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Government Credibility blown out of the Water A government official yesterday, failed to address the root cause of concern of the Bahraini people regarding the latest constitutional mess which led to the diminishing of the power of the parliament as a legislative body. In a press conference Cabinet Affairs Minister Mohammed Al Mutawa failed to address the problems concerned with the inadequate parliamentary system imposed by the government. He appeared to contradict himself by stating that balance is being built into Bahrain’s new parliament system and at the same time acknowledged that the Shura Council and Parliament have 40 members each. He also confirmed the restrictions placed by the Bahraini government on the political associations despite the fact that they are currently the only bodies representing the people in the entire country. Many of the journalists expressed concerns about the way the constitution was amended however such concerns were given a blind eye by the Minister. This conference came as a response to the heated debate in the Bahrain Society of Engineers last Wednesday for which Bahraini opposition politicians called for boycotting the parliamentary. From that interview and his responses to the journalists, it appears that the government is aiming for a namesake parliament with occasional ritual of elections as in most of the Third World countries. The real and effective state power is vested in the traditional monarchy. This has been ensured through a King-granted constitution which perpetuates the ‘the traditional authority’ of the monarchy to promulgate the country’s constitution. The state security law can be easily re-imposed again through the cosmetic parliament and can be used to helpless rubber stamps to legitimize and enrich the feudal autocracy. The override of article 104 (no constitutional change can be made without approval of the national assembly) brought great uncertainties which required conclusive, pragmatic and realistic responses. Till now, the government failed to listen more closely to the people. It is only by engaging all of the citizens, by ensuring that their voices are heard, that the government will gain the confidence it needs to achieve its goals. Since legislation is made behind closed doors, the nation will not move behind the government. The government must understand that democracy is much more than that and that people’s participation, democratic institutions and independent media too are vital parts of any democratic system. The fact that the people may keep a distance from the whole affair of this ill parliament for obvious reasons. Political associations are there but have become redundant in the face of the new law recently promulgated and in addition to government controlled the media which has become a source of propagating misinformation thereby confusing the people even more through their biased reporting. Unless, all the segments of the society participate in the process, the strengthening and the consolidation of the system remains a dream only. The manner by which the government is enforcing its top down illegal rules by bypassing article 104 forces us to conclude that this event will ultimately cut short the longevity of the king new reforms programs. Bahrain Freedom Movement 18th July 2002 Tel/Fax: +44 207 387 2492


Opposition Politicians calling for boycotting elections Four leading opposition politicians, Mr. Abdul Wahab Hussain, Dr. Muneera Fakhroo, Mrs. Jaleelah Al-Sayed (lawyer) and Mr. Abdullah Al-Shamelawi (lawyer) called for boycotting the parliamentary elections in a heated debate held in the Association of Engineers last Wednesday; unwilling to legitimise an election they were convinced would be unfair. The discussion was centralized on the most controversial aspect of the new law enacted by the king, which proved unsuccessful to restore democracy in the country. This law gives the government the final say over legislation. The four leaders urged Bahrainis not to go to the polls. Mrs. Al-sayed stated that the phrases used in the National charter were indicative of more involvement in the political process and more democracy. However the new law enacted by the king overturns such expectations and assumptions. Mr. Hussain stated that the new framework and the mechanism of the parliamentary system placed a high ceiling on MPs, which limits their ability to change the system. He accused the government of imposing unfair balance on the people. He also stated that the way the Constitution was modified without the people will and consultation was a dangerous indication of disrespect to the high value of the Constitution. Besides he stated that the 1973 constitution vested the legislative process in the people, whilst this new constitution vested the legislative process in the king. Another opposition figure Dr. Fakhroo marked the serious reversals in the kings new reforms program. She referred to the obstacles imposed by the government to prevent Bahraini women from establishing a women union. Mr. Al-Sahmlawi pointed out that it would be impossible for the Bahraini people in the new illegal constitution to pass any legislation. He said that the government could easily bring back the state security law through the two houses. He said this is an overturn of the new king reform program and not deterioration. The negative impression of this new law demonstrated by the opposition figures was undoubtedly a blow to the government. Since this new law was enacted the popularity of the king has fallen substantially. He failed to recognize the extent of serious discontent in the country. He also failed to remove officials responsible for misconduct and corruption and has not yet announced any large-scale initiatives to address the public’s grievances. The people of Bahrain fears that the new ill parliament will operate as a representative body rather than an effective law-making institution. The controversy accompanied the promulgation of the new laws (exercise of political power, Shura Council become legislative body and granting Bahraini citizenship to neighbouring countries) introduced new modes of government behaviour that are likely to undermine the country’s openness and what remains of its democratic process. These new laws will widen the rift between the government and the people. The people of Bahrain no longer see the government as neutral. The people have no role in overseeing the country’s general political course, and no influence as a principal, effective actor in political life. The new policy of the government limits the nation’s ability to contribute to decisions in matters of domestic and foreign policy. The main reason behind these laws is that the government fears the existence of a political opposition capable of introducing change. The people of Bahrain demand a democratic system where opposition politics can make a difference and have a decisive impact on the political process. Bahrain Freedom Movement 13th July 2002 Tel/Fax: +44 207 387 2492


