Spotlight on Bahrain’s Human Rights Record: Bahrain Undergoes 3rd Cycle UPR Review

Today, the United Nations Human Rights Council conducted Bahrain’s 3rd Cycle Universal Periodic Review, in which states issued recommendations to the Government of Bahrain to improve its human rights record. Dozens of states gave recommendations that encompassed thematic issue areas ranging from improving religious freedom to halting executions, from strengthening women’s rights to protecting freedom of assembly and association, and from ratifying the optional protocol of the Convention Against Torture to ending the practice of citizenship revocation. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) welcomes productive recommendations addressing important issues and calls on the Government of Bahrain to accept all of the recommendations without reservation and to actively work toward their implementation.

Under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, all 193 member states of the United Nations undergo a cyclical review of their human rights records in which other UN member states offer recommendations to the state under review. This is Bahrain’s third review under the UPR, with its last review coming five years ago in 2012.

Bahrain’s third UPR cycle is its second review since the peaceful protest movement of 2011, when demonstrators called for more a more democratic government, political reforms, and respect for fundamental human rights principles. Bahrain’s second-cycle UPR took place in 2012, one year after the demonstrations, and concluded with 63 states – representing one-third of the UN’s membership – making 176 recommendations to Bahrain, of which the government fully or partially accepted 158. However, in the five years since its second-cycle review, Bahrain has failed to fully implement any of the recommendations and it has made perceivable progress on only two of the 158 recommendations. It has made no perceivable progress on 133 recommendations, and even actively contravened several key accepted recommendations, such as those to prohibit military trials for civilians. By all measurable standards, Bahrain’s failure to implement its recommendations illustrates a refusal to reform.

Now during Bahrain’s third UPR cycle, states offered 200 recommendations, an increase of 24 over the 176 recommendations made in 2012. Many of these recommendations were related to previous, un-implemented recommendations. States repeated their calls for the Government of Bahrain to allow greater freedom of expression; end the targeting and prosecution of civil society actors, political activists, and human rights defenders; end discrimination against the country’s Shia majority population; establish a moratorium on the use of capital punishment; and ratify outstanding human rights protocols, like the optional protocol of the Convention Against Torture.

While many of the 200 recommendations echoed previous reform proposals—pertaining to expression, assembly, human rights defenders, torture, capital punishment—some states raised concerns about alarming recent developments in Bahrain. Several states, including Germany, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Austria, and the United States offered new recommendations that address the government’s growing practice of arbitrarily revoking Bahraini citizenship. Honduras and Ghana did not offer recommendations during Bahrain’s last cycle, but offered recommendations this cycle calling on the Bahraini government to end religious and cultural discrimination. While citizenship revocation has been an important issue in Bahrain for several years, the issue had not yet been raised within the context of the UPR. Similarly, while religious and cultural rights have been an important issue in Bahrain, with the Shia majority suffering systematic discrimination, the government had narrowly interpreted any previous recommendation relating to discrimination in order to avoid addressing this issue.

“We welcome states’ engagement on Bahrain and their recommendations to the government. The fact that so many states have made so many recommendations, however, demonstrates that rather than using the intervening five years between UPR sessions to reform its human rights situation, Bahrain has instead chosen to continue and increase the level of repression,” states Husain Abdulla, the Executive Director of ADHRB. “Throughout the past years, Bahrain has openly flouted the UN and its mechanisms, including the UPR. We call on the Human Rights Council to take note of Bahrain’s implementation of its recommendations, or lack thereof, and to take serious action against it if it once again leaves its UPR obligations unfulfilled.”

While a number of states did not offer incisive and critical recommendations, ADHRB welcomes the participation of those states that sought to use their recommendations to highlight significant and persistent human rights violations. We strongly urge the Bahraini government to implement these recommendations and to work to make the country more politically inclusive and to guarantee protections for basic human rights.