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UN Human Right Sub-Commission Passes a Historic Resolution on Bahrain on 21 August 1997

The Al-Khalifa government today (21 August 1997) received a condemnation from the UN Human Rights Sub-Commission meeting in Geneva between 4-29 August. For the first time, the UN Sub-Commission has passed a resolution condemning the government of Bahrain and requesting the UN Human Rights Commission to consider Bahrain in its forthcoming session.

Despite the government’s attempts to bribe some of the members of the Sub-Commission, the majority of its members who were present at today’s session voted in favour of the resolution. This followed a stormy session last night in which the Claire Palley, the British expert at the Sub-Commission revealed a scandalous attempt by the Al Khalifa to bribe some of its members. A sum of $100,000 was promised to a committee led by one of the members of the Sub-Commission, according to Ms. Palley. The Chairman who was distressed by the revealations immediately adjourned the session. One of the original sponsors of the draft resolution withdrew her support for it. However, their policy of corruption has backfired disastrously.

The Historic Resolution

The historic resolution (Ref: E/CN.4/Sub.2/1997/L.8) was tabled under Item 2. This item relates to “Questions of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including policies of racial discrimination and segregation and of apartheid, in all countries, with particular reference to colonial and other dependent countries and territories: The following is the text of the resolution:

((United Nations, Economic and Social Council, Commission on Human Rights, Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, Forty-ninth session. 1997/…. Situation of human rights in Bahrain.

The Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities:

Reaffirming the obligation of states under the Charter of the United Nations to promote and encourage universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion,

Reaffirming its conviction that racism and racial discrimination constitute a total negation of the purpose and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,

Noting that the elected National Assembly of Bahrain was dissolved in August 1975, that for 22 years Bahrain has been without an elected legislature and that there are no democratic institutions in Bahrain,

Noting also that Bahrain is facing problems of internationally assisted terrorism, and condemning all acts of terrorism in that country,

Noting further the information concerning a serious deterioration of the human rights situation in Bahrain, including discrimination against the indigenous Shi’a population, extra-judicial killings, persistent use of torture in Bahraini prisons on a large scale as well as the abuse of women and children who are detained, and arbitrary detention without trial or access by detainee to legal advice,

1. Expresses its deep concern about the alleged gross and systematic violations of human rights in Bahrain;

2. Urges the Government of Bahrain to comply with applicable international human rights standards and to ratify the International Covenants on Human Rights and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment;

3. Requests the Commission on Human Rights at its next session to consider the situation of human rights in Bahrain under its agenda item entitled “Questions of violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world, with particular reference to colonial and other dependent countries and territories”)).

 Scandalous Revelations

The UN centre in Geneva was the scene of one of the revelations of the corruption of the Bahrain Government, which offered $100,000 to prevent the passing of a resolution condemning the violation of human rights in Bahrain. Here is the summary of the session of the Sub-Commission on 20 August 1997.

Nine experts (out of 26) proposed a draft resolution on 14 August condemning the government of Bahrain for its violation of human rights and discrimination against the indigenous Shia population. Ms. Claire Palley (British expert) started the discussion since she was the principal sponsor of the draft resolution. Ms. Palley said she had been concerned with the human rights situation in Bahrain for the past eight years. “We were also told that the situation would improve. However, the situation has deteriorated. I have with me letters from the Bahrain government pledging that it would improve the situation. This year, the situation has further deteriorated. Even if the Bahrain government is facing terrorism, the measures taken far exceeds what is necessary. There is gross violation and the number of those tortured is increasing, including women and children. Compared to the size of population, what takes place in Bahrain is comparable to those violations that happen in such countries as Turkey. I hope the Bahraini government helps itself by allowing for the election of the National assembly and that it does not enter the 21st century with an appointed body. The government of Bahrain must understand that the international community is concerned with what is going on in Bahrain…”.

The Cameroon expert, Ms. Lucy Gwanmsia, surprised the audience by her intervention. She was one of the nine experts who co-sponsored the condemnation resolution. She started by attacking the draft resolution saying “If Bahrain is facing terrorism, why should we ever condemn its government. I also wish to know which country is sponsoring terrorism in Bahrain. Secondly, we are not entitled to condemn a country just because it did not ratify international covenants. I declare that I am withdrawing my co-sponsorship.” People in the experts committee and in the hall were surprised: why is the Cameroon expert raised all these points after signing and co-sponsoring the draft resolution?

The Moroccan expert, Ms. Halima Embarek Warzazi, said that “we all know which country is sponsoring terrorism in Bahrain and no need to mention names. After meeting with the representatives of the Bahraini government, I understand that there is progress and that this resolution would not help that progress. I ask for this draft resolution to be withdrawn.”

