Bahrain in the Human Rights Watch Annual Report 2010
Systematic Errors and Erroneous Conclusions
On Sunday 24 January 2010, Human Rights Watch (HRW) launched
its report for 2010 from Dubai, and held a press conference during
which HRW highlighted the human rights situation in the region.
With regard to Bahrain, the report pointed to a decline in the human
rights situation in a number of areas, including: subjecting freedom
of expression, assembly, and association to arbitrary restrictions;
use of excessive force against demonstrators protesting against
discrimination; subjecting detained opposition activists to torture
and ill-treatment; use the press law No. 47 of 2002 to restrict
coverage of controversial issues; blocking more than 1000 internet
sites, political forums, blogs, newspapers and human rights organizations
such as the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information; harassment
of a student at the University of Bahrain for distributing publications
critical of the policy of the University; threat by the Ministry
of Interior against political activists for participating in a meeting
in Washington in November 2008 without permission, as required by
law; denying legal status to the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights
and other associations; violating due process including 11 televised
confessions that appeared to have been coerced; adopting anti-terrorism
law in 2006 that contains broad definitions of terrorism and terrorist
acts, and the prosecution of opposition figures under this law in
February 2009 but were released by royal pardon later.
These issues have occurred and some of them were properly addressed.
In this article we will expose some systematic errors that occurred
in the report:
Firstly; the report did not put human
rights in Bahrain in a socio-political context. This sort of analysis
would have helped to know whether the overall assessment of the
human rights situation in Bahrain is true. This lack of socio-political
analysis has made the human rights link either missing or incoherent
in many cases, as well as making the report appears to be built
on weak foundations, in addition to providing isolated cases without
an overarching framework.
Secondly; the report was based on
a number of individual cases, which do not represent a trend, and
most cases have nothing to do with the Government. For example,
the question of the adoption of a new press law is not the responsibility
of government alone, as it is the responsibility of the legislature.
Also the Government has nothing to do with the case of the student
dismissed from the university for distributing publications against
the University regulations. Eventually, the university backed down
due to pressure from the media and human rights organizations. Another
example where the Government was not involved is the case of the
prosecution of three or four journalists sued by individuals on
the basis of defamation. However, no one had been sentenced to imprisonment.
It is noted here that the report repeats cases from previous years,
such as the ratification of the Anti-Terrorism Act in 2006, a law
passed by Parliament. This law is not satisfactory to the human
rights activists because it is incompatible with international standards.
There is also the old issue of denying legal status to the Bahrain
Centre for Human Rights, which is officially dissolved in 2004,
as well as the Bahrain Youth Society, which is another face of the
Thirdly; the HRW report is not neutral
significantly this year. It did not recognize any development in
Bahrain according to the Deputy Executive Director of the Middle
East, Joe Stork. On 9/1/2010, Mr. Stork stated in Dubai that: (the
leadership of Bahrain spent the last ten years reiterating its commitment
to political reform and human rights but, excluding issues related
to migrant workers, the human rights record deteriorated in 2009).
The report did not carry out any research in order to reach this
conclusion on issues related to women’s rights, freedom of expression
and joining associations. Despite this, Mr. Stork requires the government
to allow people to express themselves and to freely join organizations.
The report also criticized denying legal status to the Bahrain Centre
and the Bahrain Youth Society, which is another version of the Centre.
By contrast, the report did not mention the tens of associations
allowed to operate during the last year. The report also ignored
highlighting the progress in freedom of expression and the role
played by the local press in criticizing officials and ministers
on some hottest issues. The report also did not mention the hundreds
of demonstrations and marches held in the last year, nor to the
hundreds of seminars and workshops, and dozens of forums and seminars
held by international organizations in Bahrain each year. On the
other hand, the report did not refer to international conventions
ratified by Bahrain, or to measures taken by the government in response
to international recommendations within the framework of UPR, nor
to the government’s relationship with local human rights organizations.
The report did not revealed the extent of development in prison
conditions and, furthermore, ignored visits undertaken by the Bahraini
Society for Human Rights to prisons, as well as ignoring reports
by the Society on the prison conditions.
Such inadequate findings that appeared in the report are not
convincing to anyone.
