The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 1948. Two years later, it was agreed that date should mark a moment in the calendar to remember the world of the need and the importance of human rights.
In commemorating Human Rights Day, it is necessary to reflect on the human rights situation in Bahrain. As Human Rights Watch made clear in their November report, "The Blood of People Who Don't Cooperate", torture is still a favorite weapon used by Bahraini security forces to silence political and human rights dissidents.
Ever since pro-democracy protests erupted in the country in February 2011, the Bahraini government has cracked down on those it deems as threats to its security and stability. In its attempts to silence peaceful opposition, the government considers every measure valid: securing confessions with torture, stripping citizenship and even imposing false charges of terrorism on those who try to exercise their freedom of speech peacefully.
This October, the United Kingdom began constructing a new, permanent naval base in Bahrain, with significant financial support given by King Hamad’s government. The base marks the return of British forces to the area 44 years after Bahrain declared independence from Britain in 1971. Both Bahraini and British media reported it as a pinnacle moment in the relationship between the two kingdoms and the new beginnings of an even closer alliance.
No sooner had construction began than British government officials came out to whitewash their new ally’s image . British MPs commended Bahrain’s transparency on security and human rights. British delegate and member of the Parliament Sir Alan Duncan told Bahrainis that “those who accuse Bahrain should be more informed before criticizing.” To which I ask, how much more informed do torture survivors, asylum seekers and the stateless need to be before we can criticize Bahrain?
Global human rights organizations keep a close watch on Bahrain's record of abuse, torture and prosecution of all opposition. As the above-mentioned HRW report stated, the authorities have shown no substantive interest in stopping the sorts of abuses the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry documented in 2011. For this reason, the UK's funding and support should be suspended until it is assured that Bahrain is fully complying with the recommendations and completely embracing a human rights culture and policy: this means stopping torture, compensating victims, releasing prisoners of conscience and having a real negotiation with the political opposition societies. For Bahrainis, seeing Britain build a naval base in our country demonstrates how little our rights and lives matter to them compared to their own geopolitical and economic interests.
On 16th November, Bahrain's Court of Cassation rejected the final appeal of two death row inmates, which means that the sentence could be carried out at any time. Both men confessed under conditions of torture to involvement in the death of a police officer.
Hundreds of people have been stripped of their Bahraini nationality in 2015 alone. Such punishments and practices are clear violations of our rights to a fair trial, to not be tortured and to not be rendered stateless. But Bahrain keeps relying on these methods to punish government oppositors who think differently.
The authorities in Bahrain are fully aware of the violations they are committing, and their use of state-sponsored violence is reprehensible. The same goes for all of those foreign powers who overlook moral and ethical issues in favor of strategic and commercial interests and benefits.
What else has to happen for the international community to put pressure on Bahraini authorities to fully comply with human rights? How far does a government which clearly represses its opposition have to go before its allies take action?