24 June 2019 – Yesterday, at the opening of the 41st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights delivered her sessional update. In her remarks, she highlighted several important thematic concerns, including attacks on migrants, the continued application of the death penalty, and the importance of countering impunity. She also named a number of states in her remarks, expressing particular concern over the human rights situation and recent executions in Saudi Arabia, among other countries. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) welcomes her remarks on Saudi Arabia and her thematic comments, many of which apply to Bahrain, and we urge the states of the Council to call Bahrain to account for its human rights abuses.
In her remarks, the High Commissioner raised concerns about statelessness, in particular that of children. She noted that stateless individuals are refused adequate healthcare and other forms of social benefits. She called upon states to provide nationality to stateless individuals, especially children. The Government of Bahrain has used citizenship and its attendant privileges as a weapon against dissidents, revoking citizenship when individuals speak out against the state or participate in peaceful protests. Since 2012, Bahrain has revoked the citizenship of 990 individuals, many in mass trials that were unfair. Many of those who have had their citizenship revoked were sentenced in three trials, conducted on 15 May 2018, 27 February 2019, and 16 April 2019. On 15 May 2018, Bahrain’s Fourth High Criminal Court stripped 115 people of their nationality in what is known as the “Zulfiqar Brigade case.” On 16 April 2019, the Fourth High Criminal Court stripped 138 people of their citizenship in what is known as the “Bahraini Hezbollah” case.
High Commissioner Bachelet also expressed specific concern over Saudi Arabia’s dismissal of Special Rapporteur Callamard’s recently released report examining the extrajudicial killing of expatriate journalist Jamal Khashoggi. In the report, Rapporteur Callamard found that Khashoggi was “the victim of a premeditated extrajudicial execution. She further found that there is “credible evidence of high-level Saudi officials’ individual liability, including that of the Crown Prince.” Contrary to the findings, Saudi Arabia rejected the report, saying it “contains clear contradictions and baseless allegations which challenge its credibility.”
In addition to condemning Saudi Arabia’s response to the report, Bachelet strongly condemned Saudi Arabia’s “mass execution” in April which went ahead in spite of “repeated appeals by the UN human rights system about the lack of due process and fair trial guarantees, [and] allegations that confessions were obtained through torture.” In particular, she highlighted that “at least three of those killed were minors” at the time of their alleged offense.
While she criticized Saudi Arabia’s record on the death penalty, she took note of “global progress on the death penalty,” especially of advances made among African states. Despite these improvements, some states, including Bahrain, have continued to use the death penalty. For example, in Bahrain, there are currently 20 men on death row, including 10 men at imminent risk of execution. Before 2017, Bahrain’s death row population consisted of seven Bahrainis, which more than doubled when 15 Bahrainis were sentenced to death in 2017. While four of these sentences were later commuted to life in prison, an additional 12 people were sentenced to death in 2018. Among those who are on death row are Mohammed Ramadan, Husain Ali Moosa, Ali AlArab, Maher AlKhabbaz, and Ahmed AlMalali.
The High Commissioner also expressed concern about impunity and the role impunity plays in human rights violations, stating “Human rights violations are fueled by impunity.” Impunity is a central concern in addressing the Bahraini government’s human rights abuses. Not only do members of Bahrain’s security forces commit abuses with impunity, but violators rarely face prosecution. For example, Zakariva Rashid Hassan al-Asheri died under suspicious circumstances after he was arrested and charged with disseminating false news and inciting hatred in 2011. Authorities claimed al-Asheri died from complications of sickle-cell anemia, but his family reported he did not suffer from that illness. In 2012, freelance journalist Ahmed Ismaeel Hassan al-Samadi died after being shot while filming a protest in the village of Salmabad. Despite calls, including from the UN, that Bahrain investigate the killing, al-Samadi’s death has remained unresolved.
Indeed, to date, no senior officials have been held accountable for their abuses, which range from torture, to extrajudicial killings. In some cases, rather than initiating investigations into abuses, the Bahraini government promotes abusers, Mubarak bin Huwail was accused of torturing six medics in 2011. Despite this, he was acquitted of any charges in July 2013. Less than a week later, bin Huwail was seen with Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman AlKhalifa, the Prime Minister, who thanked him for “his good work,” and assured him that “the laws don’t apply to you.” Bin Huwail was later promoted to Brigadier General and appointed to head the Southern Governorate Police Force. While he was in charge of the Southern Governorate Police Force, human rights defender Nabeel Rajab experienced terrible conditions, while held in long-term pre-trial detention, following which, he needed to be hospitalized for months.
Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of ADHRB: “The High Commissioner’s comments strike at the heart of some of the concerns we have surrounding Bahrain’s human rights record: impunity, statelessness, and capital punishment. Her comments also address our concerns about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, in particular the use of the death penalty. The international community must take the High Commissioner’s comments to heart and call publicly on Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to release all political prisoners, end the use of capital punishment, and halt the practice of citizenship revocation.”
ADHRB welcomes the High Commissioner’s remarks and takes particular note of her concerns surrounding the use of capital punishment, impunity, and statelessness. We urge the international community to take heed of the High Commissioner’s comments and to publicly call upon Bahrain to address concerns about its rights record. In particular, Bahrain must allow access for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Procedures offices, which have not been permitted to visit since 2006. The kingdom must further end its use of the death penalty as well as its practice of revoking citizenship for dissent. It must further take steps to end impunity and hold officials accountable for their rights violations, and release all political prisoners.