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International Human Rights Law


The international community has unanimously agreed to the fact that human rights are basic to all individuals and should be accorded at all levels of humanity. However, the diversity of the world people and their differences based on religion, personalities, views, political orientation among others have led to continuous conflicts and more difficult environment for peace in the world. Respective governments and bodies in states and other jurisdictions have often been accused of favouritism and eventual support for oppression of some of the groups within their respective jurisdictions. Cases of minority groups rising to power and eventually using their positions to frustrate and oppress the majority groups are common. A recent example of such situation is experienced in Bahrain.

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The Bahraini Situation

Bahrain is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. It is ruled through a dynasty with the Al Khalifa family taking the leadership of the nation that is comprised of islands. As it is one of the nations that embraced early Islam, Islam is the dominant religion there, and Bahrain remains one of the most important countries to Islam in the world today. However, it is on the basis of religion that the country has seen some of the most intense social divisions that have built up since 1990s. Despite the country’s accent to ICCPR in 2006, the same political tensions remained strong and have caused renewed unrests since 2011.

The inequalities and poor treatment of the majority Shias led to the beginning of an uprising, which has lasted to date. The government was then accused of targeting medical personnel who treated the people injured during protests. A report highlighted that physicians were not only beaten but also were abused and threatened while state security personnel stole ambulances posing as medical teams in order to discriminately offer help to their favoured Sunnis. The report also noted that there was extensive use of excessive force, and unarmed civilians were continuously beaten up and assaulted by government forces. In November, 2011, a report by the Bahraini Independent Commission of Inquiry admitted that there was indeed an abuse of human rights by government agencies during the unrest, citing torture, psychological and physical abuse of detainees. After these events, medical workers were put to jail for jail terms ranging from 5 to 15 years on the grounds of their involvement in the uprisings.

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In the wake of these activities, the global Human Rights Watch as well as other organisations from the international community established the roles of the government in the violation of human rights in Bahrain. They employed taskforces that were mandated to end any possible oppression of civilians by the government and to ensure that there was better integration amongst the people.

Efforts by the International Human Rights Community

Identification of the Violations

The starting point to end injustices is through identifying them, their causes, and their effects. Since embarking on the process of trying to establish different violation of human rights groups in Bahrain, human rights groups have identified the main forms of oppression. They classified them into two main groups: the first being through the process of law enforcement and administration of justice, and the second being the provision of basic political rights. With these two main categories, the groups have offered recommendations to the different stakeholder institutions, including the United States government and the United Kingdom, as both countries support the current Bahraini government.

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Highlights of ICCPR Violation

In order to end the hostilities in Bahrain, human rights groups have prepared reports highlighting different violations of human rights by the government to its people, so as to invite the international community to quell the animosity. The international communities who subscribe to ICCPR have the right and liberty to indulge themselves in the war and try to find a solution if they find out that one of the member states has violated it. By exposing the atrocities, human rights groups provide the international community with the proof of indulgence.

Freedom of Expression

Today, there are estimated 4000 detainees or prisoners in Bahrain due to their choices of expression, thoughts, or assembly. The Bahrain 13 is an appreciable example, with all of them being in their current positions due to their expressions and thoughts. Six people were condemned to life sentence, two of them serve five years, and the other four serve fifteen years. Habib Mohammad was condemned to sixty eight years in prison. They were all convicted in relation to the 2011 uprising. They have accused the government of poor conditions in prison and false charges. By false allegations, the government violates article 14 of ICCPR, which gives any individual a right to fair trial. The alleged torture inside prison also violates article 7, which protects prisoners or any other individual from torture. Also, article 10 is specific about the rights of a prisoner, which have been violated to most of the prisoners and detainees.

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In addition to these cases, a recent development where the government passed laws that criminalised any insult against the king was met with discontent. Twitter, which is a forum for expression of one’s thought, provides one with protection from any accusation, as long as they are done within the legal framework. Four men were jailed for four months for criticising the king’s dictatorship; and although the tweet was not personally directed to the king, it was deemed enough to earn them jail term. Freedom of expression is protected in the ICCPR in article 19.

Freedom of Assembly

Article 21 of the ICCPR protects the freedom of people to assembly of their choice. However, the situation in Bahrain saw the freedom being violated massively in 2011, when government agencies arrested and charged over 200 individuals for what was termed as their participation in illegal demonstrations. They were consequently convicted either for single counts of the crime or for separate charges. Activists were among the most victims as they protested against the government; at times, the police was opening fire at unarmed activists and protesters. The parliament would quickly pass laws that restricted any form of demonstration, especially in Manama, and has successfully ensured that the incidents of 2011 are not repeated. These laws would ban demonstrations citing terrorism and security, but they would be aimed at ensuring that the protesters are unable to carry out their activities. 

