NEWS – June 2000
Bahrain: Pro-democracy personality calls on the Amir to listen to the people
Frustrations are mounting inside the country following the series of trails conducted by the unconstitutional State Security Court and the news that Bahraini men and women are being ill-treated inside the jails by the mercenaries that had been imported by the ruling family for repressing the citizens of Bahrain. Loud gas-cylinder explosions were heard in the past few days in Sitra and its surrounding. The residents are commemorating the martyrdom of Ali Taher who was shot dead in Sitra in July 1996. The ruling family has refused to bring the killers to justice and instead the senior security officers responsible for human rights abuses were promoted and commended.
The security forces attacked Daih and arrested several people on 24 June, amongst them a 14-year Mohammed Ali Hassan. The child was released and summoned for further interrogation and ill treatment in the following days.
A delegation representing the Committee for Defence of Human Rights in Bahrain participated in the UN meeting on development, which is being held in Geneva between 25 and 30 June. The government sent its envoy as well. Bahraini human rights activists exposed the false claims of the government and the extent of misery suffered by the citizens of Bahrain under a government that has yet to recognise the rights of citizens to live with dignity in their homeland.
The pro-democracy figure, Mr, Ali Rabea, wrote an important article in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 28 June questioning why Bahrainis had enjoyed more political rights under British colonialism than during the period of independence. Mr. Rabea said that Bahraini enjoyed local elections in 1926 and elections in 1950s for education and health councils, but since independence, Bahrainis began to lose all their rights. The process of de-franchising Bahrainis was further consolidated in 1975 when the Amir dissolved the National Assembly. Mr. Rabea said that the Shura Council (regardless whether it is elected or appointed) is unconstitutional and has been rejected by the people of Bahrain. He explained how the previous Amir rejected all attempts to submit the Popular Petition that was signed by some 25,000 citizens. He called on the present Amir to change such a policy and to start listening to the people. Mr. Rabea reminded the rulers of Bahrain that the people demands are very clear and are centred around the restoration of the National Assembly, the release of political prisoners and detainees, freedom of expression and rule of just and constitutional law.
Bahrain Freedom Movement
29 June 2000
Tel/Fax: (+44) 207 278 9089
28/June: MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — A storeowner has admitted starting the recent fire that destroyed 18 shops in the main souk or traditional market, an Information Ministry official said Wednesday.
Qambar Awadh told an investigating judge that he set fire to his own store in the souk on June 24 because he was heavily in debt, the official said on condition of anonymity.
Awadh is in custody but has not yet been charged.
It took 50 firefighters 1 1/2 hours to control the blaze in the narrow winding lanes of the souk. Besides gutting 18 stores, the fire extensively damaged a dozen other shops.
Awadh, who was injured in the blaze, initially told police that three men had set his shop on fire after robbing him. But, under further interrogation, he confessed to starting the fire himself, the official added.
The souk is known for its merchandise of inexpensive clothes, shoes, gifts, toys, household utensils and traditional Bahraini sweets, scents and spices.
ABU DHABI (June 28) XINHUA – The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have agreed to allow their citizens to travel to and from each other’s country carrying their identity cards only.
The decision was announced in a joint statement released on Wednesday with the permission of UAE Interior Minister Mohammed Saeed Al Badi and his Bahraini counterpart Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al- Khalifa.
The statement said the decision will take effect on July 1, according to the official WAM news agency.
The step was within the framework of the efforts made by the UAE-Bahraini joint committee to strengthen bilateral relations and was part of the goals of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) towards cooperation.
The UAE and Oman started to issued joint visas in 1999, also within the framework of GCC cooperation. The GCC, a regional political and economic alliance established in 1981, groups Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Bahrain: Unfair trials following ill-treatment
The unconstitutional State Security Court, presided by a member of the Al-Khalifa family and flanked by two Egyptian judges, convened its sessions in the militarised village of Jaw on 24 June to arbitrarily sentence more Bahrainis. The following citizens were sentenced as follows:
1. Ali Mahdi, 23, who had already been sentenced to 7 years last month, received a sentence of 5 years today, hence a total of 12 years.
2. Farid Abdul Jalil, 28, sentenced to 5 years
3. Radi Darwish, 30, sentenced to 3 years
4. Hussain Haider, 38, sentenced to 3 years
5. Hisham Ali Hasan, 19 (sentenced last month 2 years ) and today received another sentence for 1 year, hence a total of 3 years
6. Aqil Issa, who had been sentenced last month to 7 years in absentia, received a further 3-year sentence today, hence a total of 10 years.
7. Sayed Absas Jaffer Shubbar, 23 was sentenced to 1 year in absentia.
8. Yousif Folath, 23, 1-year imprisonment.
9. Yousif Ahmed, 23, 3-year imprisonment
On 22 June, the interior ministry summoned Sheikh Ali bin Ahmad for further interrogation about his sermon in Al-Anwari Mosque in Daih. Sheikh Ali bin Ahmed was stopped by a group of security officers while driving his car last month and then beaten in public.
On 19 June, the Bahrain Airport security personnel prevented Mr. Abdul Jalil Al-Nuaimi, 55-year old, from returning to his homeland. He was forcibly deported to the UAE. The government of Bahrain is the only “national” government in the world that forcibly deports the indigenous population while at the same time it imports mercenaries from outside Bahrain and grants them citizenship.
Fire in Manama:
The Associated Press reported on 24 June that “Fire swept through Bahrain’s traditional market Saturday, gutting at least 18 shops and extensively damaging a dozen more. One person was hospitalized with burns, said Col. James Windsor, the Gulf island nation’s civil defense and fire chief. The winding lanes of the open market, or souk, are filled with inexpensive clothes, shoes, gifts, toys, household utensils and traditional Bahraini sweets, scents and spices. Most shops were closed for lunch when the fire broke out about 3 p.m. (1200 GMT). Windsor said it took 50 firefighters 1 1/2 hours to control the blaze. The cause of the fire was under investigation.”
Bahrain Freedom Movement
24 June 2000
Tel/Fax: (+44) 207 278 9089
22 June 2000
Why Bahrain’s promised political reforms are a sham
Plans for elections to powerless council are aimed at defusing popular demands for the restoration of parliament, in the hope that the row with Qatar diverts public attention, Abderrahman al-Nuaimi writes in al-Quds al-Arabi
Some people read too much into the speccch given by the prime minister of Bahrain, Sheikh Khalifa bin-Salman Al Khalifa, at the close of the latest session of the Majlis ash-Shoura (Consultative Council), Bahrain’s exiled politician Abderrahman al-Nuaimi writes from Damascus for pan-Arab al-Quds al-Arabi. They seized on the promises he made that women would be included in the forthcoming Majlis ash-Shoura, and that the one after that- four years hence- would be popularly elected. The four-year interim period is supposed to see the necessary measures put in place for this magnificent and unparalleled step to be taken. Thus it was presented as “a great act of munificence to the people of Bahrain, for which they should thank and offer fealty to their neighbour Qatar over the Hawar islands!”
