Bahrain Universal Periodic Review – A summary

The UPR was a disaster for the Bahrain Government. Widespread criticism, lot’s of attention on abuses, 176 recommendations, platform for opposition – none of these things were in any way good for Bahrain. But their response has been conciliatory with claims that they will implement the majority of the recommendations, whilst local media has declared the process a victory. Being forced by an international institution to implement reforms, under mass criticism, is no victory. The following is a summary of the whole UPR process, with video’s, statements, pictures and more.

The process began in May 2012, with the opening session, in which Bahrain presented its case to the Council. In a 3-hour session a wide range of delegations of member states challenged Bahrain on their human rights record, with some heavy criticism. Notably, ally of Bahrain, United States chose particularly strong words and called for the release of Abdulhadi Alkhawaja.

Present during this first session was a number of representatives of Bahraini civil society and opposition. Throughout their stay in Geneva they had faced a campaign of hatred against them in the local official and semi-official media, being described as ‘traitors’ and other such claims.

In response to this the President of the Human Rights Council, Ms. Laura Dupuy Lasserre, condemned such attacks and called on Bahrain to stop them immediately. It was a horrifying end to a difficult week for the Government who denied any wrongdoing and slipped up demanding to know who had made claims of intimidation.

Despite the denials, some activists faced a backlash when they returned with a resigned MP being called for questioning and personal photographs of a lawyer were published online.

By the time of the adoption session (19th September) the UN was taking the issue of reprisals against activists very seriously. They hosted an event on 13th September in which they discussed this issue and specifically named Bahrain as a country guilty of acting against those who collaborate with the UN. Mohammed Al-Maskati, from Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, spoke in the event and highlighted how he had faced death threats since arriving in Geneva for the Human Rights Council.

Immediately after the session the UN’s live web stream became blocked in Bahrain, a shocking move and ill thought out. It was resumed a couple of days later after pressure from the UN, but it was a clear example of the repressive measures Bahrain is willing to take.

Throughout the course of the adoption session, both the Government and civil society were strongly represented at the UN. The Government sent the Foreign Minister to speak to the council, a step up from the Human Rights Minister who had headed the delegation in May. An unverified figure of up to 100 Government attendees was floated around, although the sending of the Foreign Minister was a clear indicator of the seriousness with which Bahrain took the UPR. Representatives of Al Wefaq, Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, Bahrain Human Rights Observatory, BRAVO and others all were represented in Geneva.

This is despite tweets from the Foreign Minister that tried to play the process down:

هناك من يصور اجتماع جنيف و كأنه يوم الحشر .. ساعة واحدة سنتكلم و نستمع و ننتهي بسلام
Khalid Alkhalifa

“Some people are trying to act like UPR is judgement day. It will be one hour, we will talk, we will listen, then we will leave in peace”

On the 18th September two side events took place, one after the other. The first was organised by the NGO CIVICUS and featured Dr. Jasim Husain from Al Wefaq, Maryam Alkhawaja President of BCHR, detained Doctors Dr. Nada Dhaif and Dr. Roula Alsaffar, as well as Farida Ghulam wife of detained opposition leader Ebrahim Shariff. All 5 speakers emphasized the ongoing human rights abuses in Bahrain and were heard by a packed out room of at least 100 people.

Not so for the second event in the same room, organised by the Pro-Government delegation. Speakers that included the Bahraini ambassador to Switzerland claimed the Government had made a number of reforms, as well as criticising the opposition for what they claim to be ‘child abuse’.

The following morning saw the adoption session for Bahrain of the UPR. This was a much shorter session than in May and was not supposed t0 discuss, in depth, the current situation as that was meant for the first session which led to the recommendations as contained in the report of the working group.

The Foreign Minister began by outlining that the Government would accept 145 of the 176 recommendations, and partly accept 13 more.

Our full report on this session can be found here. Following on from his beginning a number of close allies of Bahrain spoke positively about reforms that had happened so far. The only serious democratic states to make interventions were UK, US and Austria. The latter called on the release of Abdulhadi Alkhwaja and all political prisoners, whilst affirming that their statement was supported by Germany, Denmark and Belgium.

Interestingly the US were represented by State Department official, Michael Posner, a much higher level representative than would otherwise be expected. This shows the level of importance the US attached to the UPR and wanted to ensure their Gulf expert was pressing Bahrain.

During his speech he 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.”

Afterwards he gave a press conference in which he reaffirmed this position, which was subsequently widely reported in the media. During his time in Geneva he met with representatives from the opposition as well as the Government and even attended the side event that followed on from the UPR session, hosted by No Peace Without Justice and other NGO’s.

Also in the adoption session a umber of NGO’s had the chance to speak. Both Maryam Alkhawaja and Dr. Nada Dhaif gave very strong speeches, along with other NGO’s such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch. Videos below:

Clearly shaken by Dr. Nada’s speech the Foreign Minister ended the session by claiming that there are no political prisoners in Bahrain, which comes as a surprise given the fate of Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, Nabeel Rajab, Zeinab Alkhawaja, not to mention the hundreds more.

