Bahrain is a prosperous island nation in the middle east, neighboring Saudi Arabia and Qatar, about four times the size of Washington, DC, with a dense population of about 1.2 million people. Most Bahrainis speak English, in addition to the nation’s official language of Arabic. The Fifth Fleet of the U.S. Navy is stationed off the coast of Bahrain, and the country receives millions of dollars in military aid from the United States each year.
Bahrain Monarchy and Government
The nation’s government is a constitutional monarchy ruled by King Hamad Al-Khalifa and governed by a cabinet of ministers, including many family members, as well as an elected parliament. The uncle of the king, Sheikh Khalifa ibn Salman Al Khalifa, has been the appointed Prime Minister of Bahrain for more than forty years, and is considered by some to be the de facto head of government.
The majority of Bahrainis are Shia Muslim (about 70%), while the ruling elite and most of the remainder of the population is Sunni Muslim (about 24%). Sectarian disagreements and allegations of fraud contribute to social divisions, and human rights organizations report that the Shia majority face discrimination in employment and repression in other areas. Meanwhile, the Sunni ruling members accuse Shia Bahrainis of affiliating too closely with Iran (a predominantly Shia nation), which they allege has designs on Bahrain (Iran attempted to claim Bahrain as a province in the late 1950s).
Human Rights Abuses in Bahrain
Although human rights has been an ongoing concern in Bahrain, the nation was formerly known as one of the most progressive of the Gulf nations.
However, the human rights situation in Bahrain deteriorated into a crisis attracting global attention and concern during the government’s crack downs on demonstrations in Bahrain correlating with the Arab Spring movement in February 2011, and the subsequent imposition of a state of emergency between March 15 and early June, 2011.
During this period, and subsequently, the government ministries and forces, supplemented by forces from Saudi Arabia, inflicted terrible human rights violations on Bahrainis. These included attacks on peaceful protesters; arrests of activists, arrests of local and international journalists; torture; destruction of houses of worship; and mass employment and education terminations. Even minors have been arrested, detained, and tortured. More than fifty persons have died — and many others have been maimed — from the use of excessive force and torture since the crack downs in March 2011.
Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry
The extent of these human rights abuses were so egregious, the government invited an independent commission (the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, or BICI) to document the abuses and suggest recommendations for reforms on June 29, 2011. The BICI report and recommendations were presented on November 23, 2011.
Since that time, excessive force, unlawful detention, and other human rights abuses have continued, and human rights organizations and nations have called for action on those recommendations.
The Bahrain Coordinating Committee works for human rights reforms and an end to oppression in Bahrain.