. On being asked for clarification on this, the delegation maintained that Bahrain had no refugees as any non-Bahraini person entering the state is treated as a foreign national with full rights.

Civil society space

The Committee remarked extensively on the crackdown on all dissent and curbing of civil society space in Bahrain, especially after the events of 2011. The case of the ‘Bahrain 13’ and the closure of the Al Wasat newspaper was brought up in the review. For the latter, the delegation stated that the newspaper had contravened the law against publishing false news, which incited hatred and sectarian strife. On the question of death penalty being imposed, the delegation responded by stating that “No one is condemned to death penalty because of their political activities, none whatsoever.”

Recommendations of the Human Rights Committee

Within two years, the State party should provide information on the following recommendations from the Committee's Concluding Observations:

Military tribunals

  • Review its amendment to the Constitution of April 2017 to ensure that Military courts are prevented from exercising jurisdiction over civilians

Freedom of speech

  • Protect freedom of expression, in accordance with article 19 of the Covenant
  • Decriminalize blasphemy, insult and criticism of public officials
  • Consider decriminalizing defamation and, in any case, apply criminal law only in the most serious cases
  • Release immediately and unconditionally anyone held solely for the peaceful exercise of their rights, including human rights defenders, activists, lawyers and trade unionists
  • Review and amend the provisions of the Bahrain Penal Code, the 2002 Press and Publication Law and regulations on digital rights, in line with article 19 of the Covenant
  • Effectively protect journalists, activists and human rights defenders against attacks or intimidation, ensure that all human rights violations perpetrated against them are thoroughly investigated and that those responsible are brought to justice

Death penalty

  • Reinstate the moratorium and consider abolishing the death penalty and acceding to the Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant
  • take all measures necessary to ensure that the death penalty (if maintained) is provided only for the most serious crimes, involving intentional killing
  • Ensure that pardon or commutation of the sentence is available in all cases, regardless of the crime committed; and that it is never imposed in violation of the Covenant, including in the absence of fair trial procedures, and is not imposed by military courts, in particular against civilians

 

Bahrain's next periodic report is due by 27 July 2022.

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