Whilst the Government claimed that the UPR adoption session was a victory, it’s clear that this was wishful thinking. In reality, Bahrain had been forced into accepting a package of reforms that they will inevitably try to avoid implementing. However if they do this, unlike the BICI, they can be held to account through the UN Human Rights Council, who will be monitoring the follow up.

Directly after this session another very well attended side event was held, sponsored by No Peace Without Justice, Non Violent Radical Party Transnational and Transparty, and the London based Islamic Human Rights Commission. Amongst the panel was Jalila Alsalman, Sayed Hadi Almusawi, Said Yousif Almuhafdah, Husain Abdulla and Lamees Dhaif. You can read the text of Sayed Hadi’s speech here.

One particularly interesting contribution from the floor came from a British expat living in Bahrain who claimed she represented 600,000 expat workers and that the opposition were violent extremists who wanted to harm expats. However, when challenged by Sayed Hadi Almusawi to name one of the expats killed since 14th February 2011, she had no answer. Almusawi then read the names of all expat workers killed as a result of regime violence much to her discredit.

Jalila Alsalman presented facts and figures showing the discrimination against those from the Shiite community in Bahrain, whilst Lamees Dhaif spoke and screened a short film showing the ongoing human rights abuses in Bahrain. Almuhafdah, from BCHR, outlined the problem of regime officials acting with impunity and Husain Abdulla from Americans for Democracy in Bahrain, spoke about the struggle for justice in Bahrain. Following on from the side event this statement was released. Photos below:

Throughout the course of the week a number of meetings took place between civil society members and officials, NGO’s and others. In this meeting with the International Labour Organisation, the problems of workers being dismissed for political expression was discussed, with ILO expressing their support for those workers.

Other meetings included with the Chair of the Human Rights Council, Michael Posner of the State Department, staff of the Special Rapporteurs, staff of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the reprisals team, many NGO’s covering a range of topics and many others. It was a great opportunity for those experiencing the crackdown in Bahrain to lobby the international community and one that they made sure they took advantage of.
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The main strength was that Bahrain was put firmly on the map in the Human Rights Council. Throughout the week, the issue of Bahrain was discussed more than anywhere else, in the council, in the corridors, in the side events, in Geneva generally! For the first time since the uprising began on 14th February 2011, the world was really listening to what’s happening in Bahrain and beginning to act.

In the coming months we will see the full effect of the UPR and the increased pressure on Bahrain to reform that it will bring.

Sadly we have only continued to see the same maltreatment since the UPR adoption. Both in the streets with continued excessive force, in the courtrooms with the 2 month sentence handed to Zeinab Alkhawaja and indeed against those who attended Geneva.

On Sunday, Royal Court financed Al Watan Newspaper published the names and faces of many of those who were in Geneva, labelling them as traitors and accusing them of spoiling Bahrain’s image. Such media campaigns show the ongoing practice of inciting hatred against opposition figures and intimidating those who dare to speak out against the regime. Below shows the Al Watan front page, some of which has been translated by BRAVO (underneath picture). The newspaper falsely claims that Kuwaiti lawyer Abdulhameed Dashti financed the intervention and also falsely claimed he was thrown out of a meeting, whilst drunk. None of these claims have any base in reality; along with the claim that resigned MP Ali Alaswad was present. Such lies really do no favours to the reputation of Bahraini media.

“Al Watan newspaper was able to get a list of all the attendees who were directed with the mission to defame and ruin the reputation of Bahrain during the Human Rights Council UPR Session in Geneva on Bahrain.

The list consists of ten political organisations, supported by four foreign ones, 38 individuals among them 4 non-Bahrainis, representing a bunch of civil societies authorised and non-authorised. The information that we obtained showed that a big number of the attendees are currently working the governmental institutes of Bahrain, like the Ministry of Health, of Education and of Training Institutes while others are working in institutes and companies in the private sector. Among them are retired MPS or others who live outside Bahrain, while the nation and civilian voices are calling for them to be held culpable for their role.

Sources confirmed to AlWatan that the Kuwaiti lawyer Dashti was running the financial operations of the civil delegation, and he is the main funder for these persons during the Geneva session, while questions are raised about characters of 19 people within that list who are jobless, so how is it they had funding to participate in a very highly expensive mission, (travel, hotels and other expenses), and the same source added that Dashti was involved in an argument with activists and media representatives before he was kicked out of the UN Building while he was drunk and staggering, according to media outlets.

While Waad joined in Geneva with direct and indirect representation, AlWefaq was represented by 5 persons among them ex-MPs. (continued on page 6)” (N.B. Page 6 is a full page article)

So whilst the violations continue, there is no doubt that the UPR increased the pressure and brought Bahrain into the spotlight. Regardless of what might happen after this, there is no chance that this was anything like a victory for the Government.

All photos and more below. You can also read our media roundup of the UPR here.

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