x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Bahrain tells UNHRC it will 'reform and uphold human rights'

Bahrain tells United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva that it will work toward further reforms, however violent expressions of dissent will not be permitted.

Bahrain's government yesterday vowed to uphold human rights and work toward further reform, while noting that violent expressions of dissent would not be permitted.

"We welcome peaceful expressions of disagreement, but not incitements to hatred and violence which damage the social fabric of a nation," the country's foreign minister, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, told the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

He said his government would implement 145 of the 176 measures proposed by the rights body. The measures included provisions to improve the treatment of political activists, offer fair trials and ensure religious freedom. "Our actions, more than our words, should dispel any doubts regarding my government's commitment to upholding human rights through the rule of law," Sheikh Khalid told the council.

His statements came during the second session of a review of Bahrain's rights record at the council.

Bahrain is now the first nation to undergo the full review process, intended to examine the records of all 47 members of the council in 2008 and last year.

The foreign minister's statement cited several areas of progress in Bahrain since an uprising rocked the country last year, including compensation for families of 17 people killed in the protests and a revamped penal code. But he criticised alleged vandalism and throwing of Molotov cocktails in continuing protests by opposition activists.

The United States, represented at the meeting by its under secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labour, Michael Posner, said that Bahrain was at a "crossroads". Despite progress he said, "much more needs to be done".

Several local human-rights groups attending the session painted a less optimistic picture during the meeting and expressed frustration at the pace of reform.

"Human-rights organisations have continued to document the deteriorating human-rights situation in the country," said Maryam Al Khawaja, acting president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.

She said the police use of excessive force on protests, and that arbitrary detention and intimidation of activists continued.

Two previous heads of her organisation are currently in prison for charges related to illegal gathering and political activism.

Nada Dhaif, founder of the Bahrain Rehabilitation and Anti-Violence Organisation, said that arrests of protesters had devastated many communities.

"There are no men left; most of them are behind bars. The women are left with no income," she told the panel. Back in Bahrain, the opposition reaction to the session was mixed.

A statement posted on the website of Al Wefaq, the largest opposition bloc, lamented a lack of reform, calling Bahrain the "graveyard of human rights".

But former opposition parliamentarian Jasim Hussein, who also spoke in Geneva, said by phone that he was hopeful.

"This shows that human rights matters to them," he said. "This cannot be overlooked ... But I feel we don't have the luxury of time to solve our problems very slowly. We have to move ahead."

In addition to adopting the Human Rights Council's recommendations, Bahrain accepted proposals to allow a UN rapporteur to visit the country.

Sheikh Khalid also promised to independently submit an interim report on progress before the council's next meeting on Bahrain, which has yet to be scheduled.

edickinson@thenatonal.ae