Some took the reference to elections to mean that there would be popular participation in political decision-making, i.e. that there would be an elected council of representatives with legislative powers and oversight over the executive authority. In other words, that Bahrain would have a National Assembly, like the one it had a quarter of a century ago, before it was abolished by the then Emir.
This would mean, Nuaimi writes, that Bahrain’s ruling family has discovered that the people of Bahrain will be mature enough to participate in decision-making in four years’ time. Why they will not be mature enough in, say, one year’s times, is known only to astrologers, insiders, and people familiar with the extent of the ruling family’s confidence in the people of Bahrain.
Whatever the case, a lot of people came to conclusions similar to the above. Accordingly, the local press was permitted to publish commentaries alluding to the same things.
The journalists responsible were inundated with phone calls from the powers that be, berating them for misrepresenting the prime minister’s speech and putting words in his mouth. They were accused of falling into the trap set by the opposition, which keeps insisting that the solution to the ongoing political crisis lies in popular participation, restoration of the Constitution, and the holding of elections to a National Assembly with full legislative and oversight powers! Indeed, it soon became clear to all that the stop which His Highness promised us would leave us a full four years behind the Sultanate of Oman. There, Sultan Qaboos sought to get his people gradually used to going down the road of consultation. He allowed women to sit on the consultative council four years ago, which he used to appoint under a system so brilliant that even the ruling regime in Bahrain would have difficulty conceiving it. He divided the country into 56 counties and allowed the inhabitants of each county to elect two people – after which the sultan himself would choose one of them. Then things moved on in Oman, and permission was given after the current consultative council’s term is over for all its members to be elected. This move seems to have provoked the Bahraini prime minister. For it seemed incredible that Oman, which was living in the dark ages in 1970, allows its citizens to elect the members of its consultative council. Whereas Bahrain, which used to have a parliament in the early 1970s and has a long tradition of popular involvement in organized politics, is still stuck in its miserable Majlis ash-Shoura phase. All the other Gulf states have gone further than it, be it in the area of shoura or that of popular participation, as in Kuwait.
*NEIEGHBORS: As people learn from their neighbors, Nuaimi says it is important to consider the great leaps which the regime in Qatar is making, such as holding elections for the municipal council (an idea which when proposed in Bahrain was blocked by former police chief Ian Henderson and has not been heard again since), with women taking part as voters and candidates.
Qataris used to admire and envy Bahrainis for their political maturity, awareness and organization. Now the tables have turned, with Bahrainis envying Qataris for where they have gotten. Thanks to a political leadership that is trying to keep up with the times and preempt any internal developments by meeting some of the requirements of the age – especially in terms of democracy and popular participation in decision-making.
After the municipal council elections, the Emir of Qatar has promised that the next step will be the drafting of a constitution and the holding of elections to a legislative council with full legislative and oversights powers. No one in Qatar reacts by saying that such a move would be contrary to the Islamic faith or to traditions and customs, as we keep hearing in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in particular. Kuwait, our other neighbor across the water, infuriates the Bahraini prime minister, who accuses the Kuwaitis of being the cause of the problems in the region because they insist on maintaining a parliament, associations and a relatively free press, and turn a blind eye to the existence of semi-open political parties. This, Sheikh Khalifa complains, encourages others to demand such things – which some people take for granted, but some members of ruling families see as the beginning of the end of their tyrannical rule.
The Bahraini prime minister was recently in Yemen for the 10th anniversary of its unification. Where he saw for himself the freedoms enjoyed by millions of Yemenis and saw their political parties, trade unions independent human rights groups, tribes, enormous economic difficulties, and the major political struggles taking place in the country. Such struggles are those who succeed in managing them peacefully and healthy, not by repressive means. THEY Yemeni experience shows that democracy poses many challenges to the regime, the people and the opposition, but the solution to the problems of democracy lies in more democracy, so that citizens feel they are really citizens, responsible for the future of the country. They are therefore required not to grovel, kiss hands, and send messages of fealty and obeisance, but say what is right oppose what is wrong.
*CLARITY: Consultative councils, by whatever name they are called, mean nothing in terms of genuine political participation, either in Bahrain or any of the other gulf states, Nuaimi writes. And the Bahraini people have shown their rejection of the Majlis ash-Shoura as substitute for popular participation. Everyone sees the handpicked council as a mere government subcommittee. Laws drafted by the cabinet are forwarded to it for it to express its opinion on them. It is, accordingly, no substitute for the National Assembly whose powers are clearly defined in the Constitution of Bahrain – a constitution the former emir took an oath to respect, and considered to be a contract between him and the people of Bahrain.
The ruler can appoint whatever men or women of whatever qualifications he likes to the Majlis ash-Shoura. This changes nothing, other than putting a further burden on the public purse. And even holding selections to such a majlis won’t change its nature or its prerogatives. It has no legislative or oversight powers at all, yet those powers were fundamental to the National Assembly. Perhaps Sheikh Khalifa thinks he is pulling a fast one on the people of Bahrain by promising elections to the Majlis ash-Shoura in four years’ time. “What do you want, o people? Participation in government? Here it is! Elect whomever you want to a council without any powers, and let the media trumpet that we have reached new heights of democracy unmatched in ancient or modern times, and that this brilliant experiment is one of the creations of the sage of our times.”
The Bahraini democratic current has since the outset – along with the Islamist current and all other political currents (as evidenced by the pro-reform petition signed by 25,000 people)- been very clear in voicing its adherence to the Constitution and demanding the restoration of parliamentary life.
This clarity reflects the fact that Bahrainis see clearly that political participation means having a legislative authority, and that in turn means publicly electing a representative assembly with powers of legislation and oversight over the government. In Bahrain’s case, this necessarily means reactivating the Constitution and reversing the coup that took place on August 26, 1975, when the former emir abolished parliament and suspended the Constitution.
“Accordingly, we see the pledge the prime minister made to himself as taking things neither forward nor backward, but keeping the crisis where it is. It does not mean the people of Bahrain have achieved their aspiration of political participation in decision making, even if some take part in or nominate themselves at elections for this majlis. Such moves mean nothing as far as the central issue is concerned,” Nuaimi says.
It is thus for the individuals who opt to take part in the next majlis to decide if they want to go along with the regime or the people. Either way, they are not answerable to the people. The contrast between the powers of the dissolved parliament and those of the consultative council are blatantly obvious.
