Geneva, Switzerland (6 March 2014)
The Bahrain Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, today presented his speech at the 25th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. The Minister’s speech was postponed twice since the opening of the Session on Monday 3 March 2014. The delay has been attributed to meetings in Riyadh with other Gulf Cooperation Council counterparts that recently lead to the withdrawal of envoys from Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
The Foreign Minister centered his speech on the implementation of the recommendations of the 2011 BICI report. He claimed that there have been ‘programmes’ in place to further the protection of human rights in the country. He further claimed, “Commitments to uphold human rights go beyond the BICI report.” It must be noted that during a Cabinet meeting last week, the Prime Minister of Bahrain declared that the government has exceeded the requirements of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry recommendations citing ‘sweeping reforms’ across a number of sectors.
The speeches made by Bahrain’s Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs showcase the lack of any efforts in ending rights abuses on the ground by declaring that reforms have been met without the slightest effort in ending the crackdown. BIRD rejects both speeches as inconsistent with the realities on the ground.
The Foreign Minister spoke about the recent detonation of an explosive device in Bahrain that led to the death of 3 police officers this week, including an officer from the UAE (GCC joint-forces). The Foreign Minister later blamed human rights activists, religious clerics and human rights organisations alike for “taking no steps to end violence.”
BIRD reiterates its condemnation of all acts of violence from any side in Bahrain. Moreover, it is unreasonable for the Foreign Minister to shift blame for the increase of violence in Bahrain to independent human rights activists and organisations. This practice has been employed by the government since 2011 with the arbitrary imprisonment, torture and ill treatment of human rights defenders. Activists in Bahrain have either been forced into exile or jailed for exposing the government crackdown.
Concrete steps must be taken by the government to reduce the level of violence through ending the extreme security measures, holding officials into account for severe rights abuses and employing genuine reforms to restore calm. It is important that the government stop using events as a catalyst to increase violations of human rights through collective punishment and the systematic targeting of civilians. The events must also not be used to hide severe human rights abuses in the country that have not been addressed and that are yet to end.
The Bahrain Foreign Minister furthermore failed to address any criticism regarding the presence of foreign troops on the ground in the country, who are taking part in the crackdown while dressed in Bahrain police uniform; an argument that Bahrain has continuously denied since 2011. He moreover failed to place weight upon the seriousness of the crackdown by labelling events in 2011 as “brief challenges”.
There have also been no steps taken to release the excess of 3000 political prisoners in Bahrain that include human rights defenders, lawyers, and doctors; those who are advocates of peaceful dissent. The continuous 3-year crackdown on peaceful protests in which over 100 individuals have been killed, and many tortured, is leading to a more violent response from some protesters. The government bares responsibility for this escalation and has the means to end it by implementing serious reforms and ending the excessive use of force against civilians and protesters. The Foreign Minister’s speech held the same narrative used in 2011; by blaming foreign actors rather than taking any genuine recourse to ending the crackdown in order to improve upon the human rights situation.