New law restricting freedom of campaigning A new law was enacted last week (law of exercise of political rights), which was seen by international observers as the continuation of the government of Bahrain to issue further laws to emphasis its grip over the people. This law restricted electoral campaigns to a degree where candidates as a result will have limited techniques to reach the voters. Public appearances and rallies were prohibited in most areas where effective participation, competition and influence is expected such as political associations, universities and public roads and avenues. Political associations were prohibited from giving support by any means to political candidates. The ability to freely participate in the electoral campaign is a key election integrity issue. Candidates must be able to circulate freely among their supporters and publicize their political platforms. By the enactment of this law voters will not be able to attend rallies, and other political events, without interference and fear. They eventually will not have free access to political information and as a result will not be able to make an informed choice when voting. This new law curtails an individual freedom of speech, press, assembly and association. The above new law was preceded by his majesty the kings decree allowing individuals from the neighboring countries to obtain Bahraini citizenship. The people of Bahrain fears that this law will be used by the government to affect the outcome of the vote and will lead to unfair playing field. These signs do indicate that the government resources are already and will be used to help pro-government candidates. The right to freely associate for political purposes is a basic integrity requirement. Voters must be able to gather to discuss candidates and issues. Political Associations must be able to meet and plan their electoral campaigns with their supporters. The right of association in most international jurisdictions is usually not restricted except for meetings organized to accomplish illegal purposes, such as promoting public disorder to disrupt or manipulate the process. Freedom to campaign also means freedom of movement. Candidates must be able to campaign anywhere in the country. After all, this new law allows for arbitrary restrictions on the movements of candidates and their supporters, which could interfere with their lawful ability to campaign. Freedom of expression is of superior importance in any democratic society. The government of Bahrain is well known for invoking national security to cover a huge range of topics and opinions, which are opposing to the official opinions. As reported in his last Friday prayer speech sheik Ali Salman (Opposition Figure), announced that when he was interviewed by the official newspaper he was asked not to discuss about Al-Tajnees (importing foreigners in the country and granting them citizenship). This practice violates international standards (Article 19) that dictate any restrictions on free speech invoked on the grounds on national security must meet stringent criteria. The press in Bahrain does not have the ability to publish and disseminate information without censorship or manipulation. It also abuses its rights by publishing false information for on reason, which is to support the official opinion in the country. The press in Bahrain feels intimidated when covering opinions or issues, which are not in line with the official opinion. It also catastrophically does not provide balanced and impartial opinions. Hot topics that disturb the government such as corruption in government ministries, discrimination and injustice in new laws recently enacted by the government are censored. The government did not take any efforts to investigate such threats towards the media and not a single case was reported to bring those responsible to justice. Bahrain Freedom Movement 11th July 2002 Tel/Fax: +44 207 387 2492


