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International outcry over Bahraini Prince’s potential Olympic attendance

by guest blogger Chloe Kems.  Follow Chloe on Twitter: @kems4BH

International human rights groups, Bahraini activists, and – as of Thursday – members of the British parliament are urging Britain to ban the royal head of Bahrain’s Olympic Committee from attending the London 2012 games.  Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the son of Bahrain’s king, is set to attend the London Olympics this August, despite his role in the detention and alleged torture of athletes during the 2011 crackdown in Bahrain.

When protests began in mid-February 2011, athletes participated in the democracy protests and Pearl Square demonstrations along with 500,000 Bahrainis from the country’s majority Shi’ite population. When athlete support for Bahrain’s democracy uprising became public, Nasser, who serves as the Head of Bahrain’s National Futbol Association in addition to the country’s Olympic Committee, was “put in charge of effort to detain and punish athletes” who had been spotted participating or supporting the Pearl Square protests.

150 athletes were either detained or suspended after the regime alleged they participated in protests.  Prince Nasser made several controversial statements about the protesters, saying he hoped “may a wall fall down their heads,” and that they would have “nowhere to hide.”  Of the athletes, he stated that he believed the convicted should be imprisoned for life. Relatives of some of the detained athletes allege that they were tortured by Prince Nasser.

However, in late June, Fahad A al-Binali from the Bahraini President’s office issued a statement to The Guardian, in reaction to their coverage of the alleged torture and Olympic debate: “We vociferously reject the very serious allegations your newspaper has made against HH Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa … we categorically deny any involvement of HH Sheikh Nasser in any of these grave unfounded accusations of torture.”

Nasser is not subject to an EU or UN travel ban, the likes of which are currently levied against leaders in Syria, Zimbabwe, and other regimes with histories of human rights violations. A committee of representatives from Britain’s Home Office, Foreign Office, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will decide whether or not Nasser will be granted a visa to the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

In May, the BBC’s sports blog reported that “Foreign Secretary William Hague says the government won’t hesitate to use its powers to extend London 2012 travel bans to individuals and officials with connections to undesirable regimes.” Secretary Hague has stated that Sheikh Nasser is among those who will be closely assessed for links to human rights violations that would render him undeserving of an Olympic invitation.

A powerful voice joined the activist coalition to prevent Nasser’s Olympic attendance on Thursday, when George Galloway, a notoriously outspoken member of the British parliament, publicly warned “so called Prince Nasser” of a citizen’s arrest should he travel to London. Galloway’s statement, which currently has over 45,000 views on YouTube, warns Nasser: “don’t come to London, because you won’t enjoy it … you torture, you supporter of murder, you thief, you usurper, you war criminal, you dirty scoundrel, you are not welcome in London. … We will hunt you, wherever you are.”

The British MP’s fierce statements against Nasser coalesce with the release of a statement from the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) regarding the human rights climate in Bahrain. Twenty eight countries signed the push for reform implementation as per the BICI and improved cooperation with the UNHRC.

Although neither the US nor the UK signed the UNHRC statement, the outcry over Nasser’s potential Olympic attendance is gaining international traction. Following the protests that surrounded the F1 race in May, the London Olympics builds upon a growing phenomenon in Bahrain: sports politics are bringing global attention to human rights violations in the small Gulf nation.

Ambassador Donahoe calls for reforms in Bahrain

Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe is the U...

Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe is the U.S. Representative to the Human Rights Council. U.S. State Department Official Portrait. Biography of Ambassador Donahoe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The United States Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Amanda Donahoe, addressed the human rights situation in Bahrain in her statement to the Council yesterday.

Ambassador Donahoe stated:

The Government of Bahrain has taken steps to implement the recommendations made by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), but it must fully implement the remaining important recommendations. For example, it needs to hold accountable officials responsible for human rights violations, including deaths in custody resulting from torture, to drop charges against all persons accused of crimes based on their political expression, and to ensure fair and expeditious trials in appeals cases, such as those of the medical professionals. The Government of Bahrain also needs to prevent the use of excessive force by the police and to diversify police forces to reflect the communities in which they serve.  We also urge the Government to respect its citizens’ rights to free expression, free association and free assembly, and to facilitate access to Bahrain for journalists and civil society organizations.