BORDER DISPUTE: The regime is beating about the bush, playing for time and forging the people’s will, Nuaimi contends. It has been kicking up a storm demanding that people send messages of support for it in connections with the border dispute with Qatar. This storm is intended to divert attention from its plans to keep denying the people their right to political participation in decision-making in the country. It’s wrong-headed mobilization against sister-state Qatar. And fuelling of passions in a dangerous way is also designed to justify a stance which it appears to have decided to adopt – namely, to refuse to abide by the International Court of Justice’s verdict. If it rules against it, on the grounds that Qatar would thus strip Bahrain of one third of its territory!
The regime’s media managers may imagine that the regime will prevail by opening external fronts to divert people from the internal front and by proposing misleading schemes to quash the people’s real demands. But this is not the case, as evidenced by the independence, and obtain full trade union rights and international recognition. The Bahraini people have been resilient in the defense of their interests, and the future is theirs, Nuaimi says. Scores have been killed and thousands imprisoned in their struggle in recent years, and they are prepared to continue until the high and mighty become convinced that the world has changed and so must they.
Bahrain: Human rights teams prevented from investigating abuses
Amnesty International issued its annual report covering 1999 and detailing the various types of abuses around the world. Bahrain remained to be one of the countries where human rights abuses continue. Amnesty confirmed that during its visit last year it was prevented from meeting with independent non-governmental organisations or individuals concerned with the on-going violations of human rights in Bahrain. This testimony falsifies the claims of the government of Bahrain that it is now allowing human rights organisations to visit Bahrain and verify the situation.
There are three UN committees and rapporteurs who requested to be allowed to visit Bahrain and all were denied access. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention was scheduled to visit Bahrain last October. However the government approached the UN Working Group stating they wanted more time to allow the new Amir to reform the situation. The date was set for October 2000. However, the government changed its mind on this date and now wants the visit to be held after April 2001. The UN Working Group has rejected this tactic and announced during the UN Human Rights Commission meeting last April that the Bahraini government attitude was not acceptable. The Working Group wants to visit Bahrain and to present the results of its visit to the next UN session (in March-April 2001). If the UN team were to visit Bahrain after April 2001, a report will not be ready for the next UN session.
Similarly, the UN Rapporteurs on Torture and another working group have requested to visit Bahrain, but the government refused to allow any of them. As a way for deflecting the UN attention, the government requested some UN “technical” assistance. Such assistance will inspect the prisons and will not investigate the cases of human rights abuses. Following on from this, the government has requested that other visits be somehow sidelined and be considered secondary to the UN technical assistance.
This means that the government will not allow any UN team to investigate the abuses and will continue detaining the prod-democracy leaders, such Mr, Abdul Wahab Hussain, Mr. Hassan Mushaimaa and other. The government also demonstrated its lack of respect for human rights by continuing to bring groups of citizens before the State Security Court that violates all constitutional and international requirements.
The government is hoping that its PR activities will deflect international attention from its insistence to continue abusing the rights of Bahrainis and to deny them their right to live with dignity in their homeland. As part of these PR activities many firms and some cheap individuals have been recruited to whitewash the image of dictatorship, to no avail.
Bahrain Freedom Movement
20 June 2000
Tel/Fax: (+44) 207 278 9089
Bahrain: Banned society’s building burnt
Fire gutted the building of the Islamic Enlightenment Society on 14 June. The noticeable building is located on the Budaya Highway at the entrance of Duraz. The Islamic Enlightenment Society, together with a large library (with hundreds of valuable and rare books) and three schools run by the society,were closed down in February 1984. Since its closure sixteen years ago, the authorities have been attempting to destroy the building which stood as a remainder of the real nature of the government.
The society was established in 1972 at a time when Bahrain embarked on its constitutional experiment. Several members of the society, including Sheikh Isa Qassim and Sheikh Al-Jamri were elected as members of the parliament. Following the dissolution of the parliament in 1975, the government cracked down on all political activists. In the 1980s, the government adopted a flagrant sectarian policy and started a campaign against all Shia-oriented institutions and closed them down. The closure of the Islamic Enlightenment Society in 1984 marked one of the major sectarian actions taken by the government.
As Bahrain entered the 21st century, the ruling family moved further to confiscate the residual rights of the society. A new building is being constructed for the Al-Khalifa security officer, Abdul Rahman bin Sagr Al-Khalifa, who was appointed as governor of the Northern Region. The new building will be near to the banned Society and one of the aims of of the security officer is to ensure full domination of all social functions. The building of the Islamic Enlightenment Society is certainly standing as a damning reminder of the nature of the government and therefore something was needed to start the process of destroying it all together.
Bahrain Freedom Movement
15 June 2000
Tel/Fax: (+44) 207 278 9089
Case BHR 160600.CC
The International Secretariat of OMCT requests your URGENT intervention in the following situation in Bahrain.
Brief description of the situation
The International Secretariat of OMCT has been informed by the Bahrain Human Rights Organisation (BHRO), a member of the network, of the detention of 5 children and the torture in detention of one child.
According to the information received, on 25 May 2000, during dawn raids, security forces attacked Iskan-Jedhafs and detained Abdulla Saeed Jasim Azbeel, 13, Seyyed Jaffer Seyyed Hussain, 13 and Mahmood Mansoor Al-Asmakh, 13. It is reported that they were taken to Adleya detention centre.
On the same day, it is reported that the security police summoned Ali Makki, 13. Also, earlier, it was noted that Mosa Jaffer Al-Sheikh (child) was also detained and had only been released when his family paid an arbitrary fine.
According to BHRO, Mohammed Jawad Makki, 14, from the same area, had been detained and tortured. He was released and now he is using crutches because of the torture he was subjected to.
The International Secretariat of OMCT recalls that Bahrain is a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 37b) which states that “The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.” Furthermore, that “No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
Please write to the authorities in Bahrain urging them to:
i. take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of the above- mentioned persons;
ii. order their immediate release in the absence of valid legal charges or, if such charges exist, bring them before an impartial and competent tribunal and guarantee their procedural rights at all times;
iii.guarantee an immediate investigation into these allegations of torture and these alleged arbitrary arrests, identify those responsible, bring them before a civil competent and impartial tribunal and apply the penal, civil and/or administrative sanctions provided by law;
iv. put an immediate end to the use of arbitrary detention of people by the police and abrogate 1974 State Security Law and all national laws which are not in compliance with international human rights standards;
v. guarantee the respect of human rights and the fundamental freedoms throughout the country in accordance with national laws and international human rights standards.
Addresses His Highness Hamad Bin Issa Al Khalifa, Office of His Highness the Amir, P.O. Box 555, The Amiri Court, Rifa’a Palace, Bahrain. Fax : + 973 668884. Telex : 8666 Qasar BN; 8500 Qasar BN
His Excellency Al-Shaikh Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa, Prime Minister, P.O. Box 1000, al-Manama, Bahrain. Telex : 9336 PROM BN or 7889 PMPO BN. FAX: + 973 533033.
