On May 8, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) sent a letter to Ms. Irina Bokova, Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), expressing concern regarding UNESCO’s acceptance of funds from the king of Bahrain in support of the UNESCO-King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa Prize for the Use of Information and Communication Technologies in Education.
The purpose of this prize is to “reward projects and activities of individuals, institutions, other entities or non-governmental organizations for excellent models, best practice, and creative use of ICTs [information and communications technology] to enhance learning, teaching and overall educational performance.” Despite the noble aims of this prize, the actions of the award’s namesake fail to demonstrate respect for the enhancement of learning and teaching in Bahrain.
The kingdom of Bahrain has suffered from significant ongoing human rights violations since the outbreak of protests there in 2011. More than 100 people are estimated to have been killed—nearly all of them civilians—in the more than two years since the protests began. In addition, thousands of people have been injured in attacks by Bahraini security forces.
Unfortunately, teachers and students have also been the subject of persecution by the Bahrain government since 2011. Top leaders of the Bahrain Teachers’ Association were arrested, abused and tortured in detention, and sentenced to jail terms for exercising their rights to free speech by participating in peaceful protests. Teachers who joined them were arrested and beaten by security forces. In many cases, the Ministry of Education punished teachers who had dared to peacefully exercise their rights by reducing their salaries, suspending them, or firing from their jobs. Those teachers have yet to be compensated for their unlawful detention, or for back pay owed as a result of their salary reductions, suspensions, and firings.
Students who joined in the protests also came under attack. They were interrogated, arrested, detained, and tortured; suspended or expelled from school; and threatened with revocation of their student scholarships by the Ministry of Education. They were also forced to sign “loyalty pledges” proclaiming allegiance to the regime and promising not to participate in any future protests—in short, a pledge to renounce their rights to free expression and association.
All of these abuses were done with the full knowledge and acquiescence of King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa, the individual whose namesake has been given to support a prize in education. ADHRB urged UNESCO to reevaluate the prudence in associating this highly-respected body with such condemnable human rights violations which fly in the face of UNESCO’s mission. Specifically, ADHRB asked UNESCO to reconsider its source of funding for this prize and to rename the prize to more accurately reflect the aims of the prize and UNESCO’s mission in support of education.