A Report Issued by the BCHR: Evaluating the Parliamentary Performance related to Human Rights during the period 2006 – 2010
The MPs Elected for the Next Four Years Hold a Great Responsibility in Fulfilling their Legislative and Monitoring Role in Relation to Promoting Human Rights and Not Yielding to Influences and Pressures
The Citizens, Civil Society Institutes, Media and International Organizations have to Urge MPs to Carry out their Responsibilities, Cooperate with them and Evaluate their Performance
26 December 2010 The Bahrain Center for Human Rights confirms in a special report released today and that consists of a comprehensive evaluation of the performance of the Council of Representatives (2006-2010) in the field of human rights that there is a deficiency in the balance between the legislative and executive authorities which falls in the interest of the government. This interest lies in forming a legislative council based on a loyal majority which permits the government to control the legislative process, and weakening the legislative initiative of the MPs by using their right to propose bills, and their lax in taking advantage of the monitoring initiative such as their right in questioning and interrogation, which led to establishing human rights files on one hand and making the Executive Authorities safe from questioning and scrutiny when practicing blatant violations to human rights. The report emphasizes that despite the efforts of some of the members, the Bahraini Parliament failed during the period 2006-2010, and in a significant manner, to carry out the bare minimum of its legislative or monitoring role to promote human rights, as well as failing to hold out the widespread and diverse deterioration detected by the local and international organizations during the abovementioned period. The documented report released today by the BCHR reveals numerous and various reflections of this failure which indicates – according to the report – the Council’s lack, as an institute, of the independent and effective will to reform the situation in accordance with the international standards. The report concludes to highlight the well-established correlation of rights where an authentic promotion of the civil, economic and social rights cannot take place without the real promotion of political rights – as stated by Article 21 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - and which by implementing would turn the Council of Representatives into a legitimate parliament that represents the citizens in a fair manner, and which reflects their will effectively, and carries out its duties in legislation and observation. The public posts in the country should be open to all citizens away from discrimination, and they should be subject to accountability away from immunity and privileges.
In relation to the civil and political rights:
During the elapsed period of the Council of Representatives – i.e. 2006-2010 – Bahrain’s level in democratic, civil and political liberties indicate a decline from being at the level of the countries categorized as “partially free” to the countries categorized as “not free”, and this is according to the Freedom House organization. Systematic torture has been restored in Bahrain, the nightly house raids, as well as the random detainments, arbitrary arrests and unjust trials, based on Human Rights Watch and the BCHR reports. Bahrain’s level in the transparency indicator also declined and this is according to the Transparency International organization. Pursuing human rights defenders and activists and subjecting them to unjust trials increased according to the reports of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and the Frontline organization, and the International Observatory that is affiliated with the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organization against Torture (OMCT). The restrictions on printed and electronic press, and prosecuting and putting journalists on trial also increased according to the reports of the international organization of Reporters Without Borders, and the Committee to Protect Journalists. Bahrain’s position in the international category of Broadcasters without Borders fell from 111 in 2006 to 144 in 2010, and has been classified among the countries that are under observation, which is the category that precedes the countries classified as anti-internet. The local human rights organizations documented an escalation in the security forces’ use of excessive force and the policy of collective punishment against the public protests in some of the areas, including the use of suffocating gases and firearms (shotgun) as stated in the interview and letter of these organizations to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights during her visit to Bahrain in April 2010. As to all the violations related to the civil rights, the Council of Representatives failed in reforming the laws restricting public liberties, and which lay restrictions and permit all violations, and especially the articles of the State Security Law from the Penal Code of 1976, the laws related to the political societies, the Law of Assembling and the Anti-Terrorism Law. The Council also failed to issue reformed bills related to press and societies and which remained pending since the previous council. As well, the Council failed in effectively questioning the security institutes in their practices that breach international standards related to human rights. To add to that, the Council or the pro-Authority majority of its members went as far as inciting the government and the security apparatuses to become more severe in suppressing the protests, and setting down the cruelest penalties upon detainees even before they are condemned by court, and doubting international reports; this was without them paying attention to their monitoring responsibilities as representatives of the people in investigating the complaints against the government related to abuse and violations in its practices, or related to the lack of judiciary, including the Public Prosecution, independence, integrity and impartiality. Furthermore, the Council of Representatives fell short in executing the binding recommendation of the UN committee which is responsible for implementing the International Convention Against Torture in amending the laws, whereas they include the definition of torture and prosecuting its perpetrators in a manner consistent with the provisions of the Convention. The Council did not make any efforts in regards to driving the government towards implementing the other recommendations related to that Convention. The demands of one of the MPs to investigate the torture allegations went unheeded. In addition, the Council failed to question the government in regards to the report of the UN Commission on Discrimination and the recommendations it demanded the government to implement. The Council also did not put any effort to compel the government to submit its due periodic report to that International Commission since 2007. The Council of Representatives, under pressure from the Authority, was unable to form a Parliamentary committee on human rights. The King and the government neglected the bill of the MPs to form a national body for human rights according to international standards, and instead the King issued an order to form a “National Institute for Human Rights” and appointed its members, and among them are individuals whose majority are known for their loyalty and submission to the will of the Executive Authority. Joining the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights came with the initiative of the government itself, and not with an initiative or under the pressure of the Council of Representatives; and the Council did not put any effort into following up on whether or not the terms of that Covenant were being put into practice. In regards to reviewing Bahrain’s record in the field of human rights among the comprehensive review mechanism, the Council failed to have any role except in preparing the reports that precede the review sessions, in participating in the discussions that were held in two phases in Geneva, or in continuing to execute the commitments made by the government in front of the International Mechanism to guarantee achieving an international reputation. The Council left the matter to the government and its apparatuses to activate and say what they desire in that matter. Some of the human rights defenders bore the burden of presenting the other opinion within their modest potentials and were subjected to prosecution and smear campaigns later.