Then the French expert, Louis Joinet, (one of the co-sponsors) said: “we are entitled to request the government of Bahrain to ratify international covenants. This is the spirit of UN charter. We have always been told that governments are prepared to do this and that. I do not mind that the resolution is delayed for a year if there were pledges by the Bahraini government. But I wish to hear from the Bahraini representative on this.”

The Cameroon expert comes back “what is demanded is that we withdraw the draft resolution. I believe that we have to encourage the government of Bahrain just as we encourage our children when they show that they are prepared to listen.”

At this point, Ms. Palley, requested to speak saying: “I had wished that there would be enough time. It is my duty to reveal something that was supposed to remain a secret. A member of the Sub-Commission came to see me and said the Bahraini government is prepared to ratify the Convention Against Torture in return for withdrawing the draft resolution. I said this was not enough. Bahrain has to ratify the other covenants for civil and political rights as well. The member said that the government of Bahrain would donate the amount of $100,000 for one of the working groups [Later it became apparent that the recipient would be the Moroccan expert’s group]. He then told me that some of the co-sponsors would withdraw their support. I want to reveal these facts and say that this is unacceptable. The $100,000 is corruption.”

The Chairman of the session intervened by saying: these matters should have not been revealed in a public session like this. He then adjourned the meeting until 21 August. The hall was in uproar.

There were five persons in the official seats of the representative of the government of Bahrain. One of them looks like one of the torturers who had been flown especially for this meeting. This person came near a member of the Bahraini opposition to spit aiming for provocation and intimidation. He exposed himself in the same way his masters exposed themselves to the world.

The session on 21 August started at 10.00 am with a fully packed hall. Ms. Clair Palley started the session by requesting that her statements be withdrawn as she revealed something that was supposed to remain confidential. The Chairman agreed to omit the statements containing the information about the $100,000 and moved to continue the debate. The Chinese expert attempted to defend the Bahraini government by saying every country had its own way of implementing democracy, establishing the rule of law and for protecting its citizens rights. The Norwegian expert challenged the representative of the Bahrain government to offer a single example where an elected institution exists in Bahrain. He cited Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that citizens must be empowered to participate in the public life through genuine and periodic elections. The Lebanese expert, Othman Al-Haj, gave his support to the Bahrain government and attacked the Bahraini opposition. Then Ahmad Al-Haddad, the representative of the Bahraini government attempted to justify the path of his government in the way it handled matters in Bahrain. The experts then moved to voting. Twelve votes supported the resolution versus 11 against. One abstained and another was not in the hall for voting. The Chairman doesn’t vote.

FIDH Intervention

The annual meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Sub-Commission started with a strong condemnation of Bahraini government from non governmental organisations.The Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights, FIDH, took up the issue in its official intervention on 5 August 1997 at the Palace of Nations, Geneva . Their representative stated the following “the cruelty with which the Government of Bahrain faced its opponents has led to the death of Sheikh Ali Al Natchas, Bashir Fadhel and Abdul Zahra Abdulla in the first few months of this year. The increase in the number of victims is a result of the harsh treatment which reached senior figures in the opposition which is seeking the return of democracy.

There are no less than 1500 political prisoner led by Sheikh Abdul Amir Al Jamri who has been in jail since early 1996.There are a large number of killings under torture and extra-judicial. No inquiry has ever been held into these deaths. Political detainees are subjected to extraordinary and random procedures. The Bahraini authorities adopts collective punishment and arrest whole families especially in the villages.

We have examples of children not more than seven years of age who were arrested and were subjected to harsh treatment at the hands of security men. Some of them received strange sentences of between six months and one year for baseless allegations. Freedom of expression does not exist. Recently the computer system of Sayed Jalal Sharaf were confiscated and he was tortured. The International Federation requests the UN Sub-Commission to condemn the wide-ranging and consistent violations in Bahrain, and asks the Government of Bahrain to allow the special rapporteurs to form a committee to study the situation and visit Bahrain”.

Intervention by the Opposition

 Systematic Violation of Human Rights in Bahrain, under Item 2.

Intervention by Dr. Mansoor Al-Jamri, delivered on 7 August 1997

“Mr. Chairman,

The human rights situation in Bahrain has deteriorated markedly over the past few years. This issue has been raised in the past years before the Commission and Sub-Commission respectively. Amnesty International, in a 50-page report, described the situation in September 1995 as a “Human Rights Crisis”. Last month, Human Rights Watch issued a major 109-page report on Bahrain detailing the routine and systematic violations of human rights. Human Rights Watch discredited the claim of the Government of Bahrain that foreign hands stand behind the political crisis. The underlying causes of the crisis, as have been verified by these reports, are the consistent violations relating to a lack of justice and the broad denial of fundamental rights. The Sub-Commission is requested to examine the situation in Bahrain in the light of these reports.

