Concerns of Human Rights Organizations
Some international human rights organizations issued a number
of statements on the events in Bahrain since February 2011. These
included the Committee to Protect Journalists, Amnesty International,
Human Rights Watch, Front Line, Reporters Without Borders, Freedom
House, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), IFEX,
the International Labour Organization, Médecins Sans Frontières,
Physicians for Human Rights, the Cairo Center for Human Rights,
World Organization against Torture, the High Commissioner for Human
Rights, the independent Experts of the United Nations, and the European
Parliament. It is noteworthy that some of these organizations such
as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International conducted field
visits to Bahrain during the events.
This article highlights the statements issued by those international
organizations as well as responses by the government of Bahrain
published in the media.
Regional and international organizations and United Nations bodies
pointed to grave human rights violations committed in Bahrain during
the events including the following:
- Killing at least 18 people from the demonstrators and injuring
more than 200 people, some of them very serious, since the attack
on demonstrators on 14 February.
- Harsh methods used by riot police during protests demanding
- Use by the Bahraini security forces of illegal lethal force
against anti-government demonstrators.
- The use of tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition
against peaceful protesters in Bahrain, particularly in the
Lulu Roundabout in Manama.
- Bahrain revert quickly to state of the 1990s of the last
- Hundreds of people arrested and detained for participating
in the protests.
- Exposure of human rights defenders, who have played a role
in organizing demonstrations and monitoring them, to the risk
of arbitrary arrest and detention.
- A number of human rights defenders who were documenting
human rights violations, including members of the Bahrain Youth
Society for Human Rights and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights;
were attacked by police forces during the police indiscriminate
action aimed at individuals who were participating in the protests.
- Targeting human rights defenders was a direct result of
their legitimate and peaceful work in documenting human rights
violations and the dissemination of information. Furthermore,
violence against peaceful protesters was part of attempts to
deliberately restric the freedoms of expression and assembly
in Bahrain through violence and harassment.
- There were concerns about physical and mental wellbeing
of human rights defenders who had been monitoring the attacks
against the protesters.
- Imposition by the authorities of severe restrictions on
freedom of expression, the closure of websites critical of the
authorities, and closing down opposition publications.
- Intimidation and violence against journalists to prevent
media coverage of the demonstrations.
- On 28 March, the Military Attorney General issued resolution
No. 5 for 2011, which bans publishing news about investigations
conducted by the military prosecutor related to national security
in the newspapers and all media. The resolution was exclusively
used to restrict freedom of expression and freedom of the press,
and then impose a media blackout on human rights violations
- Continued attacks on journalists covering demonstrations
against the government, where journalists were assaulted, arrested,
and not allowed to do their work in Bahrain. The authorities
have also slowed the speed of Internet services and have blocked
- Violence and censorship against journalists in order to
stop news coverage of political unrest.
- Practices of discrimination against trade unions and against
leaders and members of the General Federation of Bahrain Trade
Unions, contrary to the ILO conventions and in a violation of
the fundamental rights of Bahraini workers.
- Arrest of human rights activists and doctors who speak out
- Attacks on health workers, and interception of ambulances.
Recommendations of international human rights organizations
To address the deteriorating human rights situation in Bahrain
since February 2011, international and regional organizations provided
a number of recommendations to get out of the humanitarian crisis
faced by the peaceful protesters, journalists, health workers and
human rights defenders in Bahrain. The recommendations were comprehensive
and practical, and included the following:
- Bahrain should conduct direct and thorough investigation
into the killing of at least 18 persons during the fierce attacks,
which accompanied the protests since 14 February 2011, and the
arrest of the policemen involved in the shooting, and should
emphasis on police forces that the use of excessive force will
not be tolerated.
- Political reform in Bahrain should include an immediate,
transparent and independent inquiry into violence initiated
by the Government, which claimed the lives of a number of demonstrators
and injured hundreds, and make the findings of the inquiry public,
and bring those responsible to justice in accordance with international
- Calling upon the Bahraini government to ensure carrying
out full investigations into allegations of torture and other
serious violations committed by security forces.
- Calling upon Bahrain to act immediately to control the riot
police and to conduct an independent investigation into the
events that took place to determine the responsibilities in
committing of these crimes and to ensure respect for the right
to demonstrate peacefully.
- Calling upon the Bahraini government to create an independent
commission to investigate the use of lethal force against peaceful
demonstrators as well as statements of the protesters related
to abuses or torture after their arrest.
- The need to initiate an independent investigation to uncover
the facts and determine whether the level of force used by police
- The immediate release of all those who had been detained
unlawfully, as well as the immediate and unconditional release
of all opposition activists and medical professionals who were
arrested in March, whom Amnesty International considers as prisoners
- The authorities have to listen to the calls of the people
of Bahrain for change, rather than respond to them with violence.
