Seminar in Geneva: Bahrain Faces Political
and Human Rights Entitlements

On the sidelines of the 19th session of the Human Rights Council, the President of BHRM gave a presentation during a seminar held on 15 March 2012 on human rights in the context of the Arab spring. The seminar was headed by Dr. Loai Deeb of the Global Network for Rights & Development. Shafaei explained the features of political development in Bahrain, which started before the Arab Spring when political reforms began in 2000. This period witnessed the establishment of political and civil society organizations, parliamentary and municipal elections, and an expanded margin of freedom of expression, assembly and protest. Additionally, the period also witnessed many legislative amendments and the passing of new laws which regulate Government apparatus, until the recent protests erupted, causing a big crisis inside the regime, the opposition and Bahraini society. Public protests came as an expression of the need for more political reforms, encouraged by previous ones which were deemed insufficient, yet had whetted the public appetite to begin with.

Shafaei continued that despite such developments, the Government was struck by the concerns and fears of some local parties, as well as by the violence and riots on the street, which led to a loss of momentum in the reforms, as the Crown Prince noticed. Shafaei also noted that the Executive Authority was not able to keep up with the big reform decisions made by the Bahraini leadership, and the performance of the public services was also below the expectations of citizens. Bahrain also fell prey to an unfavourable regional situation, which discourages political reforms and human rights.

He explained that citizens of nations which are actively engaging in a reform process and enjoy a margin of freedom of expression, generally becomes more able to express their aspirations from those living in total dictatorships. Hence, it was to be expected that the popular movement and political change in Bahrain would take the form of gradual reform, and not a revolution. The situation in Bahrain should have developed in a similar way to Morocco for example, and the movement on the street should have energised the reform project and improved the political system using peaceful, democratic and civilised means.

But mistakes by the security forces were made, followed by the adoption of extreme political views by the opposition, and accompanied by violence and vandalism on the streets. Subsequently, a call for dialogue by the Crown Prince was met by calls to overthrow the regime, which resulted in large-scale confrontations.

Shafaei concluded his presentation by saying that both the Government and the opposition have failed to tackle this crisis responsibly, and that the biggest losers were the moderates on both sides. Ultimately however, the main loss lies in the creation of deep social and sectarian schisms in Bahrain, and in the field of human rights. He also added that there are two ways towards solving this crisis: the first is a human rights solution, through implementing Bassiouni’s recommendations. The second is political and can be achieved through dialogue between the various political parties, which should result in reconciliation between Shia and Sunni political parties, as well as the Royal Family.