23 Rights groups urge Asian Bloc to oppose Bahrain’s bid for Human Rights Council

On 1 December 2020, 22 rights groups including Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) and the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) have written to the Asia and the Pacific bloc at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) calling on member states to oppose Bahrain’s bid for the Presidency on the grounds that its poor human rights record and refusal to cooperate with UN mechanisms would “fundamentally undermine the integrity of the Council.”

The letter documents a “systematic violation of human rights” by Bahrain’s government since Bahrain occupied a seat at the HRC in 2018. In particular, signatories point to a dramatic rise in the use of the death penalty following the cessation of a moratorium in 2017, a “sustained attack” on the free press, including on social media, and the use of torture and unfair trials against opposition figures.

Signatories also highlight Bahrain’s “systematic” reprisals against activists and human rights defenders (HRDs) for cooperating with UN human rights mechanisms through “arbitrary arrest, abuse and ill treatment” as well as “travel bans” and citizenship revocation. The letter noted a 2020 report by UN Secretary General documenting reprisals against prominent HRDs including Nabeel Rajab, Ebtisam Al Saegh and BIRD’s Director Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, family members of whom remain imprisoned in what the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention deem to be “acts of reprisal.”

Noting that Bahrain’s membership in HRC Council mandates states to “fully cooperate with the Council,” the letter concluded by condemning Bahrain’s refusal to permit UN Special Rapporteurs or the UN High Commissioner access to the country since 2006. As a consequence, signatories “strongly recommend that states of the Asian Pacific Group vote against Bahrain’s bid for the presidency.”

Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), commented: “It beggars belief that a state which bans UN Special Rapporteurs, takes reprisals against citizens for engaging with the UN and has a shocking record of systematic rights abuses can even be considered to lead the top rights body. This should never happen; the very credibility of the Human Rights Council is at stake here.”

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of BIRD, commented: “As someone whom Bahrain has actively persecuted for my engagement with the Human Rights Council through reprisals against myself and my family, I am disgusted by Bahrain’s bid for the presidency. I urge member states to rise above geopolitics or risk fundamentally undermining the integrity of the Council by permitting a state with an abysmal rights record  to set its priorities.”