- Calling upon the Government of Bahrain to take immediate
steps to ensure that the peaceful protesters who are exercising
their right to freedom of expression and assembly are accorded
the protection of the law, and that police functions are in
line with international standards in this regard.
- Bahraini government should immediately put an end to all
forms of attacks and harassment targeting human rights defenders
and peaceful protesters in Bahrain.
- Bahrain should take all necessary measures to ensure the
physical and mental wellbeing of human rights defenders and
individuals who wish to exercise their legitimate right to freedom
of expression and assembly in line with international standards
and to ensure respect for these rights.
- Bahrain should ensure that human rights defenders and their
organizations in Bahrain are able in all situations and circumstances
to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without
fear of prosecution, and should enjoy freedom from all restrictions
and harassment including judicial harassment.
- The Bahraini authorities should allow doctors to treat the
injured, and should immediately investigate reports of the arrest
of paramedics at the scene of events.
- Bahrain as party to the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights, it should protect and promote freedom
of expression, freedom of association and the right to peaceful
assembly. Additionally, Bahrain should adhere to the United
Nations’ Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms,
which provide that states cannot resort to lethal force except
it is unavoidable to protect life and should be exercised only
with restraint and in proportion with the event. The Principles
also call on governments to “ensure that arbitrary or abusive
use of force and firearms by law enforcement forces is punishable
as a crime under the laws of the State.”
- Bahrain should ensure the immediate protection of all health
workers and medical personnel who care for victims of violence,
and the full protection of the right of all those who suffer
from injuries to obtain appropriate medical care.
- Calling upon the authorities to immediately conduct an independent
and thorough investigation into the attacks on health workers
and medical personnel, and interception of ambulances, and to
bring those responsible of committing such serious violations
of human rights to justice.
- Doctors, nurses, paramedics and other health workers should
be enabled to carry out their responsibilities to provide urgent
assistance and other forms of medical care to the injured without
discrimination, and should also be enabled to document the injuries
and report them without interference or fear of reprisals.
- The declaration of the National Safety Law on 15 March does
not alter the responsibility of the authorities and security
forces or their obligations under international human rights
law; therefore, actions taken by the Government in all circumstances
must comply with the principles of international human rights
- Calling upon the Bahraini authorities to find a peaceful
response, through political dialogue, to the legitimate aspirations
of the people and to fulfill their obligations under international
human rights law and international humanitarian law, including
the protection of health care facilities and allowing the treatment
of the wounded.
- Bahrain should ensure and respect the right to peaceful
protest, and to provide protection to peaceful protesters against
excessive use of force by the police or violence by others.
- Bahrain should ensure the non-use of excessive force against
demonstrators any more in Bahrain.
- Bahrain should respect and protect the right to form and
join associations, and should ensure that all human rights organizations
and human rights defenders are enabled to carry out their work
without political interference or hindrance.
- The ILO is to undertake a high-level mission to Bahrain
as soon as possible in order to engage in dialogue with the
government, labour organizations, employers, and to address
the reported practices against trade unions, in addition to
strengthening coordination between the three components as a
way forward to deal with the Bahraini crisis.
- Intensify the dialogue initiated by the Government of Bahrain
and the active civil society components including organizations
of workers and employers.
- Calling upon Member States of the Human Rights Council of
the United Nations to promptly investigate allegations of human
rights violations perpetrated by the Government of Bahrain,
address those violations, and take action to prevent their recurrence.
Government of Bahrain provided through the media responses to
the above concerns.
1. Response from the Minister of Social Development,
also responsible for Human Rights (Bahrain TV, 13 April 2011):
- The Constitution and the law are operational despite the imposition
of of the National Safety Law, and Parliament is still functional.
- Bahrain has joined the majority of international human rights
conventions, notably the two International Covenants on Human Rights
(ICCPR & ICESCR).
- The Constitution and laws of Bahrain have provided guarantees
for human rights, and many of these laws were based on the National
Charter and the Constitution.
- Security and police officers and inspectors of Ministry of Health
and Ministry of Labour are routinely trained on human rights issues.
- Bahrain did not prevent any of the international organizations
from visiting the country, and we arrange all the meetings they
needed with government agencies, including ministers. Now we have
a coordinating committee to arrange meetings for them with all government
agencies in one slot, and they can also conduct field visits
- Reports of some organizations were sometimes positive to some
extent, but the majority were not entirely positive. We drew the
attention of the human rights organizations to be professional,
not bias and listen to all parties.
- Bahrain allowed Human Rights Watch to hold its regional meeting
in Bahrain , while no other country in the region has allowed it
to hold such a meeting.
