United Nations Human Rights Committee Releases Concluding Observations for Bahrain’s First ICCPR Review

26 July 2018 – Today, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee released its concluding observations regarding Bahrain’s initial International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) periodic report. This marks Bahrain’s first review of compliance with treaty obligations under the ICCPR, despite ratifying the Covenant in 2006. The report comes over a decade late, as State Parties are expected to submit an initial report one year after ratifying the ICCPR. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) welcomes the Committee’s intense scrutiny of Bahrain’s commitment to civil and political rights and calls upon the Government of Bahrain to promptly accept and implement the recommendations provided by the Committee.

While paragraphs three and four of the concluding observations are attributed to minor “positive aspects,” paragraphs five through 64 are then designated to principle matters of concern and recommendations for the kingdom on a range of issues from the National Institute for Human Rights’ (NIHR) lack of independence to the trial of civilians in military court to the underrepresentation of Shia Muslims in political and public life.

Prior to the kingdom’s first review, ADHRB submitted an assessment of Bahrain’s compliance with its treaty obligations under the ICCPR for consideration by the UN Human Rights Committee, noting how Bahrain is in near-total violation of the Covenant.  ADHRB’s submission focused particularly on the increased deterioration of civil and political space in Bahrain over the past two years.

During Bahrain’s State Review, hosted in Geneva from 2-4 July, ADHRB took part in the formal and informal NGO consultations to present the findings of our submission to the Committee’s independent experts directly. ADHRB also played an active role on the sidelines of the formal State Review sessions to ensure that the wide range of Bahrain’s violations of the ICCPR would be addressed, while simultaneously working to provide Committee members with information on individual cases emblematic of wider government abuses.

Following the State Review, the Committee’s concluding observations included deep concerns over Bahrain’s broad anti-terror, cybercrime, and press laws have been used to suppress free expression and arrest and arbitrarily detain activists, journalists, and politicians among others. Additionally, the rights to assembly and association are severely restricted, and all major opposition political parties have been forcibly dissolved. Moreover, there has been an increase in extrajudicial violence and death sentences – obstructing the right to life. ADHRB greatly appreciates seeing our various concerns paralleled by the Committee following Bahrain’s review.

The UN Human Rights Committee’s concerns and recommendations begin by calling on Bahrain’s NIHR to fully comply with the Paris Principles in order to be able to fully carry out its mandate, both effectively and independently. The Committee then goes on to critique Bahrain’s claim that it has fully implemented the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI). In fact, Bahrain has not fully implemented any of the recommendations, and the few recommendation that were partially implemented have been rolled back in the past year, including the re-empowerment of the National Security Agency (NSA) and allowing military courts to try civilians.

The Committee places a significant amount of weight on issues of due process violations and fair trial standards in its concluding observations. The international panel of independent human rights experts raised serious concerns regarding reports of torture in prisons, particularly in the Jau prison, and death sentences having been imposed on the basis of confessions obtained under duress or torture. Furthermore, the Committee’s report draws attention to restricted access to lawyers, citing the cases of Khalil al-Marzooq and Maryam al-Khawaja. It also addresses the failure of authorities to inform individuals of their rights prior to arrest and detention, as well as the lack of an impartial and independent judiciary. The observations also highlighted the inhumane conditions a majority of detainees face, such as overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and inadequate access to drinking water. The Committee urges Bahrain to implement an accessible independent and effective complaint mechanism against torture, ensure confessions obtained under torture are not accepted by courts under any circumstances, guarantee all fundamental legal safeguards, monitor detention conditions, and take all measures to protect the full independence and impartiality of the judiciary.

Women’s rights are also strongly featured as an area of particular concern. Young girls remain at risk of being forced into child marriages in Bahrain, and women do not enjoy equal rights in passing nationality to their children. There also exists a strong patriarchal structure in society, leading women to be underrepresented in political and public life. The Committee calls on Bahrain to strengthen measures to ensure gender equality and combat patriarchal attitudes and stereotypes. It also asks Bahrain to repeal all discriminatory provisions against women in its legislation.

Freedoms of expression, association, assembly, and belief – as noted in the Committee’s concluding observations – remain restricted. The Committee raised the cases of Nabeel Rajab, Zainab al-Khawaja, Ghada Jamsheer, Qasim ZainalDeen, Ahmed al-Fardan, and Faisal Hayyat who all suffered forms of harassment and intimidation for criticizing state authorities or political figures. Counter-terrorism measures are used against human rights defenders and political activists, such as the members of the Bahrain 13, to silence free speech. The government also targeted and closed the last remaining independent newspaper, Al-Wasat. The treaty body’s report voiced concerns over human rights organizations and opposition groups that have been dissolved and use of citizenship revocation as a punishment against individuals exercising their rights. Excessive and disproportionate use of lethal force against civilians involved in peaceful demonstrations has been reported, but there remains a culture of impunity for the officials involved.  Additionally, the Shia population faces limitations of their rights to worship and are disproportionally represented in political and public life. The Committee urges Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally release anyone held solely for the peaceful exercise of their rights and notes how the State must investigate, in accordance with international standards, all allegations of involvement of members of its security forces in the killing of civilians. Additionally, all discriminatory practices on the basis of faith must be abolished, and efforts must be implemented to achieve a balanced representation of Shia in public and political spheres.

“The United Nations Human Rights Committee’s concluding observations rightly stress the systematic and widespread rights violations in Bahrain,” says ADHRB Executive Director Husain Abdulla. “Bahrain’s lack of regard for civil and political rights is deeply alarming, and places the wide range of Bahraini society at risk of egregious abuses. It is unacceptable that the Bahraini government continues to act with such blatant disregard for international human rights. Urgent and drastic reforms must be made to ensure the promotion and protection of civil and political rights for all Bahrainis, regardless of race, religion, thought, belief, or gender, as stressed by these independent experts.”

Bahrain has a history of not properly engaging with the review processes of the United Nations, which is illustrated by its ICCPR review taking place over a decade late, as well as the repeated denial of requests by Special Procedures. Additional attention was given in the concluding observations to the use of reprisals, such as travel bans and the targeting of family members, against individuals attempting to engage with international human rights bodies – referencing the cases of Yusuf al-Hoori, Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, and Ebtisam al-Saegh specifically. ADHRB calls on the international community to ensure that Bahrain does not allow the concerns noted in the Human Rights Committee’s concluding observations to go ignored. Bahrain must take concrete measures to comply with treaty obligations under the ICCPR and implement all recommendations made during its first periodic report.