Across the Middle East, and around the world, governments are being called on to ensure the human rights and aspirations of their citizens, to follow through on their promises to uphold those rights, and to hold accountable those who have committed serious human rights violations – including by effectively prosecuting officials responsible for those violations.  The international community stands ready to assist those who seek our help.

Today as we bear witness to the tides of change and progress currently underway in the Middle East and North Africa, we urge governments to recommit themselves to their most imperative responsibility: the protection and promotion of human rights for each and every citizen.

The Bahrain Coordinating Committee is grateful to Ambassador Donahoe for her statement, and is gratified that the people of Bahrain have her support  and that of the UN Human Rights Council.  We call on the government of Bahrain to accept her offer of assistance to institute needed reforms without delay.

Bahrain Coordinating Committee Supports UN Human Rights Council Recommendations for the Kingdom of Bahrain

Bahrain Coordinating Committee Supports UN Human Rights Council Recommendations for the Kingdom of Bahrain

[Washington, DC]   June 3, 2012 – The DC-based Bahrain Coordinating Committee announces its support of the recommendations proposed to the Kingdom of Bahrain by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

UN Human Rights Council issues recommendations to Bahrain at Universal Periodic Review

Sixty-six delegations from around the world, including the U.S., made statements and recommendations at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) for Bahrain on May 21, 2012.   The recommendations were informed by 18 reports from nonprofit and non-governmental organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights First, and Front Line Defenders, among others.  The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner submitted a report documenting numerous human rights violations and transgressions against international law.

Included among the UPR recommendations were that Bahrain

  • Restore peace and ensure the respect of all human rights in view of recent events (protests and security force crackdowns), and events associated with protests in February and March 2011.
  • Respect the rights of all citizens to freedom of expression and assembly.
  • Release prison detainees imprisoned in connection with the freedom of expression.
  • Conduct new trials of all defendants convicted in military courts as soon as possible.
  • Prosecute security agents who tortured protesters and create new laws ensuring the accountability of security forces for human rights violations.
  • Establish a standing body to investigate all acts of torture.
  • Accept the visit of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, who was scheduled to observe in March 2012 (his inspection was postponed by the government).

U.S. calls for release of peaceful protesters

The statement from the U.S. mentioned concern about “ongoing detention and trials of hundreds who participated in peaceful anti-government protests.”  The statement also referred to the prosecutions of twenty medical professionals and the human rights activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja.

Bahrain refutes evidence of human rights abuses

The Bahrain delegation refuted many of the well-documented human rights abuse claims.  They maintained that the government had not used excessive force against protesters, and that there were no detainees for freedom of expression.

Bahrain delegation claims freedom of the press in Bahrain

The delegation claimed there were no restrictions on journalists.  However, restrictions have been legion, including the instance reported by the Committee to Protect Journalists when journalists from the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Al Jazeera, BBC, and Christian Science Monitor were denied entry to the country. The delegation also claimed that no journalist had been detained since 2002.  However, several journalists have been arrested and detained, including a U.S. reporter for the Wall Street Journal.  A U.K. Channel 4 news crew was arrested and deported in April 2012, and a Bahraini policewoman is facing criminal charges for arresting, detaining, and torturing a France 24 reporter.

UNHRC President Laserre angered by reports of threats against delegates

Controversy arose during the UPR session when United Nations Council Human Rights President Laura Dupuy Lasserre called on the Bahrain delegation to ensure reprisals were not taken against 14 Bahraini human rights defenders attending the UPR session.  “I wish to remind you that we are all duty bound to ensure that nobody is persecuted on his return to his country for having participated in meetings of the human rights council or other bodies,” stated Lasserre.  The Bahrain delegation denied any involvement.

About the Universal Periodic Review

The 13th session of the Universal Periodic Review took place in Geneva, Switzerland.  Information about the session may be obtained at the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

About the Bahrain Coordinating Committee

The Bahrain Coordinating Committee is a Washington, DC-based grassroots movement that works to obtain U.S. support for democracy and human rights reforms in Bahrain.  For more information, please visit http://www.BahrainCoordinatingCommittee.org

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MEDIA NOTICE:                   Please contact the Bahrain Coordinating Committee to arrange in-person and telephone interviews with spokespersons.

