A Parliamentary Proposal to Criminalize Discrimination

A group of MPs from al-Wefaq parliamentary bloc (the largest in the Bahraini Parliament) have suggested the addition of an article to the Penal Code which provides for the punishment of any official who practises discrimination or discriminatory segregation as this negates the principle of equality and equal opportunities between citizens on the basis of their ethnicity, colour, religion sect, belief or political opinion. The case would be more serious if the perpetrator was an employee in the public sector. Discrimination and discriminatory segregation are defined as depriving an individual or a group from enjoying certain privileges, burdening them with obligations, or calling them names.

The Foreign Affairs, Security and Defense Committee in the Parliament has recommended the approval of this suggestion. However some parliamentary blocs have objected to the way the proposal has been worded, and the lack of a specific definition of ‘discrimination’. Ali Ahmad, MP, said that ‘discrimination’ is an unacceptable practice and criminalizing it is constitutional, but he thought it would be necessary to specify a punishment for this crime, and that the term ‘discrimination’ be better defined.

On the other hand, those who presented the proposal believe that criminalizing ‘discrimination’ is in line with the requirements of the Constitution and with Bahrain's international obligations, for the Constitution in articles 4, 16B, and 18 and the National Action Charter as well have stressed equality of citizens and that the State bears the responsibility for achieving this. Moreover, Bahrain has acceded in 1990 to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.

Based on this, the supporters of the project believe that the international agreements signed by Bahrain compel the country to take legislative measures which guarantee respect of the principle of combating discrimination and the inclusion of punishment articles. They also regarded the constitutional articles on equality and justice as insufficient as long as the Penal Code does not include articles which clearly state the punishment for perpetrators of discrimination, so that citizens are able to resort to the legal system and defend their rights.