The Human Rights Commissioner Visits the Gulf States

On April 2010, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay visited the six Gulf States. The visit was important to shed light on these countries, assess their commitments and encourage more respect of the rights of their citizens and millions of foreign workers in their countries. It was also beneficial for the High Commissioner to observe the obvious differences between various Gulf States, and the amount of human rights activities in them, as well as the nature of the political atmosphere in which these activities are conducted.

Notably, Pillay reiterated her call for the abolishment of the sponsor system, which relates to foreign workers in all the Gulf States. Bahrain is the only Gulf country that has already abolished this system a year ago. Pillay’s call has boosted and supported the efforts of human rights activists and reformists in official political institutions, who had demanded that this system, be abolished as it was a form of slavery. The call also triggered positive debates in the press, TV and other media.

Pillay also demanded that a human rights approach be adopted for the protection of domestic workers given that many of them have been victims of abuse, particularly women. Until now, no Gulf State has adopted such a law. On the other hand, many human rights activists complained that Pillay did not pay much attention to human rights violations in some Gulf States including strict political systems, tough restrictions on the establishment of civil organizations and vast human rights violations.

In Bahrain the High Commissioner met with the King and a number of ministers, and discussed with them all issues relating to Bahrain’s progress in its adherence to its human rights commitments in the context of the Periodic Universal Review.

The importance of this visit stems from the fact that Pillay was able to closely examine the human rights situation from both official and public points of views. She was also given official reassurance to respect and promote human rights in the country. The King, who confirmed that there was not a single political prisoner in Bahrain, expressed his readiness to promote political rights for all segments of society, develop labour laws, and push forward human rights programs.

The Minister of Interior said that the Government shares these same views and strongly believes in the importance of promoting and respecting human rights, stressing that there are tight restrictions and monitoring of the practices of the security forces. He also indicated that whoever makes a mistake will be penalized, adding that in Bahrain there is no place for systematic torture, and that his Ministry teaches human rights syllabuses to the police.

As for the labour Minister, he stated that new labour laws in Bahrain are in line with all human right principles adopted by the UN. However, the UN High Commissioner, who appreciated Bahrain’s pioneering work in the ratification of laws that protect foreign workers, also demanded that domestic workers receive the same attention.

Furthermore, Pillay stressed the importance of the role of civil society organizations in protecting human rights. She also stressed the need of providing protection and suitable environment for human rights activists and civil society organizations. Human rights activists also met with Ms. Pillay and complained about the weak cooperation of the Government apparatus, the failure to solve some on-going issues, the use of the shozin weapon in confronting riots, discrimination and violence against women.

The BHRM hopes that the outcome of this visit materialize into a working plan, which contributes to solving existing problems, and that official statements become programs where both civil society and the Government participate.