His Excellency Al-Shaikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, Minister of Interior, P.O. Box 13, al-Manama, Bahrain. Fax : + 973 276765 or 290526 or 754303. Telex : 9572 PSMKT BN OR 8333 ALAMAN BN
Geneva, June 16, 2000
Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.
Organisation Mondiale Contre la Torture (OMCT)
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
Organizaci?n Mundial Contra la Tortura (OMCT)
8 rue du Vieux-Billard
Case postale 21
CH-1211 Geneve 8
Tel. : 0041 22 809 49 39
Fax : 0041 22 809 43 29
E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL (Report – 2000 )
State of Bahrain
Head of state: Shaikh Hamad bin ‘Issa Al Khalifa (replaced Shaikh Issa bin Salman Al Khalifa in Mach)
Head of government: Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa
Population: 0.6 million
Official language: Arabic
Death penalty: retentionist
Several hundred antigovernment protesters arrested in previous years continued to be held, the majority without charge or trial, and scores more were reportedly arrested and held for short periods during 1999. Some detainees arrested in previous years appeared before the State Security Court and charges including “violation of state security”. The nationals from returning to the country. Hundreds of conscience, were released during 1999.
The human rights situation started to deteriorate seriously in December 1994 following widespread demonstrations and protests calling on the government to restore the National Assembly, which had been dissolved in 1975. Thousands of people, including women and children, were arrested and hundreds were convicted after unfair trials. Torture and ill-treatment became widespread and a number of detainees died in custody. In March 1996 Issa Ahmad Qambar was executed in what was the first execution in almost 20 years. He was arrested in connection with anti-government protests and convicted of the murder of a police official. However, a number of positive steps have been taken by the government in recent years. In 1996 the government signed an agreement which allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit detainees, and in 1998 Bahrain acceded to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
In March the Amir, Shaikh Issa bin Salman Al Khalifa, died of a heart attack at the age of 65. His son, the Crown Prince, Shaikh Hamad bin Issa Al Khalifa, officially acceded to the throne in June. Under the new Amir, several positive steps were undertaken. Hundreds of political detainees and prisoners were visited Bahrain and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention was invited to visit the country in 2000. In October the Amir issued a decree ordering the Shura (Consultative) Council to set up a committee to monitor human rights. The six-member committee was to “study all human rights legistlation and regulations which apply in Bahrain” and “to raise awareness of human rights, take in seminars conducts studies and research in the field”. In December the Amir announced that local elections would be held.
Release of political prisoners
In June the Amir ordered the release of 320 detainees and 41 convicted prisoners who had been held in connection with anti-government protests. The order also included in Bahraini nationals resident abroad who were allowed to return to the country. Among those who benefited from the Amir’s order were young men and minors who had been detained without charge or trial for months or years.
Bahrain’s longest serving political prisoner, al-Sayyid Ja’far al-Alawi, was released in August, after spending 18 years in prison. He and 72 other people were sentenced in 1981 for their alleged involvement in an attempt to topple the government, Al-Sayyid Ja’far al-Alawi had received a 25-year prison sentence. In June Muhammad Ali Muhammad al-Ikri was released and in July prisoner of conscience Shaikh Ali bin Ahmad al-Jeddahafsi was released after spending more than three years in detention without charge or trial. It was not known whether his release was conditional.
In Novermber the Amir ordered the release of further 150 detainees and 50 prisoners all of whom were reportedly accused of “crimes against the state”. Twenty Bahraini nationals living abroad were said to have been allowed to return to the country. In December the Amir ordered the release of another 195 political prisoners and detainees. By the end of 1999 it was not known whether all those who benfithed from the Amir’s orders had been released.
Prisoners of conscience
Six prisoners of conscience -Shaikh Hassan Sultan, Shaikh ali Ashour, Shaikh Hussain al-Deihi, Sayyid Ibrahim Adnan al-Alawi, Hassan Ali Mshaima and Abd al-Wahab Hussain- remained held without charge or trial at the end of 1999.
Shaikh Abd al-Amir Mansur al-Jamri
Shaikh Abd al-Amir Mansur al-Jamri went on trial on 21 February before the State Security Court in Jaw, near al-Manama, on charges including incitement to acts of violence, sabotage and espionage. His trial violated international standards for fair trial. He was given access to a government-appointed lawyer only one hour before the court session. His family, however, appointed for other lawyers who defended him. Shaikh al-Jamri’s family was allowed to attend the trial which, was held in camera. The second court session did not take place until 4 July, and on 7 July he was convicted and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine equivalent to $US 15 million. Defendants convicted by the State Security Court have no rights of appeal. However, he was granted a pardon by the Amir and released on 8 July. His release was conditional on him refraining from any future anti-government activities and giving interviews to the media. Security forces were said to control access to his house in Bani Jamra and his movements were tightly controlled.
During 1999 scores of anti-government protesters were reportedly arrested and hundreds of others arrested in previous years continued to be held without charge or trial. In January, five men were sentenced by the State Security Court to prison terms ranging from two to 10 years on charges including “violation of state security”. Among them were Abd al-Ra’uf al-Shayib and Sayyid Ahmad al-Marzuq, who received prison terms of 10 and proceedings were not available.
Bahraini nationals who had spent time living abroad continued to be banned from entering the country. In January Abd al-Majid Muhsin Muhammad al-usfur, his wife and their five children again attempted to enter Bahrain. They were held at al-Manama airport for two days, issued with new passports valid for one year and forcibly sent to Lebanon. Muhammad Ridha al-Nasheet, his wife, Ma’suma Jad Abdullah, and their eight children were detained for 10 days in July at al-Manama airport and forcibly sent to the United Arab Emirates. At least five other families were banned from entering the country during the year.
Convention against torture
In March 1998 Bahrain ratified the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatments or Punishment with a reservation to Article 20 and Article 30(I). Article 20 refers to state party’s obligation to cooperate with the Committee against Torture if the Committee receives “reliable information which appears to it to contain well-founded indications that torture is being systematically practised in the territory of a State Party”. Article 30(I) refers to disputes between state parties concerning the interpretation or application of the Convention. On 4 August 1999 Bahrain withdrew its reservation to Article 20. However, no investigations into past torture allegations were known to have been carried out.
In April AI updated its previous submissions on Bahrain for review by the UN Commission on Human Rights under a procedure established by Economic and Social Council Resolutions 728F/1503, for confidential consideration of communications about human rights violations.
AI visit to Bahrain
Fort he first time since 1987, an AI delegation visited Bahrain in June and July and held talks with government ministers, senior judges and other officials. Several areas of concern were discussed including allegations of torture, trial procedures before the State Security Court, forcible exile and ratification of international human rights treaties. However, the delegates were not allowed to meet independently with non-governmental organizations, professional associations and others concerned with human rights protection and promotion. In November, AI submitted a memorandum of its findings and recommendations to the government. AI’s recommendations included ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its (first) Optional Protocol, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and its Optional Protocol. AI also recommended amending the 1974 Decree Law on State Security Measures to ensure that it conforms with international human rights standards, as well as other practical measures for the promotion and protection of human rights.