Employment policies based on unequal opportunities The people of Bahrain are less confident in the ability of the so-called New Reforms initiated by the king to offer an economic and political solution. They fear that his last decree allowing the people of the neighboring countries to obtain Bahraini citizenship is an obvious attempt to change the demography of the country. This step could lead to political instability, and increase economic pressure on the local residents. Sceptics are also deeply concerned that the existing physical and social infrastructure cannot accommodate and tolerate any demographic changes. Under the current existing economic and social norms and scenarios, this decision will inevitably harm the people of Bahrain rather than benefit them. In particular, they contend that longer-term effects of Al-Tajnees (importing foreigners to the country and granting them citizenship) will have adverse effects on the economic prosperity of the future generations of the native and their cultural life.. In this context, they oppose Al-Tajnees, first because it changes the political balance of power where people living in rural areas (opposing the existing government unfair policies) will become minorities and ultimately consumers of political decisions rather than key and important players, and, second, they question the ability of the economy to meet the requirements of this unlawful demographic change, in the face of the rapid decline in the quality of life, growing unemployment and widening income inequalities, undermining the economic and social capacity of the country. The discriminatory policies in employment is another source of unease. The labour market in Bahrain is witnessing the worst racist practices it has ever had. There is a preference for one group of applicants against another (usually families associated with the royal family). The selection is not based on the merits of the applicant, but on the family name and connections. There are no safeguards to protect against discrimination. The top positions for example in the banking industry are restricted to individuals belonging to certain families. Other sectors such as government ministries, ALBA, BAPCO & BATELCO are limited to the royal family and their associates. The University of Bahrain is still advertising in the foreign press offering job vacancies for foreign lecturers whilst Bahraini PhD holders are denied employment. The son of the opposition figure Sheik Abdul Amir Al-Jamri (Dr Loai Al-Jamri) was denied a university job which was advertised in international media. The ministry of interior often vetoes the employment of many citizens by government departments or other companies. There is an obvious imbalance intentionally created to deprive the majority citizens from becoming key players in the decision-making process in the country. There is an urgent need to monitor these inhumane practices. The people of Bahrain have no faith in the selection process of candidates for promotion and employmen. There are many documented cases where Bahrainis were denied a promotion because of their race or cultural background. The government continues to ignore the problem, allowing it to escalate and this may have serious consequences on the whole new reforms program initiated by the King. The government is building a workplace environment that works within closed doors, resists transparency and encourages discriminatory practices. The people of Bahrain who wanted to see a reversal of this process by the new ruler have been deeply disappointed by his “programme of reforms”. Bahrain Freedom Movement 7th July 2002 Tel/Fax: +44 207 387 2492


The Observer Britain silent on ‘Butcher of Bahrain’ Tony Thompson, crime correspondent Sunday June 30, 2002 The Observer, London The Government has been accused of stalling attempts to prosecute a British citizen accused of running a brutal regime of torture in Bahrain in order to protect the UK’s relationship with the Arab state. Scots-born Colonel Ian Henderson, dubbed the ‘Butcher of Bahrain’, spent 30 years as head of the Bahraini secret police. During this time his men allegedly detained and tortured thousands of anti-government activists. Their activities are said to have included the ransacking of villages, sadistic sexual abuse and using power drills to maim prisoners. On many occasions they are said to have detained children without informing their parents, only to return them months later in body bags. Between 1994 and 1998 at least seven people died as a result of torture at the hands of the Bahraini regime. Human rights organisations have collected evidence from thousands of victims of the regime who have provided horrific accounts of the torture they suffered. Yaser al-Sayegh’s case is typical. ‘My wrists were shackled to my ankles and they suspended me upside down from a pole,’ he said. ‘They then beat me on my legs and feet and face with iron bars and rubber hoses.’ Hashem Redha, a Bahrainian pro-democracy activist who now lives in Britain, said he was attacked personally by Henderson. ‘He tortured me one time. He kicked me and shook me two times. He said, “If you like to be hit, we can hit you more than that”.’ A Carlton documentary, Blind Eye to the Butcher, to be screened on Wednesday, reveals that despite solid evidence torture took place on many occasions, a two-year investigation by Scotland Yard’s Serious Crimes Branch and questions being asked in Parliament, Henderson has never been interviewed about the allegations. However, under international law, he would be responsible for acts of torture carried out under his command, regardless of whether he was personally involved. A file was submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service last August but police say they are still waiting for a response. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have repeatedly called for an investigation into the allegations but believe successive governments have been reluctant because of Britain’s close ties with the Arab state. Britain has 85 defence staff based in Bahrain and members of the country’s armed forces are invited to defence colleges in this country for training. Since retirement, Henderson has spent much of his time living at an extensive property called Stoke Shallows on the edge of Dartmoor where his neighbours know nothing of his past. He continues to travel frequently to Bahrain where he remains an adviser. In the programme Henderson denies allegations of torture and refused to take part in any discussion. However, he issued a statement saying there was no truth in any of the allegations.

The Home Office refused to comment on allegations of torture in Bahrain.

