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.