Bahrain: PM’s Shura Council is a baseless institution
The government’s controlled newspapers said that the British Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Mr. Peter Hain praised (during his visit to Bahrain on 13 June) the Bahraini Prime Minister over ??his plans to allow elections for the powerless Shura Council in 2004. The papers also quoted Mr. Hain saying “I would like to see Bahrain moving forward to become a model for democracy and human rights, not just in the region and the Arab world but internationally as well”.
Human rights organisations and activists urged the British Minster to raise the issues if democracy and human rights in Bahrain, especially the continued detention and jailing of citizens through the unconstitutional State Secret Law and Court. Jeremy Corbyn, MP, Lord Avebury and the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales were amongst those who wrote to Mr. Hain raising their concern about the lack of democracy in human rights in Bahrain.
The Bahraini journalist, Ali Saleh, wrote an article on 12 June requesting political activists to express their opinions about the Shura Council and the proposed election of this council in 2004. Mr. Saleh quoted a statement by an activist saying that “if the election meant the return of the National Assembly then we would agree it is a good step”. On 13 June, Mr. Saleh stated that he received a message from a governmental source confirming that “the Shura Council will not be a parliament as in the case of the National Assembly”. Mr. Saleh said that such statement dashed the hopes of achieving the demand for restoration of the National Assembly”. A spokesperson for the BFM said “the statements expressed by Mr. Ali Saleh reflected the legitimate demand of the people of Bahrain and there is no escape for the government. The Shura Council is a baseless and illegitimate institution. It is no more than a governmental committee that will be used a rubber-stamp.”
In the Hague, the legal team representing the State of Bahrain presented the case for sovereignty over Hawar islands and called for the recognition of the principles laid down between 1936 and 1939 which demarcated the boundaries between Bahrain and Qatar. The distance between Hawar islands and the main islands of Bahrain is not a factor in determining the boundaries and sovereignty.
Bahrain Freedom Movement
15 June 2000
Tel/Fax: (+44) 207 278 9089
Bahrain: Security court sentence more citizens
The State Security Court, chaired by a member of the Al-Khalifa family and staffed with two Egyptian judges, sentenced more Bahrainis on 10 June.
The unconstitutional court convened its in-camera sessions in the militarised village of Jaw, near the four main prisons that had been constructed by the ruling family for jailing Bahrainis who demand their constitutional rights.
The full details of the court’s sessions were not yet available. However, the following information was leaked out from the iron-curtain:
1. Saeed Al-Sheikh, sentenced to three years. He was sentenced last month to 5 years, hence a total of 8 years.
2. Ali Al-Oreibi, 3 years imprisonment
3. Sadiq Al-Madhoob, 3 years imprisonment
4. Khalil Al-Halwachi, 3 years imprisonment
5. Hasan Al-Jabal, 3 years imprisonment.
6. Jaffer Al-Qatari, 37, who had been in detention since May 1996, was acquitted.
7. Gazi Mohammed Mohsin, 36, in detention since 1996, acquitted.
8. Hassen Mohammed Mohsin, acquitted, 9. Hassan Ali Abdul Rassol, acquitted
10. Jassim Al-Jabal, 38, acquitted
Two brothers of the jailed Sheikh Hussain Al-Deihi were also sentenced to 3 years imprisonment each. Both were already in detention for the past 18 months.
The UK minister responsible for the Middle East, Mr. Peter Hain, will be visiting Bahrain this week. The Bahrain-Qatar border dispute might overshadow the discussions with the Al-Khalifa officials. However, the BFM believes that, in addition to the border dispute, the continued violations of human rights and the insistence of the ruling family to continue denying Bahrainis their political and civil rights are part of the main threat to stability on the long term.
Bahrain Freedom Movement
11 June 2000
Tel/Fax: (+44) 207 278 9089
Bahrain is a Nation-State, not a Tribal-Estate
The Amir, Sheikh Hamad Al-Khalifa, met with the UAE President Sheikh Zayed Al-Nahyan and Egyptian President Hosni Mobarak in Geneva on 7 June and telephoned the Jordanian King Abdullah. These high-level contacts came one day before the start of Bahrain’s defence on 8 June before the International Court of Justice in the Hague. Bahrain’s legal team is expected to present the case for affirming the sovereignty of the State of Bahrain over Hawar islands, which is being disputed by the State of Qatar.
The Bahrain Freedom Movement holds the view that Bahrain is a territorially-based nation-state and that these territories include the islands of Hawar. This is based on the fact that the modern formation of Gulf states, which started after the First World War, recognised the boundaries between Bahrain and Qatar. Bahraini jurisdiction has covered the islands of Hawar since then.
However, the BFM is not in agreement with some of the views aired in the local media that present Bahrain as if it were a “tribally-based estate” that belongs to a certain tribe. The notion that Zabara is part of Bahrain is part of such a concept, being advocated by government-controlled media.
In May 1970, the UN team that visited Bahrain prepared the grounds for the formation of a modern “State of Bahrain” that is based on a modern constitution and that recognises the political rights of Bahraini citizens. Unfortunately, the dominant branch of the Al-Khalifa family has stripped all political and nearly all civil, cultural, and economic rights of Bahrainis.
If there is a lesson to learn from the present crisis, it is that the ruling family ought to review its attitude towards Bahrain and Bahrainis and ought to start abiding by the Constitution of the State of Bahrain. National solidarity is the feature of a nation-state, not a tribal estate.
Bahrain Freedom Movement
8 June 2000
Tel/Fax: (+44) 207 278 9089
THE HAGUE, June 8 (Reuters) – Bahrain told the International Court of Justice on Thursday it was on alert over the disputed Hawar islands for fear Qatar would try to occupy them. Jawad Salem al-Arrayed, representing Bahrain at the World Court hearings into Bahrain’s territorial dispute with its neighbour Qatar, also accused Qatar of trying to usurp one-third of Bahrain’s territory by claiming its rights to the Hawar islands. The World Court on May 29 began public hearings into the territorial dispute between the Gulf Arab states, the last phase of the longest case in the court’s history. The row is over the small but potentially oil- and gas-rich Hawar islands controlled by Bahrain since the 1930s but claimed by Qatar. Bahrain also claims the town of Zubarah, which is on the mainland of Qatar. “If we did not strengthen our (presence) on the Hawar islands, there is no doubt Qatar would have occupied them,” Arrayed said. “Until today, our readiness on the Hawar islands is high,” he said, though he did not elaborate. In 1986, Qatar and Bahrain went to the brink of war over the islands. Conflict was averted by the intervention of regional power Saudi Arabia. Qatar unilaterally took the case to the World Court in 1991, angering Bahrain which had favoured a Gulf Arab mediation. The hearings at the World Court at the Hague are expected to last five weeks from start to finish. Qatar presented its case until June 6, whereupon Bahrain started arguing its case.
