Bahrain: Imagining a Way Forward Recommendations to the key Political Players in Bahrain

Three organization, the Next Century Foundation (NCF), The Value Web and Bahrain Human Rights Monitor (BHRM), have issued a report on Bahrain’s ways out of its current crisis. The report presents recommendations to the key political players such as the Government, opposition, the USA, UK, Saudi Arabia and Iran. This report is the outcome of long discussions on the situation in Bahrain and took into consideration the visions and positions of all concerned parties. The recommendations are as follow:

Recommendations to the Government

1/ the electoral system should be reformed including amending constituencies in order to achieve fairer and more representative system. The report proposed adopting proportional representation with a single national constituency. It also suggested a higher representation for women, though it did not specify how.

2/ Power Sharing - The authority to select a cabinet should be jointly vested in the King and the Council of Representatives. According to the latest constitutional amendments that entered into effect on May 3rd 2012, the Cabinet must initially be approved by the House of Representatives. The report also proposes that new amendments must be put in place so that the cabinet represents the outcome of elections and that the cabinet must win a vote of confidence.

3/Bill of Rights – A bill of rights should be drawn up to protect the liberty of the citizens of Bahrain and bring the actions of the state into line with international conventions on human rights, including the right to religious freedom, free media and free speech. This bill of rights should be enforced by an independent judiciary, selected and appointed by the King under the guidance and consent of parliament. In this respect, the steps taken so far by the Government to ensure conformity with international standards, such as the step taken regarding the definition of torture in Bahrain’s penal code, should be viewed favourably. Bahrain has ratified the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, and a special court needs to be set-up so that all laws that contravene this internationally binding covenant are nullified.

4/Accountability – To continue the process of holding to account members of the security forces found to have broken the law or otherwise to have committed abuses of human rights. Also to promote respect for the rule of law by ensuring that all citizens and residents of Bahrain are held accountable for offences such as exploiting public office for private enrichment, and enforce transparency in government financial dealings and the financial holdings and interests of all officials of the cabinet.

5/ Release of Prisoners of Conscience – The government should release prisoners of conscience. One of the major sources of contention both domestically and internationally has been the detention of activists because of online posts and involvement in demonstrations. These people are often charged with stirring up unrest or writing anti-monarchy statements. Freeing such people would demonstrate the government’s adherence to and recognition of internationally and nationally recognised principles of freedom of speech and expression. We take note of the Prosecutor-General’s announcement on May 18th that it was decided to drop charges that contravene Bahrain’s commitment to uphold the principles of freedom of speech and expression, and that relevant legislative amendments have been introduced to that effect . While we applaud the fact that at least 334 of those facing charges have benefited from that decision, including the medical staff at Salmaniya Hospital and those accused of conspiracy to topple the government, we sincerely hope that this pattern will continue and that the courts would demonstrate full compliance in that respect.

6/ The Rebuilding of Mosques – The Government should speed up the process of rebuilding the Shi’a mosques damaged or destroyed in the past three years. This would help rebuild trust between the authorities and the Shiite community in a way that could alleviate some of the prevailing sectarian tension. We welcome the announcement by the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs last April 2013 of a scheduled rebuilding plan, and hope that such a plan would ensure the speedy rebuilding of all the affected religious sites as detailed in the BICI report’s recommendations. Having said which, it should be stressed however, that Bahrain’s problems should, wherever possible, not be viewed through a sectarian lens. This is not, per se, a Sunni-Shiite conflict. There are Sunnis amongst the opposition and Shiites who support the government. Essentially the issue concerns the degree of reform to be implemented in Bahrain.

7/ The Independence of the official media – The Government should guarantee the independence of state-owned Media by putting it under the supervision of an independent body approved by Parliament. Royal Decree No. 47 / 2013 established a Supreme Independent Authority for Information and Communication. We hope that this represents a step towards greater press freedom rather than an attempt to impose greater control on journalists; whilst at the same time we hope this new body will adopt a criteria and principles that would ensure the elimination of any sectarian excesses within state-owned media institutions.

8/ Decentralisation of Power – Trust can be re-established by devolution of power to local authorities. This is particularly the case when it comes to policing and the security forces. Policing should be staffed and controlled locally with minimal central control. There should nevertheless also be a national police regulatory body with oversight over the domestic intelligence agencies. Further to decentralising the police force, there should also be more municipal power to provide services, e.g. local control of schools and housing. The strengthening of local governance would greatly help to address the major political, economic and social grievances.