- During my meetings in Geneva with the High Commissioner I asked:
Do you verify the information about Bahrain given the fact that
the Government of Bahrain was in touch with your office? And I told
them to contact the Government of Bahrain for any information about
Bahrain before the release of statements, but unfortunately there
was no any contact of this kind.
- Bahrain was unfairly reported in the international media for
the lack of authentic information, as well as by international human
rights organizations that derived information via e-mail and social
Internet sites and they take that information for granted.
- We do not request human rights organizations to line up with
the government in their reports, but we only request them to be
fair. Some of those working in international organizations are not
neutral and may have political agenda.
- We respect international organizations, but in return they have
to ensure the credibility of those who send them information about
Bahrain. We have recently established a Human Rights Office to deal
with files, statements and reports that come to us from such organizations,
and prepare reports on human rights from the government side.
2. Response of the Minister of Labour to the Director-General
of ILO Juan Somavia, regarding the conditions of workers and trade
unions during recent events in Bahrain (published in the local press
on 20 April 2011):
- Government of Bahrain, represented by the Ministry of Labour,
respects international labour standards in general and trade union
freedoms in particular and has harmonized domestic legislation with
international labour standards. Experts from ILO helped Bahrain
to develop many of the labour legislation, particularly the Trade
Unions Law issued by Decree Law No. (33) of 2002, and the law of
insurance against unemployment promulgated by Decree Law No. (78)
of 2006, and draft of the labour law in the private sector, which
is currently before the legislature for adoption.
- The Trade Unions Law allows the formation of trade unions without
license as well as joining them. It suffices to form any union to
deposit its articles of association with the competent administrative
authority, also only the extraordinary general assembly can dissolve
a union, or by the judiciary if Article (20) of the Trade Unions
Law is violated.
- Government of Bahrain has sought to provide all the frameworks
to support the social dialogue between the relevant parties (the
government, workers, business owners) in addition to including representive
of workers and business owners in the governing bodies of the General
Authority for Social Insurance, the Labour Market Regulatory Authority,
and the Labour Fund (Tamkeen) .
- The Government of Bahrain took concrete steps in the prevention
of discrimination through the ratification of the ILO Convention
No. (111) of 1958 concerning discrimination in employment and occupation.
Additionally, Bahrain provides equal rights to all workers through
the amended Labour Law for the Private Sector promulgated by Legislative
Decree No. (23) of 1976.
- Following the call by the General Federation of Bahrain Trade
Unions for a general strike following of the political events that
affected the country, the Ministry distributed a statement clarifying
the facts about this strike, and the negative effects that could
result from the failure of workers to work, especially in the vital
facilities that affect the lives of the people or a section of them,
such as educational and health institutions, electricity, water
and other vital establishments.
- The law dose not recognize the so-called (general strike), which
is in fact an illegal political strike. The legal strike is carried
out by the professional workers to force their employer to heed
their work-related demands, such as increased wages or improved
working conditions or reduction of working hours. Article (21) of
the Trade Unions Act identifies four guidelines for a legal strike,
namely: approval of the extraordinary general assembly of the union
to declare the strike; to notify the employer of the worker’s intention
to stop working before fifteen days; workers should not stop work
if the dispute is pending conciliation or arbitration; and the strike
is not allowed in the vital installations specified by the Order
of the President of the Council of Ministers No. (62) of 2006.
- The general strike called for by the General Union represents
a clear violation of the legal regulations specified in Article
(21) of the Trade Unions Act. The strike has had some political,
security and economic implications, and therefore some of the companies
affected by the strike took disciplinary action against some workers
according to the law and regulations. The workers subjected to disciplinary
action can lodge a complaint at the Ministry against unfair dismissal,
and in case no amicable settlement is reached the matter shall be
referred to the courts pursuant to Article (110) of the Labour Act
regulating the private sector.
- Bahrain welcomes the continuous positive cooperation with the
ILO, which should focus on developing the trade union action, and
identifying its fundamental goals to protect the working class away
from the political factionalism, and away from breaking the law.
The experience has shown the urgent need to deepen the culture and
principles of trade union action, in addition to increasing the
ability to conduct collective bargaining and benefit from the ILO’s
efforts in building and strengthening the institutional capacity
of workers and employers.
3. Clarifications by the Minister of Foreign Affairs:
- Sanctions taken against a number of Bahrainis through dismissal
from their jobs were taken because of their participation in the
recent protests and for threatening the national security, and not
for revenge or sectarian reasons. (19 /04/2011).
- We will not dissolve the Al-Wefaq Society, which will remain.
We want to see the Al-Wefaq a partner for the future (19/04/2011).
- The process of reform and development in the Kingdom of Bahrain,
which began ten years ago, continues and will not stop. The challenges
will only increase our determination to continue our constructive
work and consolidate our democratic values. (20/04/2011).