From June 20 to 22, Qatar will make a second round of oral arguments, followed by Bahrain from June 27 to 29. Four to six months after the hearings end the court will issue a judgment, which will be final, without appeal and binding on the parties.
Bahrain: Lack of reforms exacerbates the volatile situation
The Committee for the Defence of Human Rights in Bahrain (CDHRB) issued a statement on the announcement of the prime minister (30 May) that he will allow for an elected Shura Council in 2004 saying “this council is not a legitimate one and can never be a replacement for the National Assembly as specified in Bahrain’s Constitution”. CDHRB also said that the problem in Bahrain is remaining as it was with the unconstitutional State Security Law being deployed against the nation, the prisons are still filled with political detainees and emergency laws are strangling the political life everywhere.
On 31 May, Hani Al-Rayyes of the CDGRB wrote an article in the London-based Al-Arab newspaper detailing the concerns of human rights organisations about he situation in Bahrain. He said, “when all public freedoms are curtailed it is difficult to anticipate any improvement in the situation”.
The pro-democracy personality, Mr. Abdul Rahman Al-Nuaimi wrote another article on 2 June in Al-Quds newspaper lambasting the foreign minister who stated in a meeting with EU officials in Brussels last week that “all human rights organisations were fooled by a tiny group of extremists”. Mr. Al-Nuaimi said if the foreign minister were saying that organisations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, FIDH, the UN Human Rights Sub-Commission, the European Parliament, the ILO, and all other similar organisations were fooled, why doesn’t he allow them to visit Bahrain and investigate for themselves?”
Karen Thomas of “The Middle East” wrote an article in Issue No. 302, June 2000, stating that “more than a year after Sheikh Hamad succeeded his late father Sheikh Isa to become emir of Bahrain, opposition groups have revived the pro-democracy campaign claiming that despite the new ruler’s amnesty to political prisoners and overtures to international human rights groups, the prospects for political reform remain uncertain…….”. Ms Thomas said: “After years of dogged lobbying from human rights groups, Scotland Yard agreed in January this year to examine allegations that Henderson had also perpetrated serious abuses of human rights in Bahrain.”
It is worth noting that the Amir has honoured ten British officers last March for their inhuman services against he people of Bahrain. Moreover, on 31 May, Al-Ayyam newspaper published a picture of the interior minister together with Ian Henderson and another British officer during one of the ceremonies of the interior ministry.
These security officers never stopped abusing human rights. On 31 May, the security forces attacked several houses in Isa Town and arrested Mostafa Jaffer Al-Mukhtar, 22, Jalal Jaffer Zayed, 20, Jamal Mansoor Marhoon, 20, Ali Makki Al-Arnoot, 19, and Nayef Yousif, 19. All were detained during dawn raids at around 5.00 am.
On 25 May, the security forces attacked Iskan-Jedhafs and detained the foloowing children: Abdulla Saeed Jasim, 13, Seyyed Jaffer Hussain, 13, Mahmood Mansoor, 13. All were taken to Adleya torture centre. Also, the torturers summoned Ali Makki, 13, and Jawad Abdulla Salman, 22, from the same area. Earlier, Mosa Jaffer Al-Sheikh (child) was also detained and had only been released when his family paid an arbitrary fine to the torturers. Another child, Mohammed Jawad Makki, 14, had been detained and tortured. He was released and now he is using crutches because of the torture he was subjected to.
Bahrain Freedom Movement
4 June 2000
Tel/Fax: (+44) 207 278 9089
BFM Statement on PM announcement (Shura Council):
The ancient prime minister, accompanied by his two sons, addressed the useless Shura Council on 30 May and said that he decided to appoint another powerless council and that in 2004 he will allow elections for a Shura Council.
The statement was not welcomed by civic groups inside the country as the premier failed, again, to address the real issue. The people of Bahrain are demanding the restoration of the parliament that has both legislative and monitoring powers according to Bahrain Constitution.
As for the Shura Council, it is no more than a governmental committee created (whether appointed or elected) for rubber stamping what the prime minister decides to pass to this powerless body for consultation. This governmental body has no powers to function as a parliament and therefore falls short of the demand of the people.
LONDON, June 1 (Reuters) – A Bahraini opposition group said that a decision by the Gulf Arab state to allow its appointed consultative Shura council to be chosen by popular vote fell short of expectations. The London-based Bahrain Freedom Movement said in a statement received by Reuters on Thursday that the announcement by the government failed to address the real issues in Bahrain. Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Sulman al-Khalifa announced on Tuesday that Bahrain would allow the Shura council to be elected in about five years and to let women join the assembly later this year, in what he described as “an important step to reinforce the democratic process” in Bahrain. The opposition group said, however, the prime minister’s statement “was not welcomed by civic groups inside the country as the premier failed, again, to address the real issue. The people of Bahrain are demanding the restoration of the parliament that has both legislative and monitoring powers according to Bahrain’s constitution.” “As for the Shura council it is no more than a governmental committee created…for rubber stamping what the prime minister decides to pass to this powerless body for consultation. This governmental body has no powers to function as a parliament and therefore falls short of the demands of the people,” it said. Bahrain dissolved its first elected parliament in 1975, two years after elections. Political parties are banned in Bahrain, the Gulf’s main financial hub. Demands by the island’s majority Shi’ite Moslem community for the restoration of the elected parliament fuelled political unrest which began in 1994 and lasted until 1998. The government set up the all-male Shura council in 1992 mainly to review laws drafted by the cabinet before they are sent to the Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa for final approval.
In 1996, the size of the council was increased to 40 from 30 to widen popular representation. The assembly has no legislative powers and has a four-year term which starts in October.
The Middle East – Issue No. 302 – June 2000
[IC Publications Limited, 7 Coldbath Square, London EC1R 4LQ, UK]
MIXED MESSAGES FROM MANAMA
By Karen Thomas
The succession of Sheikh Hamad Al Khalifa last year brought with it much optimism for political reform in Bahrain but the pace of change is proving too slow for some and too rapid for others slow for some and too rapid for others Karen Thomas reports:
More than a year after Sheikh Hamad succeeded his late father Sheikh Isa to become emir of Bahrain, opposition groups have revived the pro-democracy campaign claiming that despite the new ruler’s amnesty to political prisoners and overtures to international human rights groups, the prospects for political reform remain uncertain.
Sheikh Hamad succeeded his father Sheikh Isa in March last year. Western analysts have hailed the new emir as a force for change, seeing him as part of the new wave of Arab monarchs, along with King Mohammed VI of Morocco, King Abdullah of Jordan and Qatar’s Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.