The GCC states and globalized slavery In June, the US State Department released its second annual Trafficking in Persons Report. It presents a sad picture of the world and details some of the abhorrent consequences of the current forms of globalization. Over the past year, at least 700,000 ­ and possibly as many as 4 million ­ individuals worldwide were bought, sold, transported and held against their will in slave-like conditions. Most victims are women and children trafficked for the purposes of prostitution, sex tourism and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation, as well as forced labor in sweatshops. Men also figure in reports on forced labor in agriculture projects and construction sites. International agencies and human rights organizations have long warned that people-trafficking is a growing global phenomenon from which no country is exempt, whether as sender or recipient. It is related to the growing disparity between rich and poor nations, and between haves and have-nots within them. Swelling multitudes of unemployed people in the sending countries provide criminal networks with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of victims. And in the receiving countries, corruption, outdated legal systems, bigotry and racial prejudice contribute to making trafficking in persons a highly profitable and almost risk-free enterprise. Globalization has helped transnational criminal networks turn trafficking into a lucrative industry. According to the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, worldwide economic and sexual slavery has attracted powerful criminal organizations such as the Yakuza, the Triads, and the Mafia. They amass an estimated $7 billion a year from the business and have been expanding their networks in both developed and developing countries. The US State Department report helps put the problem in its global context by assessing how different governments are faring in their attempts to live up to their commitments to protect human rights and dignity. The report covers most of the 105 nations that signed the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, obliging them “to criminalize trafficking, protect its many victims and prevent future trafficking.” These countries are grouped into three categories according to the level of their compliance with international standards. Unfortunately, most Arab countries are absent from the report. Only four of the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) partners ­ Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE ­ provided the required information. All four fall into the third category ­ countries that do not fully comply with the minimum standards required by the convention. Entries in the report paint a sordid picture of the situation in these four Gulf states, and there is no reason to presume that it is any better in the other two, Kuwait and Oman. For decades, the oil-rich GCC states have been attractive destinations for migrant workers from different parts of the world, mostly South and Southeast Asia. While most lack legal and political protection and are denied of some basic human rights, they are not victims of organized traffickers. Most are victims of poverty and underdevelopment. An estimated 10 million foreign nationals currently live in the GCC states, or up to one-third of their total population. Generations of migrant workers have contributed to the development of the region, both materially and culturally. Their earnings have also contributed significantly to the economies of their countries of origin ­ even if their own individual stories may not be as positive. But while it has a long history as a migrant-receiving region, the GCC’s transformation into a theater for transnational criminal networks trafficking in humans is a recent development. It can be blamed on a combination of faulty migration policies, widespread corruption, deficient legal systems and a general absence of mechanisms for the protection of human rights. The migration policies of Gulf governments have led to the creation of female-free human settlements all over the region. The majority of migrants are men in the 20-50 years age bracket. In the GCC’s gender-segregated labor markets, most migrant women work as maids or in the largely unregulated services sector. The poorly-paid migrants are not allowed to bring over their spouses. While this situation clearly creates emotional and physical problems for individual migrants, it also provides opportunities for the unscrupulous to exploit human misery. Another contributing factor is the unprecedented military buildup in the GCC region during the past 12 years. This has made the region an attractive market not only for arms-producers, but also transnational traffickers in human beings. The construction of military bases in Saudi Arabia and other GCC states to accommodate ­ among other things ­ thousands of American military personnel, created a demand for a rapidly-expanding entertainment industry and for more and more young people, including male and female prostitutes, to service it. Thousands are trafficked to the Gulf annually from Southeast Asia, the Horn of Africa, Central Europe and countries of the former Soviet Union. Observant visitors to Dubai or Manama ­ the most “liberal” cities in the Gulf ­ will be treated to scenes familiar in US military base towns in any part of the Third World. Asian, Arab, African and East European entertainers cram the bars and nightclubs or stroll the corniches soliciting customers. The US State Department report has been welcomed by human rights activists in the region ­ unusually, given that this section of the Arab elite is traditionally skeptical about official American finger-pointing, which it tends to view as hypocritical, politically motivated, or as patronizing cultural imperialism. The publicity accorded the report by human rights groups in Bahrain even spurred official action. The authorities there are now reportedly working on legislation “to confront the negative effects of human trafficking,” and have announced that they have uncovered “several cases” of the phenomenon and are determined to combat it. This could prove to be an important start toward developing a coordinated and long term region-wide strategy for putting an end to this growing shame. But far more needs to be done if it is not to go the same way as previous official pronouncements pledging to reform the much-abused migrant worker sponsorship system, and control the growing informal labor market where sponsors sell “their” migrants to each other. This is a complex task that requires a truly collaborative commitment by all. GCC states have to develop their capacity to gather systematic and reliable data about these emerging forms of slavery, strengthen legal safeguards against them, and raise public awareness ­ that of government officials in particular ­ of the various aspects of the problem. A GCC-wide information campaign is needed against the abuse of women’s human rights in the region, highlighting the negative effects of women trafficking on both the victims and local societies. Local human rights activists for their part need to press home the twin messages that good governance cannot be an exclusive right of a country’s citizens, and that respecting the rights of expatriates is an integral part of a nation’s overall commitment to honoring human rights. The US government, meanwhile, could do its part by taking the necessary measures to end the use of trafficked persons as comfort men and women for its military personnel in the region.

Abdulhadi Khalaf is a Bahraini academic who teaches Sociology of Development at the University of Lund, Sweden. He wrote this commentary for The Daily Star

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