UNHRC President Lasserre puts Bahrain on notice: do not threaten UPR activists

Thanks to the Bahrain Justice and Development Movement for publicizing this event and video.

In this video, Laura Dupuy Lasserre, President of The UN Human Rights Council, makes an ‘unprecedented’ statement today in calling on Bahrain not to make reprisals against opposition activists, attending the Universal Periodic Review.

She states that she is aware the activists have been threatened, although not necessarily by government forces, but by third parties.  The Bahrain representative denies all allegations.

Madam President Lasserre reiterates that the Council guarantees safety to all delegates attending the UPR.

New Country Report on Human Rights Practices released – Bahrain section

Today, the U.S. State Department issued its annual “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices”, the latest edition being for the year 2011.  The report is mandated by Congress and has been produced for more than 30 years.  It is designed to inform legislators about conditions in more than 200 countries as the lawmakers make decisions about distribution of foreign aid and military aid.

The section regarding human rights in Bahrain in 2011 is 37 pages in length (2011 Country Report on Human Rights Practices – Bahrain (PDF)) and chronicles the worst abuses of 2011, particularly those that took place between February and June, and identifies many areas of concern to activists worldwide, including the Bahrain Coordinating Committee.  The report draws heavily from accounts in the BICI report, which is typical of other country reports — the reports are compiled from many sources, as well as from accounts by human rights officers in U.S. embassies.

The most egregious human rights problems reported in 2011 included the inability of citizens to peacefully change their government; the dismissal and expulsion of workers and students for engaging in political activities; the arbitrary arrest and detention of thousands, including medical personnel, human rights activists, and political figures, sometimes leading to their torture and/or death in detention; and lack of due process.

Other significant human rights concerns included arbitrary deprivation of life; detention of prisoners of conscience; reported violations of privacy and restrictions on civil liberties, including freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, and some religious practices. In some instances the government imposed and enforced travel bans on political activists. Discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, nationality, and sect persisted, especially against the Shia population. The government demolished multiple Shia religious sites and structures during the year. There were reports of domestic violence against women and children. Trafficking in persons and restrictions on the rights of foreign workers continued to be significant problems.

 

 

At UPR, U.S. expresses concern over lack of progress on human rights in Bahrain; calls for reforms

On the occasion of the 13th Session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Bahrain, sponsored by the United Nations Human Rights Council and held in Geneva, Switzerland this week, the United States expressed concern over what it called the “failure of state institutions to effectively investigate and prosecute alleged human rights abuses and to ensure accountability of officials at all levels of responsibility implicated in abuse, torture or death of civilians.”

The State Department intervention report, issued on Monday, May 21, also mentioned concerns about specific political prisoners, including the imprisoned human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who has been on a hunger strike for more than 90 days, and the twenty Bahraini medical professionals who treated injured protesters and who are still facing prosecution.

The report also condemned the excessive use of force by the Bahraini police and their increased use of tear gas and bird shot ammunition.

The United States made the following recommendations to the government of Bahrain:

  1. Review convictions, commute sentences, or drop charges for all persons who engaged in non-violent political expression.
  2. Create a more diverse, inclusive police force, reflective of society, and establish an independent police commission to advise on best practices and respect for human rights.
  3. Prosecute officials at all levels of responsibility who are implicated in abuse, torture or death of civilians during the period of unrest.

Bahrain: UN human rights experts urge immediate release of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja

Read the United Nations Human Rights Council Press Release here

Abdulhadi Al-khawaja

Abdulhadi Al-khawaja (Photo credit: AslanMedia)

GENEVA (13 April 2012) – Four United Nations human rights experts on Friday urged the Government of Bahrain to immediately release human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja who is serving a life sentence handed down by a military court on terrorism-related charges. The call comes amid serious concerns about the lack of due process and fair trial guarantees.

The National Safety Court, a military court, sentenced Al-Khawaja to life imprisonment on 22 June 2011, after his trial alongside a group of more than 20 human rights defenders. An appeal was rejected by the National Safety Court of Appeal on 28 September 2011. Al-Khawaja’s case is now being reviewed by the Court of Cassation which is due to deliver its verdict on 23 April.