Fourthly; it is clear that the report
lacked information on the human rights situation in Bahrain. The
report comes with less substance, and clearly dependent on a single
source of information, which is the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.
The Centre’s name was repeated three times, while no mention to
other human rights societies, trade unions, women’s societies or
press institutions. At the best, reference was made to ‘some human
rights organizations’ without naming them. Furthermore, the report
attached the description of ‘independent’ to the Bahrain Centre,
a hint from HRW that the rest of human rights organizations in Bahrain
do not enjoy the required independence.
Fifthly; the report correctly pointed
to human rights violations, which had been condemned locally and
internationally in a timely manner, such as: TV broadcast of confessions
of detainees before trial, and blocking many websites. We believe
that the Government lacks transparency with regard to allegations
of torture and ill-treatment of detainees, and we have demanded
the formation of independent commissions to investigate the matter.
However, all this does not paint a bleak picture like the one portrayed
by the Human Rights Watch report. Some of the information is controversial,
for example, the report says that there are 1000 internet sites
were blocked. But the important question to ask in this regard is
whether any of these sites has to do with freedom of expression.
Most of these sites were pornographic, and others had gone beyond
the limit in inciting sectarian violence, according to the government.
This closure may not be sufficiently justified, electronic newspapers
and forums should be given a wider margin of freedom and should
not be closed by an administrative decision but by a court ruling.
Things must be put in their normal size with respect to the reaction
of the Minister of Interior in 2008 over the participation of political
activists in meetings in Washington without prior notification.
Although the issue is old, but in practice the political and human
rights activists and opponents are overstepping the law and do what
they want to do. This means that the law is outdated and needed
to be reviewed, especially as it is inconsistent with human rights
In general, there are many issues against the report, including
that the report did not highlight the obstacles facing the reform
process and institutions reform. Additionally, the report did not
make recommendations to assist Bahrain to continue in the reform
path. This is evident in the issue of foreign workers and lack of
knowledge of the authors of the report of legal developments that
have occurred, and the obstacles on the ground facing the implementation
of new policies, especially on the question of the sponsor. The
report is also flawed in not referring to economic, social and cultural
rights. Bahrain has recorded major developments in this area, particularly
with regard to the provision of work for the graduates; the provision
of adequate housing for families or the provision of housing allowances;
the development of educational curricula; as well as other areas
related to easing the burden of living for every citizen.
On the other hand, the HRW report was not objective or professional
when the offender or violator of human rights is not governmental
personnel. For example, the report said, “In March and April the
clashes resulted in the killing of a Pakistani worker (his car hit
by a Molotov cocktail) and a member of the Pakistani security forces.”
But the report did not mention those who caused the deaths, nor
alluded to those responsible for violence, which is instigated by
people who claim to be human rights activists.
Human Rights Watch was not accurate when referring to the proposal
of the Minister of Labour ‘to review the sponsorship system in Bahrain’.
In fact, the ‘sponsorship system’ has been cancelled in Bahrain
sometime ago. And in line with the same inaccurate method, the report
pointed to “the death of domestic workers” in 2009 without specifying
the number, the date and how the authorities dealt with the issue.
And in a complete absence of information, HRW said in the report
regarding the establishment of the National Foundation for Human
Rights, that: “Bahrain established a National Institution for Human
Rights, a government body charged with reviewing and developing
legislation to comply with international human rights instruments.”
In fact, the mandate of the national institution is not only limited
to what appeared in the report, but includes: the development of
an integrated strategy to promote and protect human rights; addressing
human rights issues; policy development related to human rights;
dealing with regional and international organizations and NGOs;
preparation of reports; recommendations to the Government on human
rights issues, including the adoption or amendment of national legislation
and reporting on human rights violations; cooperation with partners
at home as well as regional and international partners and human
rights bodies of the United Nations, through contributions to the
drafting of national reports to the Human Rights Council and the
The Bahrain Human Rights Monitor welcomes any reports dealing
with the human rights violations in Bahrain, and hopes that there
will be cooperation between international organizations and local
organizations as well as with the Bahraini government in order to
improve the human rights situation in Bahrain. Such efforts are
appreciated. Just as there are advantages in the reports, which
can be built on, they also contain in many cases an amount of errors
and flaws that Human Rights Watch and other organizations should
pay attention to in order to address them in the future.