9/ Improve negotiating skills – The negotiating skills of both the opposition and the government are poor. Both sides tend to be confrontational and are only concerned by scoring points, rather than trying to create the best possible outcome for the future of the Kingdom of Bahrain. The government is best placed to change the culture of confrontation by being more conciliatory in its approach to negotiations.

10/ cooperating with the international community, the report also recommends more cooperation with human rights organizations and allows them to visit Bahrain.

Specific Recommendations for the opposition

1/ Denounce Violence: Al-Wefaq should keep protests peaceful and refrain from inflammatory rhetoric. It should rein in the radical elements and make it unequivocally clear that Al-Wefaq denounces violence and those who resort to it. It should, accordingly, distance itself from any group that would not embrace the principles of peaceful participation in domestic political life.

2/ Continue to participate in dialogue with the government as well as with non-Shi’ite political societies with a view to reaching an agreement on meaningful political reform.

3/ Openly acknowledge a well defined role for the Monarchy in the future of Bahrain The opposition objective should be to seek an expansion of political rights, not to overthrow the monarchy. It should also acknowledge that the king will have a pivotal role in the transition to a more democratic Bahrain. This will help alleviate the fears of the Sunni population were a significant power shift to emerge, and prevent a potential Sunni backlash against any electoral reform concessions.

4/ Greater Representation for Women – There needs to be greater representation of minorities within the mainstream opposition parties. This is particularly the case with Al Wefaq and the other Islamist parties, which have no women representatives. If the government of Bahrain is going to be representative of the people, it must have a number of women representatives. Measures should be taken towards ensuring that parties are formed on a non-sectarian basis,

5/ Wider Policy Reach – The anti-government parties need to work on their policies so as to offer something more than mere opposition to the current government. They need to state a clear economic and social manifesto, so people know what they will do when elected.

6/ Encourage Shiite Participation in Various Areas – As part of the BICI report recommendations it was advised that Shiites be integrated into the security forces.

Recommendation to Saudi Arabia

1/ Saudi Arabia should pursue a policy that publicly supports efforts to resolve the crisis in Bahrain through dialogue and meaningful reforms.

2/ For the sake of stability in Bahrain and the region, Saudi Arabia should work closely with friends and allies such as the United States to encourage all parties to the Bahrain crisis to seek a peaceful conclusion to their conflict and to pursue the reforms stipulated in its National Action Charter and further reinforced by the recommendation of the BICI report.

3/ Direct Aid to Support Reform – Saudi Arabia should use its economic influence over Bahrain to directly support reforms as they emerge.

The recommendation to the USA and the UK

1/ The US and UK should continue to encourage Bahrain to adhere to international human rights standards, and by the same token encourage the government to move forward by acknowledging whatever positive steps it takes in that respect. It should also make it clear that transgressions by the Bahrain opposition, such as the use of violence, terror tactics and public disorder would equally not be tolerated.

2/ Encourage Dialogue – In partnership with Saudi Arabia, the USA and UK should continue to deploy their diplomatic influence to persuade all parties involved in the dialogue process to reach some compromise. The NCF and BHRM contend that the USA and UK could offer practical advice on policy decisions and offer inducement (rather than the threat of sanctions). Their efforts to encourage dialogue should be unremitting.

3/ Expert/Technical Training – Both the US and UK could offer Bahrain some valuable assistance and technical support in its endeavour to reform the judiciary systems.

Greater Trade Links –The US could help Bahrain to improve its economic standing by increasing trade links with the country.

The recommendations to Iran

1/ Renounce claim to Bahrain as “14th province” of Iran. Iran should officially announce its renunciation of any territorial claim over Bahrain and openly declare its respect for Bahrain’s sovereignty.

2/ Support non-violence – Iran should publicly call for an end to violence and aim to bring about a peaceful conclusion to the protests. it should put an end to its hostile and divisive media campaign in favour of a more balanced approach if regional peace and harmony are to be maintained.

3/ Liaise with the Government – Iran can also use normal diplomatic avenues to liaise with the government of Bahrain to reduce misunderstanding and support reform.

4/ Landmark gesture for Shiite/Sunni cooperation – As the situation improves in Bahrain, Iran could potentially invest in landmark gestures that would further enhance the sort of cooperation and peaceful coexistence that had, prior to the events of the last two years, been the characteristic of the relations between all elements of Bahraini population, particularly the Sunni and Shiite Muslims, e.g. a mixed school.