“I am seriously concerned that Mr. Al-Khawaja’s trial and sentence are linked to his legitimate work to promote human rights in Bahrain,” said Margaret Sekaggya, the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders. “This case is sadly emblematic of the overall treatment of human rights defenders in Bahrain.”

Maina Kiai, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly and association expressed similar concerns about Mr. Al-Khawaja’s detention being directly linked to his human rights activities in the context of the on-going protests in Bahrain.

“Any restriction to the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly must be proportional and must be closely reviewed with respect to its necessity and reasonableness,” Mr. Kiai.

“Restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly on the grounds of national security should not be used to suppress the legitimate activities of human rights defenders and activists.”

Gabriela Knaul, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, expressed grave concern about the trial of Al-Khawaja and other human rights defenders who were collectively tried before a military court despite being civilians. It is alleged that the group was held for a significant period of time in incommunicado detention before being allowed to seek legal counsel. Allegations that the defendants made confessions under duress have reportedly not been investigated and evidence obtained under torture was reportedly not excluded from the trial – in contravention of international law.

“The lack of due process which was alleged during the trials must be addressed by the court where his case is currently under review,” Ms. Knaul stated.

The Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Mendez, added that: “The Government of Bahrain has failed to take necessary measures to ensure the physical and mental integrity of Mr. Al-Khawaja in accordance with the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.”

Mr. Al-Khawaja has been on hunger strike since 8 February 2012. Despite assurances expressed by Bahraini authorities, reports and photos documenting his poor state of health continue to emerge.

“In view of the urgency of the matter, we strongly call on the Government to seriously reconsider the offer by Denmark to transfer Al-Khawaja, a dual citizen of Denmark and Bahrain, on humanitarian grounds, for medical treatment to Denmark,” the experts urged.

Despite assertions to the contrary, torture continues in Bahrain, and UN is denied access

United Nations Human Rights Council logo.

United Nations Human Rights Council logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As reported by Human Rights First’s Human Rights Defender Program director Brian Dooley in his article for Foreign Policy on March 22, 2012, torture by security and police forces continues to take place in Bahrain, despite the government’s assertions that real progress has been made.

The (dozen teens) said they had been severely beaten by the police in the previous two days. “They beat us until they got tired, then other policemen would take over and beat us more,” said one boy….

…Several showed me severe bruises on their backs and arms, marks they said were from the beatings.”

Bahrain Denies UN Access to Investigate

Tellingly, Bahrain formally requested a delay of the official visit of Juan Mendez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, who was to visit Bahrain in early March 2012 to investigate. Mr. Mendez has had an illustrious career in international law, including a current position teaching American University’s College of Law and 15 years of work with the humanitarian group, Human Rights Watch. This action effectively prevented Mr. Mendez from entering the country and making his independent investigation on behalf of the United Nations.

According to a UN spokesperson, Bahrain’s excuse was that they were “still undergoing major reforms and wants some important steps, critical to the special rapporteur’s mandate, to be in place before he visits so he can assess the progress that Bahrain has made to date,” as reported by Andrew Hammond, senior correspondent for Reuters, on March 1, 2012.

Bahrain has rescheduled his visit for July 2012.

Bahrain Fails to Prosecute Those Guilty of Torture

Meanwhile, Alex Delmar-Morgan (a Wall Street Journal reporter who was infamously arrested by Bahraini security forces while he was covering the protests in Bahrain in March 2011), reported on March 11, 2012 in the Wall Street Journal that Cherif Bassiouni, former United Nations human rights lawyer and head of the royally-appointed Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, stated that the Bahrain regime had failed to act on his recommendations that members of the government involved in systematic torture and homicides be brought to justice and called for accountability.

Please, Take Action

The use of torture by police and security forces in Bahrain has been, and continues to be, extensive, egregious, and systematic, and apparently, sanctioned by the government. If you are inclined, please write to Mr. Mendez at this address, or take other action as you see fit:

Mr. Juan Mendez
Special Rapporteur on Torture
c/o Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Office at Geneva
CH-1211 Geneva 10
Switzerland

Email: sr-torture@ohchr.org