UPR process ties Government to reforms

Geneva – The Universal Periodic Review on Bahrain concluded today in Geneva, with Bahrain’s Foreign Minister stating they would accept 145 of the 176 recommendations and partially accept 13 more.

This now ties the state into making widespread reforms and any failure to do so would contravene the promise made to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Along with the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, this means almost 200 clear reforms need to be made. Unlike the BICI, the UPR recommendations come from international states and any lack of compliance from Bahrain will draw condemnation from those states. Likewise, member states, as well as UN institutions, will watch carefully the progress that is made by Bahrain in this regard.

Government voices were quick to laud the session as a victory, with the Government receiving less criticism than in May at the opening of the UPR. It should be remembered that this session was purely for adoption, where as the main discussions on human rights in Bahrain took place in May, when many delegations slammed Bahrain’s rights record.

In todays session only a small handful of delegations spoke, most of whom were close Gulf allies of Bahrain. However, a speech from Austria said, “Despite promises, we are concerned the situation on the ground has not improved.” They added that the delegations of Germany, Denmark and Belgium were of the same opinion, after calling for the release of all political detainees and specifically Abdulhadi Alkhawaja.

The United States, represented by State Departments Michael Posner, said a lot more needed to be done to ensure accountability and urged Bahrain to reflect all sectors of society in it’s police force. He concluded by saying, “Bahrain is at a crossroads. 10 months after the BICI publication we are concerned the Government is losing momentum.”

This was a clear signal from the US that they are unhappy with the level of progress made by Bahrain in implementation of the BICI. In a statement Posner added, “We urge you once again to fully and swiftly implement the BICI recommendations as well as those generated through the UPR process. This will help create an environment where meaningful dialogue can take place.”

After the member states provided their statements a number of NGO’s were given the chance to speak. Representatives from Amnesty International, Reports Without Borders and Human Rights Watch all described the latest human rights abuses happening in Bahrain. Maryam Alkhawaja, Acting President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, cited a number of recent abuses by the Government of Bahrain as examples that no reforms had taken place since the last UPR session.

Dr. Nada Dhaif added, “To the Foreign Minister, we hold your responsible in front of this council to implement these recommendations.” She cited the case of Zeinab Alkhawaja and general problems facing women in Bahrain saying, “They cannot even protect their own children.”

The issue of children was a hot topic amongst the Government representatives. One Government approved NGO representative claimed that children were being used by the opposition in protests.

Coming back at the end the Foreign Minister could only repeat the assertion that Bahrain has no prisoners of conscience, despite the fact that many delegations of member states and NGO’s had personally named them. Such a statement will surely fail to convince the Human Rights Council that Bahrain is serious about implementation of the UPR and BICI.

At the end of the session, Government groups congratulated one another, but it is unlikely that Bahrain can feign implementation of these recommendations, like it has done with the BICI. The Foreign Minster cancelled a planned news conference, with no official explanation. The Human Rights Council will hereby watch Bahrain closely, and the UPR process will not be forgotten or dismissed so easily.

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