In regards to the economic and social rights and financial corruption:
Some of the committees formed by the Council succeeded in confirming and documenting information that was mentioned in the reports of the opposition and the human rights organizations years earlier, regarding the existence of prevalent and systematic theft of lands and public funds, and the confiscation of most of the country’s shores and widespread and systematic sabotage of the environment. The members of those Parliamentary committees noted that the government was not cooperating with them in obtaining the information, and although those committees accumulated a large number of documents that ascertain that corruption exists, the Council failed to bring these matters forth for discussion in regards to what those documents clearly demonstrated and which was the direct responsibility of the Royal Court, Prime Minister, members of the ruling family and senior officials for those violations. The government was able to circumvent what the Council’s committees revealed by forming an investigation committee and among its members were those same individuals who had been accused of corruption issues. The King then made use of his authority to end the legislative role in the shortest period possible. The environmental violations and the seizure of lands have drastically increased to the interest of those officials and influential figures without the MPs or municipal members being able to do anything to stop them, and this comes in addition to holding the ones responsible for it accountable and return its value which is estimated to be tens of billions of Bahraini Dinars from the Public Treasury. The MPs affiliated with the opposition could only turn to the King and Prime Minister to resolve those files despite knowing that they were also directly involved in those violations. On the other hand, and due to the inflation and the international increase in prices, the percentage of people suffering from low income increased, especially those who work in the private sector, under the dominance of the influential figures on this sector and the exploitation of cheap labor. The housing crisis also grew, where there are still more than 50 thousand requests awaiting housing loans, and the length of time to wait has for some, reached 18 years. The case of dilapidated housing has still not been dealt with according to the plans and promises that were presented a while before the current Council. The government deliberately failed and neglected most of the bills and proposals brought forth by the Representatives that were relevant to promoting the economic and social rights of citizens, so that the government – and not the Representatives - could appear as if they were behind the few positive projects related to the economic and social rights, and among those was the sordid inflation bonus project. While at the same time the government encouraged and supported passing the laws that secure for the MPs high income and lifetime pensions, which some interpreted as working on containing the MPs and inciting the citizens, whose majority suffer from low income, against them. Joining the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights happened with an initiative from the government itself, and not by the initiative or pressure from the Council; the Council did not put any effort into following up on implementing the terms of that Covenant. With regard to the environment, the systematic sabotage of shores and marine life not only continued but increased; the level of pollution and serious diseases also increased in the residential areas near the industrial areas such as the area of Ma’ameer. During the past years, there has been a continuous appearance of yellow clouds and horrible smells in wide areas of Bahrain without the Council being able to do anything to reveal the reasons, rather than treating it. As to the health services, the efforts of some of the MPs failed to improve those service especially in the Salmaniya Medical Center and the numbers of deaths due to genetic blood diseases have reached an unprecedented level.
