15 Sep, 2013

Repression and Impunity in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen

In a Side Event at the United Nations Human Rights Council:

Repression and Impunity in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen


Yesterday, 12 September 2013, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) organized an event at the 24th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council to highlight the ongoing crackdown on human rights defenders and lack of accountability for human rights violations within the Gulf region.

The speakers of the event included Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja, acting director of BCHR and co-director of GCHR, Mr. Khalid Ibrahim, co-director of the GCHR, Melanie Gingell, a board member of the GCHR.  Mr. Jeremie Smith, director of the Geneva office of CIHRS, chaired the event.  The event was attended by state delegations, United Nations officials and civil society groups from around the world.

Mr. Ibrahim highlighted ongoing widespread attacks against human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Yemen.  He then moved on to discuss the findings of the GCHR’s recent report on the role of human rights defenders within the transitional process in Yemen and ongoing attacks against these defenders. Mr. Ibrahim also pointed out the continued lack of accountability for human rights violations in Yemen, including the failure of the Yemeni government to appoint any members to the National Commission of Inquiry, created by the new president of Yemen more than a year ago, and called on the government ensure that these individuals are appointed and the commission is allowed to progress.  The UN Human Rights Council is due to adopt a resolution on Yemen this month concerning accountability and human rights within the country.

Ms. Gingell then discussed the UAE 94, a group of human rights defenders and reformists in the UAE that have been jailed and tortured for creating and signing a petition asking for democratic reforms.  Ms. Gingell spoke of her attempt to monitor the trial of the UAE 94.  These individuals have been imprisoned and tortured and their families threatened for their human rights and pro-democracy activities.  Despite the charges against them, the government has failed to provide any evidence to prove that they planned to overthrow the government or commit an act of treason.   Ms. Gingell highlighted that over the last two years there has been a crackdown in the country on all forms of expression advocating for democratic reform within the country.

Ms. Al-Khawaja discussed the ongoing repression of human rights defenders in Bahrain and use of excessive force against those participating in protests and demonstrations.  In particular, the BCHR has documented more than 1000 arrests of political activists since the beginning of 2013.   Political prisoners in the country continue to be subjected to ill-treatment and torture.  The government has failed to implement the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which submitted its findings to the government almost two years ago.  Forty-seven states from around the world signed onto a joint declaration at the UN Human Rights Council on 10 September to call for a halt to human rights violations in Bahrain and for the government to implement the BICI recommendations.  This is the third such declaration by UN member states within the last year and half.  Ms. Al-Khawaja expressed her hope that if Bahrain continues to repress dissent and refuse to implement reform, stronger action will be taken by UN member states.

Maryam Al-Khawaja Speaks at Human Rights Council Side Session

9 Sep, 2013

Bahrain: On the Establishment of an Arab Court for Human Rights in Bahrain

Nasser and Khalid bin Hamad Al-Khalifa (King’s sons)

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights welcomes the idea of establishing an Arab court to prosecute human right violators; however, the BCHR received the news of the Arab League Council's approval for Bahrain to host the permanent headquarters of the Arab Court with dismay regarding the seriousness of the objectives of establishing the court given the notorious record that the government of Bahrain and the members of the ruling family, including the top of the hierarchy the country’s King, have in the field of human rights and public liberties. These violations have been documented by leading human rights organizations. On the 8th of February 2010, Human Rights Watch issued its well-known report on Bahrain: ‘Torture Redux’. The report is based on interviews with former detainees and on forensic reports and courts. The report concluded that since the end of 2007 officials resorted to repeating the practice of torture in what seems like an attempt to extract confessions from suspects in security cases. In March 2011, the regime put civilians on trial in military courts; which is another addition to the violations of the judiciary in Bahrain that is incompatible with the international standards of fair trials. International condemnations were issued against the severe sentences handed down by the military court, among them the statement of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

  • The High Commissioner for Human Rights says Bahrain trials bear marks of political persecution.
  • The UN Secretary-General expresses his deep concern for the long prison sentences against the political and human rights activists in Bahrain.
  • International human rights organizations condemn the severe sentences against the activists following unjust trials.
  • Washington is ‘concerned’ about the life-imprisonment sentences against opposition in Bahrain.
  • The British Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East is concerned about the verdicts in Bahrain.