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Freedom of Association

The ICCPR highlights the freedom of association as fundamental, and in its political tolerance, demands that people be offered the freedom in article 22. However, this was compromised by a 2013 law that demanded that any Bahraini political party meeting a foreigner should be overseen by a government official by attending. Political societies were therefore dealt a blow by the law, as the law has already seen many negative outcomes. The law further makes it difficult to register any new NGO, which commits to humanitarian or political works. Rejection of the applications to form such parties and associations is now common and supported by the local laws and their enforcers.

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Freedom of Religion

Although the Bahraini constitution appreciates and provides for freedom of worship in the constitution, it fails to protect freedom of religion. It respects the religion but clearly discriminates the Shia communities in the parliament, ensuring that they remain a minority even in electoral positions. While people who practice other religions apart from Shia are left to do it freely, the Shias are always monitored by the government. During the Arab Spring in 2011, the government destroyed Shia mosques, but protected themselves by justification of destroying illegal buildings. The government further ensures that the Shias have no numerical advantage in parliament through sly means. In Shia-dominated regions, the government ascertains that large populations have few political jurisdictions while ensuring that Sunni-dominated regions have fewer voters but many positions. Therefore, Shia populations have large numbers of votes but fewer representatives.

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Successes of the Human Rights Groups

Establishment of a Bahraini Commission of Enquiry

The cries from human rights groups put pressure on the Bahraini King and his government to establish a commission of enquiry to determine the actual events of the unrest and possible consequences. From the report, the commission highlighted the history of the unrest, the past tensions, and eventually, on the latest tension that ensued between the two sides, the Sunni and the Shia. It also provided a list of the people who died due to the unrest, including those who died from police bullets and other brutality. The report further gives recommendations that might present better strategies to deal with the two peoples and provide better lives and provision of rights for citizens. In this regard, the government is tasked with implementing the recommendations because they came from their agency, thus, increasing the chances of adherence to the ICCPR guidelines.

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The UN Involvement

The efforts of human rights groups in Bahrain attracted the attention of United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). They held meetings that aimed at ensuring better and more productive efforts towards restoring human rights in Bahrain. With such participating bodies, it is easier to address the dire conditions of the Bahraini oppressed population since they look at the interest of the population without jeopardising the sovereignty of the kingdom. They would induce the king and his leadership to guide Bahrain according to the ICCPR agreement.

National Institution for Human Rights

The government also increased its activities over human rights watch through the establishment of National Institution for Human Rights. Though it is controlled by the government and may not be independent, it already published a report admitting that there was violation of human rights in Bahrain. The body would coerce the government to own up some of the errors they made, if not all of them. It would also provide a body to work with the international community instead of working with the government in ensuring that ICCPR guidelines are followed.











Establishment of the Ombudsman’s Office

The establishment of the ombudsman’s office in 2012 was a highlight of struggles that brought positive results. Although the office was established under the ministry of internal affairs, which is also responsible for the prison and police departments diluting its independence, it already appreciated the poor living conditions in prisons. This is a positive step towards the development of a framework that could help ease some of the pans that prisoners go through while serving sentences. It could be the first step into committing to the ICCPR regulations over the treatment of prisoners while in detention and in prison.

Investigative Roles

Human rights groups managed to unearth more issues than the government despite taking responsibility over wrongdoings. As they followed up on issues in prisons, the groups learnt and consequently alerted global leaders that juveniles were also treated unfairly while in detention. They accessed information that showed how young people were held together with adults, which contravenes any juvenile detention laws. In these facilities, the children are treated poorly and end up failing to make important steps in their lives. In Bahrain, the most highlighted case involved a juvenile who was detained for too long and eventually missed his final high school exams. This is a big contravention with the ICCPR principles, which holds children rehabilitation highly, and any action that fails to fulfil this or worsens the character of the children should be condemned. Through human rights activism, such cases are identified, and involved individuals or agencies are put to pressure of taking responsibility. 

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The Bahraini experience is vital in the modern international society, exhibiting how governments and powerful class create systems that oppress their own people, frustrating their efforts of liberation. Since they have the necessary legal machinery, they use it to their advantage and to the oppression of the weaker groups. They also create environments where there is little or even no adherence to international treaties, such as those evidenced in Bahrain. During such oppressive regimes, human rights groups are tasked with the responsibility of unearthing any activities by the government to ensure that the right steps are taken, most likely by the international bodies such as the United Nation. The groups have a vital role in ensuring that oppressive systems are eliminated. Although they face systematic frustrations, human rights advocates manage to cement their positions in the society and make positive changes.

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