Invariably grouped together in the media, these four relatively young rulers have been hailed as a catalyst for both political and economic reforms: Western-influenced modernisers who will introduce economic liberalisation and a new commitment to human rights to the Middle East.
In Bahrain too, the succession was greeted with optimism. Opposition groups made conciliatory statements during the traditional 40-day mourning period and the main Islamist opposition group and the two leftist opposition parties appealed for calm.
Addressing his people, Sheikh Hamad promised an era of change for the better in all areas:
The three groups – the London-based Islamist Bahrain Freedom Movement and Damascus-based leftist parties, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Bahrain and the National Liberation Front- issued a joint statement urging their followers to keep an open mind about the new emir’s commitment to change.
When the official mourning period ended in June, opposition groups detected new and positive signals when Sheikh Hamad released 320 detainees and invited 12 political exiles to return to Bahrain.
Addressing his people, Sheikh Hamad promised Bahrain was “entering an era of change for the better in all areas” and said his personal priority was to promote “national unity and internal security, through the solidarity of all Bahraini citizens, without discrimination, whatever their origin or creed”. The following month, the emir invited Amnesty International to visit Bahrain for the first in 12 years.
However, the emir’s next notable action was to award several high-profile appointments to senior blood relatives, members of the extended Al Khalifa family. The news that that Sheikh Khalifa was to remain Prime Minister came as a disappointment to the pro-reform lobby. Running Bahrain’s internal affairs for his late brother Sheikh Isa, the Prime Minister is widely regarded as unsympathetic to political reform.
Bahrain’s constitution promised to promote national unity and to turn a divided island, into a modern, non-sectarian nation state
Interestingly, however, in a move that will either strain relations with his Prime Minister or strengthen his own hand at home, Sheikh Hamad has rehabilitated his estranged Uncle Sheikh Mohammed. The former interior minister had a highly public falling-out with his brother Sheikh Khalifa and had been excluded from public life since the 1970s.
Sheikh Hamad is clearly trying to shore up his position at home, while also wooing the international community with promises of change. He has focused on strengthening links with key family members and elements within his father’s administration, while continuing to support human rights initiatives.
Such actions have led opposition groups to question whether the new emir is willing, and able, to introduce change.
Critics say the new ruler can only deliver his promised reforms if he appeases powerful elements within his family. Opponents say that if the emir retains his uncle as Prime Minister, he will limit his own influence over domestic affairs and face barriers to meaningful change.
Bahrain’s political crisis dates back to August 1975, when Sheikh Isa suspended the National Assembly, abrogating a national constitution that enshrined the Al Khlaifas’ hereditary rule, while also promising democratic government with a 30-member body “elected directly by universal suffrage”.
Bahrain’s constitution dates back to 1973, two years after formal independence. It promised to promote national unity and to turn a divided island, where a powerful and wealthy Sunni elite was outnumbered by a disenfranchised Shi’ite majority, into a modern, non-sectarian nation state.
Secret British government documents from 1969, made public last year, show that colonial officials anticipated security problems and political unrest following the planned British withdrawal from the Arabian Gulf in 1971. A document from August that year refers explicitly to an “endemic security problem in Bahrain” and questioned whether the Government could deal with this.
After Bahrain’s first democratic elections, which excluded all women and most Bedouin men, parliament was dominated at ministerial level by conservative elements – decision-makers hand-picked by the emir. This neutering of an elected institution infuriated Bahrain’s fragmented but vocal opposition, which comprised Islamists, leftists, feminists, Bedouin clans, members of underground trade unions and Arab nationalists.
Faced with a mounting clamour, Sheikh Isa suspended the national assembly. During the next 15 years, the Bahraini leadership adopted an iron fist/velvet glove approach. The opposition was driven underground, while government supporters were handsomely rewarded.
American promises to restore democracy to Kuwait had resonance for many Bahraini
But in 1979, the Iranian revolution inspired a brief upsurge in activity from a demoralised opposition, culminating in an alleged coup attempt in 1981.
The remainder of the 1980s saw sporadic tussles between the government and suspected opposition groups, with periodic raids on religious charitable foundations set up with government backing but which had evolved into focal points for dissent. It was only in the 1990s that the protest movement took on a more cohesive form.
After Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait in the summer of 1990, Bahrain emerged as a critical regional ally for the US, which based both land troops and naval forces on the island. American promises to restore democracy to Kuwait had resonance for many Bahrainis and the years that followed saw a revival in local pro-democracy fervour.
In 1992, after the US State Department issued a damning indictment of human rights abuses in Bahrain, Sheikh Isa set up the Shura Council, a consultative body comprising appointed Sunni and Shi’ite officials.
This failed to appease the increasingly vocal opposition, however. In 1994, the secular and Islamic opposition groups joined forces to launch the Popular Petition Committee (PPC), which gathered up to 25,000 pro-democracy signatures from a population of less than 650,000 citizens, according to Human Rights Watch.
Matters came to a head in December 1994, when the so-called Bahraini Intifada shattered the illusion of consensus. Ragged arsonists and stone-throwing youths, cases of torture and arbitrary arrest and sporadic illegal protest rallies at mosques and funerals started to make international news.
The disturbances had an economic effect -both on foreign investors’ confidence and on local businesses. When Bahrain went through a period of civil unrest a couple of years ago, the drop in visitors wiped an estimated BD 1 billion off this sector’s profits.
To many opposition supporters, Sheikh Isa was a benevolent figure who had little control over a security apparatus presided over since 1966 by Ian Henderson, British-born head of the feared SIS. British government documents reveal that the colonial agent, Anthony Parsons, played a key role in appointing Henderson.
After years of dogged lobbying from human rights groups, Scotland Yard agreed in January this year to examine allegations that Henderson had also perpetrated serious abuses of human rights in Bahrain.
The new emir unveiled plans for municipal elections in which all citizens would vote
Against this background, Sheikh Hamad is struggling to make his authority felt and has announced several ambitious initiatives that have been widely acclaimed abroad, if not at home.
Last December, the new emir unveiled plans for municipal elections in which all citizens -including women- would vote and promised to review the claims to citizenship of 850 bedu tribes-people. He also proposed to appoint women to the Shura Council for the first time later this year, including -according to popular rumour- the conciliatory Shi’ite figure, Bahia Al Jishi.
However, little more has been said about the municipal elections since last year and it unclear when the promised ballot will take place.
In October, Sheikh Hamad set up a human rights committee that celebrated world human rights day in December with much pomp and ceremony.
However, the committee made international headlines in April this year after a clash between opposition supporters and government officials and meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.
Bahrain’s ambassador to Switzerland Ahmed Al Haddad, was involved in an scuffle with protestors distributing an article from Le Courrier that questioned whether it was appropriate for Abdul-Aziz Al Khalifa, royal family member and a leading figure in Bahrain’s security forces, to head a supposedly independent human rights delegation.
