Bahrain side event at Human Rights Council calls for UN resolution

Maryam Alkhawaja, Vice-President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), has called for a follow up resolution on Bahrain at the UN Human Rights Council, following the publishing of a joint-statement of 47 states this week.

Speaking at a side event hosted by BCHR and the Cairo Institute, Alkhawaja said there have been joint statements in the past, but the Bahraini Government has failed to act, therefore a resolution would now be needed at the next session of the Council in September.

The side event, entitled “Bahrain: Empty Promises, Crowded Prisons”, also featured the first public address of Nabeel Rajab, recently released from prison after 2 years. He was due to be present in Geneva, but speaking via Skype he told the side event that the UK Embassy has kept his passport for the past 11 days, after applying for a UK visa. He is still hoping to arrive in Geneva later during the 26th session of the Human Rights Council.

Rajab spoke about his time in prison, where he said he was completely isolated from the outside world. He testified that he was kept in a prison away from other political prisoners, in order to stop any communication about the political and human rights situation, even his phone calls to family were cut short if discussions covered anything politically related.

However, Rajab thanked all of those who offered solidarity with him during his time in prison and said that despite his isolation, the support stopped him from ever feeling alone. Despite his strength to face his prison time, Rajab had to cut his speech short when he broke down emotionally when discussing three youths who had died whilst protesting for his release. He affirmed that the struggle for democracy and human rights will never be achieved without a price to pay.

His speech was followed by Philippe Dam, the Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch in Geneva. He introduced the latest report from the NGO, “Bahrain: Criminalising Dissent” that highlights the use of the judiciary in Bahrain as a “tool of repression and impunity”. Dam described that the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) was the basis for their report, with little having been done on implementation, and certainly “the most important urgent recommendations have not been implemented at all”. He outlined some of the case examples in the report, underlining that calling for the downfall of the regime “can result in life in prison, whilst killing protesters will receive a maximum 6 month sentence.”

Maryam Alkhawaja spoke last where she called for further action from the Human Rights Council, beyond a joint statement and looking towards a resolution. She also introduced the latest report of the BCHR, “Locked inside a nightmare”, that she said was to document the long list of ill treatments suffered by detainees in Bahrain, both during arrest and also in prison. Alkhawaja criticised prison conditions in Bahrain, noting that there are only two working showers in the Dry Dock prison that houses around 200 inmates.

Alkhawaja reported that the poor human rights situation in Bahrain is an ongoing feature, mentioning that during the previous 3 week session of the Human Rights Council, 238 arrests were made. She recommended the release of all political prisoners and an end to the malpractices highlighted in the report.

Speaking from the floor, Jawad Fairooz, a resigned MP, testified about the ill treatment he suffered whilst spending 3 months in prison in 2011. He added that he is one of the 31 Bahraini citizens who were made stateless in November 2012, as an extra punishment by the Government.

Further side events discussing Bahrain are due to take place in the coming days at the UN in Geneva.

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