In regards to combating discrimination:
The U.S Foreign Department reports related to human rights and religious freedoms, released during the same period, detected policies of sectarian discrimination against the Shiite majority. The BCHR documented an increase in the policies of sectarian discrimination in holding public posts, and in the State’s policies in employment, education and municipal services; where the percentage of Shiite in the senior posts in the country declined, under the existence of a Parliamentary institute, from 18% in 2004 to 13% in 2008. A former government adviser had disclosed before the elections of 2006 the existence of a secret plot which involves senior officials in the Royal Court and government, related to changing the demography by naturalizing tens of thousands of people on a sectarian basis, and marginalizing the Shiite sect in all aspects of life. The government suppressed the attempts of the MPs to discuss the contents of the report by the former government adviser under the pretext that the judiciary is addressing the issue and that there is a publication ban that continued for an indefinite period. The MPs also failed to reach any conclusions when they questioned Sheikh Ahmed Atyat-Allah Al-Khalifa, the State Cabinet Minister, and who – according to the report of the former government adviser – is standing at the head of the network running the sectarian plot. The MPs were not able to obtain any official statistics and figures related to naturalization or employment in the government sector, and this limited their ability to document the practiced policies of sectarian discrimination, let alone their ability to counter those policies. The Council of Representatives failed to pass a law that criminalizes discrimination, as the majority of the pro-Authority members stood against such a law, although there is a binding recommendation from the UN Special Commission overseeing the implementation of the Convention against Racial Discrimination. The Council had, in addition, failed to drive the government towards adhering to implementing the recommendations released by that committee, and it even failed to push the government towards submitting its due report since 2008, related to applying that Convention. The Ministry of Interior threatened two MPs from the Wefaq bloc with imprisonment because they discussed discrimination at US Congress and in the UN conference on fighting discrimination, while the Council failed to defend these two members, and members of the Council even contributed in an incitement campaign against all who “smear the reputation of the country abroad”. The government succeeded in preventing MPs from obtaining information related to naturalization and employment in the government sector with the justification that it violates the personal rights of those who have been naturalized or employed.
The reasons of failure and the necessary action:
The report of the BCHR concludes that Council of Representatives in the previous period suffered from problems in its structure and jurisdictions. This is due to the constitution of 2002 released by the King, which was quite controversial, in addition to the laws related to the electoral districts and the practice of political rights, and the bylaw of the Council, and granting immediate political rights to the naturalized who have been granted the citizenship exceptionally and on a sectarian basis; all this made the Council under the full dominance of the government, and thus unable to carry out its legislative and observatory tasks in a manner which promotes human rights. Hence, despite the participation of a large portion of the opposition in the elections of 2006, and the Wefaq National Islamic opposition society obtaining 62% of votes, this percentage of votes has turned into an ineffective minority in the Council due to the unjust distribution of electoral districts and due to the executive officials’ ability to accumulate the votes of all other blocs and independent members to their interest in the crucial cases and issues, and the role the Council’s presidency played in setting down obstacles before the initiatives of some of the MPs to activate the questioning and observation. This led to the Council being divided on a sectarian basis, which made it grow weaker and increased the government’s dominance over it. The Council of Representatives, in the past period, not only failed in making constitutional reforms which grants it more jurisdictions, but it also stopped the majority of its members from making any real amendments in the internal regulations that serve that approach. Despite the statistical majority of the opposition in the Council of Representatives, the government had the Shura Council, in addition to the rampant jurisdictions to the King; which serve as a second and third defense line for its interests and which holds back the will of the Council. Therefore, the Council of Representatives in Bahrain has not been and will not be able to carry out any observatory or legislative roles that promote human rights effectively without the ruling regime having the political will to change or without amendments made in the constitution or electoral districts, where the Council can represent the citizens in a fair manner, and the Council can achieve genuine independence from the Executive Authority. This cannot happen under the light of the current unbalanced division of electoral districts, the rapid movement of political naturalization, the government’s dominance over the electoral process and the Supreme Judiciary Council that it runs, the presence of an appointed Shura Council and the King’s jurisdictions which are considered the safety valve to the interest of the senior government officials on the account of promoting human rights, whether civil, political, economic, social or cultural. Despite all that, the elected MPs for the upcoming four years, and the appointed members of the Shura Council have a major responsibility in carrying out their legislative role in reforming the laws that contradict international standards of human rights; as well as to activate their monitoring role in inducing the Executive Authority towards carrying out its responsibilities related to all rights; whether civil, political, economic, social or cultural. They also have the responsibility of defying the breaches and violations practiced by the government apparatuses against public liberties and the fundamental rights of citizens, which Bahrain adheres to among the International Conventions. This is in addition to not yielding to the counter influences and pressures. The citizens, civil society institutes, media and international committee should carry out their role in urging the MPs to carry out their responsibilities and cooperate with them in achieving that and then to evaluate their performance. The Full Report (Arabic)(PDF) ---  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 21: (1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. (2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country. (3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.