To leading opposition figure Abdulhadi Khalaf, a sociologist based in Sweden, Sheikh Hamad’s performance so far has been “modest and uninspiring”. In a report marking the emir’s first anniversary in power, Khalaf pointed out that Sheikh Hamad has refused to open dialogue with PCC members, calling this further breach of Bahrain’s written constitution.
“Mistakenly, he has raised expectations to levels that he could not possibly carry through without confronting his powerful uncle,” Khalaf concluded. “He has attempted to cover a vast area without securing, among other things, a popular base of support.” However, many international observers believe Sheikh Hamad has made impressive inroads. “He has started as he means to go on”, observed a western based Bahrain watcher. He added “Real progress has been made and will continue to be made – you can count on it.”
DUBAI, May 30 (Reuters) – Bahrain said on Tuesday it would not cede an inch of land in a territorial dispute with neighbouring Qatar.
Bahraini Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Sulman al-Khalifa also warned that the dispute threatened to create a rift among Gulf Arab states, Bahrain’s official Gulf News Agency reported.
Sheikh Khalifa “stressed the unwavering stand of the emir of Bahrain, its people and government not to cede an inch of the homeland’s territory,” the agency said.
“The dispute threatens to create a deep rift in the Gulf and the Arab family and cause unnecessary tensions and instability in the area,” he added.
The prime minister said he still hoped that the International Court of Justice, which is hearing the dispute over the potentially oil- and gas-rich Hawar islands, would rule in Bahrain’s favour.
The Gulf islands have been controlled by Bahrain since the 1930s but are also claimed by Qatar.
Qatar unilaterally took the dispute to the Hague-based court in 1991, angering Bahrain which had wanted the dispute to be resolved through regional mediation.
The hearings began on Monday and are expected to last five weeks.
“We will look into what comes out of the court, whose judgment we hope will help establish amicable and peaceful relations between the two brotherly countries,” Sheikh Khalifa said.
JUNE 2000 Editorial
Bahrain-Qatar Dispute and the Failure of GCC Politics The next few months will be crucial to the future of the Gulf security alliance that has operated over the past twenty years as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). One of the most difficult dilemmas is now unfolding as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) begins its deliberations on the Bahrain-Qatar border dispute. The outcome of this court case is likely to have reverberations throughout the Gulf. This may still be few months away but the region has embraced itself for a major rift in relations among the Gulf states regardless of the outcome. The two countries have had stormy relations for decades. In fact they have only recently exchanged ambassadors. This goes back to the time when the Al Khalifa moved to Qatar in the eighteenth century. For them the Al Thani (the present ruling clan in Qatar) are not yet the landlords of Qatar. Over the decades the relations remained sour, with the tensions often expressed in terms of border problems. Although the Al Khalifa claim sovereignty over a the small village of Zebara in Northwestern Qatar, the claim was never taken seriously. They themselves have never taken any steps to claim it back knowing the absurdity of their claim. What was at stake was the ownership of the Hawar islands. The British, who were in charge of protection of the area prior to 1971 had arbitrated in the early 20th century and decreed that the islands were part of Bahraini territory, but the Qataris have never accepted this. The dispute over ownership has remained a sour reminder of the futility of the relations among the small Gulf sheikhdoms, whose borders have never been demarcated in a proper way. Almost all Gulf states have border disputes of one kind or another, and have failed to achieve a comprehensive settlement of these disputes. The most outrageous manifestation of the dangers of these disagreements was the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait ten years ago. Although the borders between the two neighbouring states have been defined by the United Nations after the second Gulf war, it is expected that Iraq will not settle for them and thus the reasons for its invasion may still lead to further hostilities. Last month when Iran started exploring the Al Dorra oilfield in a disputed area between Kuwait and Iran the outcry that followed led to an immediate halt to the exploration, a step that was received well by the Arab side. However, such gestures cannot always be guaranteed in a region notorious for its border disagreements. The United Arab Emirates has its own border dispute with Iran over the three small islands in the Gulf. The islands were occupied by Iran in 1971 within an understanding involving Britain and Saudi Arabia. Now the UAE is calling on Iran to agree to a jurisdiction by the ICJ on these islands. Thus its position is in line with that of Qatar and does not agree with Bahrain which has opposed taking the case to the Hague. At the same time the Saudis have always preferred “brotherly solution” in line with that of Bahrain, but they have also been successful, to a certain extent, in settling their borders with Oman and the United Arab Emirates. Their sea borders with Kuwait are still outstanding, so are their borders with Yemen. The Bahrain-Qatar dispute is thus becoming a pan-Gulf problem with pros and cons to all the parties involved. The problem came to the surface in 1986 following an armed intervention by Qatar against some thirty foreign workers building a marine outpost on a see reef known as Fasht Al Dibel within the Bahraini sea borders. From then on, the Saudis tried in vain to keep emotions at bay but without success. At the height of the crisis of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait the problem was presented to the GCC summit in Doha, but a Saudi intervention succeeded to contain the situation. A memorandum was reached by which the two parties agreed to give the Saudi mediation a chance after which the case could go to international jurisdiction. Over the past ten years the two parties tried to reach an amicable solution but to no avail. It is clear that Bahrain was not ready to give away this territory which is believed to contain enormous gas reserves. At the same time the Qataris were not ready to give up what they see as their land. When the Qataris took the case to the Hague in mid-nineties, the Bahrainis tried to block their move by arguing that the ICJ had no jurisdiction over the case. The ICJ ruled that the case was within its jurisdiction. A time was thus set for final proceedings at the end of May 2000. Meanwhile the new ruler of Bahrain felt he could bid for time and undertook a charm offensive towards Qatar. The Amir of Qatar responded by visiting Manama at the end of last year. The outcome of the visit was the forming of a high-powered joint committee comprising the two Crown Princes of the two countries. The Qataris have all along maintained that they would only withdraw it if a “brotherly” solution was reached. As the time of the court proceedings approached the Bahraini government wanted to express extreme anger by announcing the freezing of the activities of the committee, to the annoyance of other GCC states. There was a frenzy of activity to contain the situation. The result was a sudden visit by the Amir of Qatar to Bahrain on 24 May. Although no breakthrough was achieved the two sides agreed to freeze the committee until the ICJ has reached its verdict. The expectation is that this verdict will not please either side. The Bahraini opposition has called both sides for restraint. Since the formation of modern administrations in the Gulf, the Hawar islands have always been under Bahraini jurisdiction. The government of Bahrain has made repression against the people its priority and ignored other issues. It adopted an arrogant attitude in line with its lack of political soundness inside Bahrain. While Bahrainis hope the ICJ will rule in their favour, they also believe that their relations with the people of Qatar are more important than anything else. Bahrain Freedom Movement 1 June 2000 Tel/Fax: (+44) 207 278 9089