The list of the systematic violation is a long one. It includes prolonged detention without charges or trial, denying proper access to lawyers, routine torture, death under torture, extra-judicial killing, abuse of women and children, unfair trails before courts that fall short of all minimal international due process standards, sentencing persons to death while denying them their right to appeal to a higher court, forcibly exiling citizens and preventing others from returning to their country, denying the citizens their basic freedoms that were guaranteed by the Bahraini constitution, collective punishment against the indigenous population, abolishing the margin of religious freedom that used to be enjoyed by the indigenous community, discriminating against the indigenous population in education, in appointments to public offices and in virtually all walks of life.

All Bahrainis are routinely denied their right to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and their right to participate in public affairs, as was envisaged by the constitution of the country. Numerous professionals have been expelled from their jobs, simply for demanding the restoration of the dissolved parliament. When Ali Hassan Yousif, published a book of poetry earlier this year, his book was banned, he was put in jail and later expelled from working in the Ministry of Information. Local and foreign journalists are routinely harassed. Abbas Salman of Reuters was detained in September 1996 for one day as a punishment for a report he wrote on the political unrest. Ms. Ute Meinel of the German News Agency (DPA) was expelled from the country last July , after writing a report on the events in Bahrain.

Members of the indigenous community suffer from consistent abuse and discrimination. Their houses, properties, mosques and religious centres are routinely ransacked. Their children, youth, men and women are collectively punished, detained and tortured.

Mr. Chairman,

This situation is a result of the dissolution of the elected parliament in 1975 and the eradication of the constitutional rights of citizens. Pro-democracy campaigners petitioned the Amir of Bahrain in 1992 and in 1994 to restore the dissolved parliament and rule of constitutional law. The pro-democracy campaign encompassed all sections of the society. However, the Government refused to enter into dialogue or to take steps for solving the mounting problems. Instead, the Government of Bahrain resorted to the use of brutal force in the name of preserving order claiming that the people of Bahrain are not up to the standards of democratic practice.

The Government of Bahrain has ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Yet, the Government of Bahrain has routinely discriminated against the indigenous population and has not spared children from detention and torture. Last month, a 7-years old girl, Iman Hassan Ibrahim, was detained and abused.

The government of Bahrain treats its majority indigenous Shi’a people as enemies, and is even actively importing large numbers of people from the Syrian desert in order to change the demographic balance in the population. Such ethnic cleansing is being applied in the state administration where out of the 420 top officials, only 23 % Shi’a remain, mostly in lower, less-important positions. The situation is even worse with the University of Bahrain. Here, even Shi’a students with 95% pass rates, are refused entry.

The Bahraini authorities refuse to allow all types of NGO visits as well as missions by distinguished European parliamentary personalities. They refused any serious mediation aimed at resolving the crisis. The victims of such a policy are the kind-hearted people of Bahrain.

We call upon the respected members of the Sub-Commission in this session to take the initiative by studying the deteriorating situation of human rights in Bahrain and to make recommendations to the Commission on Human Rights. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

France Liberte Intervention

Geneva, 25 August 1997: France Liberte delivered its intervention (in French) under Item 9 (Administration of Justice).

“Mr. Chairman:

France Liberte has in the past brought to your attention the sad crisis in Bahrain. Political prisoners suffer from a consistent patter of human rights abuses as a result of the implementation of the State Security Law. This law provides the interior minister with the powers to administratively detain political suspects for three yeas without trial or charges. These are strange provisions. During detention, the detained person is held incommunicado without knowing why he had been arrested. No access to any lawyer is allowed at this crucial stage. The methods used for extracting confessions include various forms of physical and psychological torture. After this torture, the person is brought before the State Security Court. This is an exceptional court. If a person refuses to admit guilt, he or she is returned to prison for another round of torture. The verdicts passed by this exceptional court are final and can not be appealed. The defendant is unable to protest his innocence. These are gross violations of human rights. Since 1996, the exceptional court’s powers have been extended and the citizen is now under the mercy of such court for a variety of reasons.

Mr. Chairman:

In Bahrain, a person who participates in a demonstration is considered to be a threat to state security and thus is brought before this exceptional court. We request the respected members of the Sub-Commission to consider all these matters in relation to what goes in Bahrain prisons. What we say has been confirmed by highly respected organisations, such as Human Rights Watch, which published a 109-page report detailing the violations of human rights in Bahrain”.

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