Response to Bahrain’s High Level Statement at the 37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), following the statement made today during the High Level Segment of the Human Rights Council by Bahrain’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mr. Abdulla Faisal al-Doseri, is concerned with Bahrain’s continued lack of genuine commitment for promoting and protecting international human rights. Mr. al-Doseri took the opportunity during his statement to highlight Bahrain’s existing internal human rights mechanisms, to applaud the country’s efforts in combatting terrorism, and to address Bahrain’s cosmetic reform agenda – yet his statement was plagued with inaccurate and exaggerated claims and neglected to address ongoing and systematic human rights violations in the country. We are especially concerned due to the fact that this past year was one of the worst for human rights in Bahrain.

Counter to Mr. al-Dosari’s assertion of Bahraini’s rights to form and take part in civil and political societies, civil and political spaces in Bahrain have been so unrelentingly restricted in recent years, that today almost all public spaces are closed. Human rights defenders like Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab are serving prison sentences related to their activism, and political leaders like Hasan Mushaima, Abdulwahab Hussain, and Sheikh Ali Salman have been prosecuted for dissenting opinions. Civil and political figures outside of prison have faced campaigns of travel bans, arson attacks, citizenship revocation, arrest and torture.

Yet Mr. al-Doseri praised Bahrain’s internal mechanisms put in place to protect human rights, including the Ministry of Interior (MOI) Office of the Ombudsman and the Prisoners’ and Detainees’ Rights Commission (PDRC). However, these mechanisms regularly fail to uphold their mandates and have not made significant improvements to the human rights situation in Bahrain since their conception. Instead, these institutions are deeply flawed and lack independence from the government, which compromises their ability to monitor human rights abuses and hold violators accountable. The Ombudsman’s office and the PDRC continue to fail to address extensive, credible evidence of systematic arbitrary detention, torture, and mistreatment, and they do not provide thorough, transparent information about the resolution of complaints. These offices’ inability to independently and transparently address the increasing rate of severe abuses in Bahrain puts complaints at further risk of reprisal and undermines potential for real reform and reconciliation in the country.

Despite Mr. al-Dosari’s assertion that Bahrain continues to combat terrorism in line with international standards while maintaining human rights, we consistently find that this is not the case. The definition of terrorism in Bahrain is exceedingly broad and encompasses almost all forms of criticism or dissent, as well as free assembly. The Counterterrorism Law is frequently used to legitimize the targeting of individuals and the restriction of freedoms – contributing to the thousands of political prisoners in the kingdom. Violent reprisals against human rights defenders and their families have increased in the past year, and combatting terrorism has been used as a justification by the government for these atrocious human rights violations. This past October, Bahraini authorities convicted three innocent family members of exiled human rights defender Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei. Hajer Mansoor Hassan, Sayed Nizar Alwadaei, and Mahmood Marzooq Mansoor, who are respectively Sayed Ahmed’s mother-in-law, brother-in-law, and cousin, were sentenced to three years in prison under Bahrain’s anti-terrorism law.

In 2017, Bahrain’s National Security Agency (NSA) was re-instated of its law enforcement powers against terrorism crimes, despite the agency having a history of arresting protesters and activists and subjecting them to interrogations and torture. Equally concerning was Bahrain’s amendment to the constitution to authorize military courts to try civilians in cases of terrorism. The military courts are fundamentally unequipped to respect fair trial norms and demonstrate judicial transparency. Bahrain’s military courts have also dramatically increased the use of capital punishment despite being structurally incapable of issuing judgements that accord with international standards of fair trials and due process.

Mr. al-Doseri’s talk of a reform agenda lacks any substance when considering Bahrain’s failure to adhere to past reform recommendations – particularly those recommended by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) and the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review mechanism. Following the crackdown of the 2011 protests, the Commission carried out an investigation and provided a list of 26 recommendations, of which Bahrain only implemented two. Last year, Bahrain actively reversed the only minor reforms they had implemented when they re-instated law enforcement powers to the NSA and allowed military courts to try civilians. Likewise, ADHRB found that after its last review, Bahrain only partially implemented 2 out of 176 total recommendations, while failing to fully comply with any of the Council’s recommendations.

“Today’s address to the Human Rights Council by Mr. al-Doseri serves to only underscore the lengths to which the Bahraini government is willing to go to distort and mislead the international community to obfuscate their own drastic human rights record. The reality that remains on the ground is widespread and systematic use of arbitrary arrest, torture, and extrajudicial killings at the government’s hands, a deeply flawed judiciary, and widespread criminalization of all forms of criticism or dissent,” said Husain Abdulla, ADHRB Executive Director. “The international community must remain committed to addressing the ongoing human rights crisis in Bahrain through engagement in multilateral forums like the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms. Only through international pressure, including from allies like the United States and United Kingdom, will Bahrain be compelled to reverse the institutional abuse at the heart of Bahraini government’s human rights policies.”

ADHRB rejects the statement made by Mr. al-Doseri on the situation of human rights in Bahrain, and reiterates our continued alarm at the severity of the deteriorations over the past year. The few internal human rights mechanisms that exist remain ineffective and lack independence from the government. Additionally, freedom of expression has been threatened by broad anti-terror laws that legitimize the arrests, prosecution, and torture of human rights defendants and their families. Finally, the Government of Bahrain has retreated from all effective measures of its national or international reform commitments. We therefore reiterate our call for the international community to press for urgent human rights reforms in the Kingdom of Bahrain.