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 political reforms.
  • 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 century.
  • 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 in Bahrain.
  • 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 websites.
  • 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 about abuses.
  • 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 standards.
  • 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 was justified.
  • 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 of conscience.
  • 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 law.
  • 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’s Response

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).