On Tuesday 14 June 2016, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), in conjunction with the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), and the European Centre for Democracy & Human Rights (ECDHR) and partner sponsors, held a panel discussion at the 32nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva titled “Comparing Technical Cooperation Programmes in Bahrain.”
Jeremie Smith, Director of the Geneva Office at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) moderated the panel. He opened the event by thanking participants despite the difficulties faced by the recent travel bans preventing Ebrahim Demistani, from the Bahrain Nursing Association and Husain Radhi, from the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, from joining the panel.
Amanda Milani, UN Liaison at ADHRB, began by speaking about the overall situation in Bahrain. She then discussed Bahrain’s lack of political will to cooperate with OHCHR, despite their public announcement of such commitment. There has not been an agreed programme of cooperation with OHCHR, which means that there have been no practical outcomes. She then spoke about the recent bilateral cooperation agreement between Bahrain and the Government of Switzerland, arguing that these agreements need to outline concrete benchmarks which show genuine actions to improve the human rights situation on the ground. There are systematic and continuous violations on the ground, which are outlined by ADHRB’s recent report. She ended her speech by stating that the Human Rights Council must react to this; there have been five different HRC Joint Statements which remain largely unaddressed.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at BIRD, first discussed recent developments in Bahrain, including the travel ban preventing civil society from participating in the 32nd session of the Human Rights Council and the arrest of human rights defender Nabeel Rajab. He then spoke about the lack of implementation of the BICI recommendations before giving examples of torture. He stated that torture is still taking place systematically in Bahrain and that there is a serious lack of accountability. Following this, he discussed the UK technical assistance to Bahraini institutions, such as the Ombudsman, NIHR, PDRC, stating that UK assistance has been ineffectual in bringing these institutions into conformity with international standards. Finally, he ended his speech by discussing the case of Mohammed Ramadan, a Bahraini prisoner sentenced to death on the basis of a coerced confession.
Sara Katrine Brandt, Policy and Research Officer at CIVICUS, began her speech by discussing her work on Bahrain, in particular on shrinking civil society space, attacks on journalists, and the criminalisation of national and international human rights groups. She stated that the attack on community activism in Bahrain is very concerning. She then argued that while international pressure is working, it is getting more and more difficult, and it is unfortunate to see how repression by the Bahraini government is becoming more emboldened. The forced exile of Zainab Al-Khawaja and the arrest of Nabeel Rajab on the first day of the of the Human Rights Council are serious signs of deterioration that indicate that the government has no intention of conducting reform or respecting human rights. Sara closed by stating that the situation has deteriorated so gravely that the Human Rights Council must pass a resolution on human rights in Bahrain.
The final speaker was Nicholas McGeehan, the Bahrain, Qatar and United Arab Emirates researcher at Human Rights Watch, who joined the discussion on Skype. He began by giving an overall picture of the recent abuses in the country before briefly discussing the different institutions in Bahrain and their ineffectiveness. He stated that the lack of accountability in Bahrain is a clear sign that these institutions fundamentally do not work. Torture is still ongoing because there is no accountability.
A brief Q&A session followed the discussion.