On the 17th of August, 2011, the BCHR released a report about citizens who were reportedly subjected to torture at the hands of members of the ruling family in Bahrain who beat and tortured political prisoners.

Top, right to left: Nasser bin Hamad Al-Khalifa and Khalid bin Hamad Al-Khalifa (King’s sons)

Bottom, right to left: Noora bint Ebrahim Al-Khalifa (Drug Enforcement Administration), Khalifa bin Abdulla Al-Khalifa (Head of the National Security Apparatus), Khalifa bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa (The Director General of Police in the Southern Governorate)

On the 4th of May 2011, the BCHR released a report about the death of four citizens under torture in detention centers in Bahrain, among them a journalist and blogger.

The graveness of the brutal and systematic torture practiced by the authorities in Bahrain against political detainees and human rights activists in detention centers was evident in the documentation of four cases of death under torture that took place within nine days, amongst them one of the founders of Alwasat newspaper and an Internet activist.

From right to left: Kareem Fakhrawi, Zakariya Al-Asheeri, Hassan Jassim and Ali Saqer.

The BCHR also released a number of reports that state that the authorities in Bahrain have adopted a policy of impunity. A video clip was recently spread on the internet showing Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa, the longest standing unelected prime minister in the world of 43 years, visiting an officer who has been repeatedly pointed out as being involved in torture by victims but was acquitted in court, to thank him and to reassure that impunity exists.

On the 7th of July, 2013, a pro-government account uploaded a video of the Prime Minister on Youtube during his visit to Officer Mubarak bin Huwail following his acquittal on 1 July 2013 from charges related to torturing medics in the detention center in 2011.

(For more information: http://bahrainrights.hopto.org/en/node/6205)

A screenshot from the video (Mubarak bin Huwail to the left, Prime Minister in the center)

On the 26th of July, 2013, Amnesty International released a report: ‘Still no justice for torture cases, the torture of Nazeeha Saeed’.

And on the 27th of July, 2013, Frontline Defenders released: ‘Bahrain: Trial of Human Rights Defender Mr Naji Fateel Falls Short of International Standards’.

Naji Fateel is a member of the Board of Directors in the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR), and an active human rights defender who documents and reports on human rights violations in Bahrain.

This is in addition to the violations of the government of Bahrain against freedom of press. Although Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa pledged to support freedom of the press and reform, however, the situation last year did not improve. Throughout the past year, several journalists and bloggers in Bahrain were subjected to harassments, assaults, arrests and torture due to their work. Journalists working near pro-democracy demonstrations were targeted in a systematic manner by the security forces.

Arrest and torture of journalists

Arrests and Trials of Internet Users

On the 9th of July 2012, the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the former Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights, Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to three months in prison and was arrested on the charge of ‘insulting the citizens of Muharraq through Twitter’ for information he published on Twitter demanding the Prime Minister to step down, and discussing his visit to the Island of Muharraq. Although he was acquitted of this charge in the Court of Appeal, he remains in prison serving another 2 year sentence on the charge of participating in demonstrations and calling for gatherings through social networks. On the 17th of December 2012, Acting Vice-President and Head of Monitoring & Follow Up at BCHR Sayed Yousif Al-Muhafdah was arrested while monitoring a demonstration in the Manama and posting tweets on Twitter about the suppression of demonstrators and documenting the violations. He was accused of ‘spreading false news through Twitter’; he spent a month in detention. Despite being acquitted from the charges by the Court on the 11th of March 2013, the Public Prosecution appealed against the acquittal sentence.