Today, before the United Nations Human Rights Council, twenty seven governments from around the world joined together for the first time to deliver a declaration calling on Bahrain to cease grave human rights violations being carried out against pro-democracy activists in the country, including for the release of political prisoners and the end of excessive force against protesters.
According to the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), while the Human Rights Council has taken important measures over the last 16 months to address grave violations in countries such as Libya and Syria, it has remained shamefully silent on the situation in Bahrain; repeatedly ignoring calls by civil society around the world to hold an Urgent Debate at the Council on the increasing repression of pro-democracy activists and human rights defenders in the country.
“This is the first time we have seen governments join together at the United Nations to call for a halt to grave rights violations being carried out in Bahrain. In this sense, it represents an important first step to address the blatant double-standards at the UN towards the Arab uprisings” said Mr. Ziad Abdel Tawab, Deputy Director of CIHRS.
Notably missing from the joint statement was the United States and United Kingdom, close allies of the Bahraini government. Governments from the Arab region also refused to join.
“We view this as a long over-due first step to begin to address increasing repression in Bahrain, and should not be seen as a substitute for the need for the convening of a Special Session or Urgent Debate at the Human Rights Council on the situation in the country,” said Mr. Jeremie Smith, Director of the Geneva Office of CIHRS.
In a statement before the Council CIHRS expressed gratitude to those states that “have finally broken a wall of collective silence on the issue of rights violations in Bahrain…Today these states have demonstrated a principled commitment to upholding human rights and promoting democracy in the Arab region. We urge those governments who choose not to join this statement… to begin to more seriously address the double-standards by which this Council has approached its duty to uphold the rights of citizens in the Arab region; brave citizens who continue to be killed, tortured and imprisoned for no more than peacefully struggling for freedom and democracy.”
Last week, a joint appeal by NGOs from around the world called for joint action at the Human Rights Council to address the situation in Bahrain. The appeal noted the following human rights violations occurring in Bahrain:
Lawyers in Bahrain estimate the number of arbitrarily detained at approximately 800. Men and women are arrested and released almost on a daily basis as arbitrary arrests and raids without warrants continue, and allegations of torture continue. In the past three months a number of children have been among those arrested.
At least four injured persons were arrested from hospitals in a continuing policy of restricting access to health care for injured protesters and suspected protesters. In this connection the government has prevented Medecins Sans Frontieres from operating clinics to address mounting injuries to protesters. A Physicians for Human Rights report issued on 21 May called Under the Gun outlines in extensive detail the militarization of the health care sector and the treatment of injured in homes.
The authorities have installed closed-circuit TV cameras in many interrogation rooms, in line with a BICI recommendation, but torture and other ill-treatment continues, though transferred to informal detention centers as documented by local and international NGOs.
Entry to Bahrain for journalists and international human rights organizations has been extremely restrictive since April 2011, if visas have been granted at all.
These violations have occurred in the context of a country-wide campaign of retribution by the government against those who have participated or supported the pro-democracy protests that erupted in February 2011. It is important that the government of Bahrain urgently take concrete action to combat grave rights violations in the country and demonstrate an actual commitment to reform.
Oral Intervention delivered by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies on Bahrain and Egypt:
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