Britain - A friend and a strong ally to the GCC

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Prime Minister Theresa May’s visit to Bahrain

 

The visit of UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May to Bahrain to join the GCC Summit is truly a landmark for the ties between the GCC countries and the United Kingdom. The fact that this comes in amongst a flurry of high-level official British visits to Bahrain – including Prince Charles and the Foreign Secretary, and so recently after King Hamad’s visit to the United Kingdom – is a signal that we are at a high point for the bilateral relationship, as we mark 200 years of this historic partnership. And long may it continue.

As the first British Prime Minister to attend a GCC summit – along with being the first female head of state to participate – this is a historic occasion. The United Kingdom is clearly emphasizing its seriousness for strengthening its ties with the region. Britain’s support, solidarity and friendship make it reasonable for us to look to the United Kingdom as the seventh GCC State – in spirit, if not by treaty!

In response to those usual critics who are hostile towards any kind of relationship with the GCC States, 10 Downing Street issued a press releases stating “We achieve far more by stepping up, engaging with these countries and working with them to encourage and support their plans for reform.”

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Family Law - A necessity for Bahraini society

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The Family Law has already proved its worth in Bahrain as a central pillar for protecting the rights of women in legal family disputes such as divorce, child custody, domestic violence, inheritance and other essential facets of life.

However, through no fault of their own, Shia women and families are currently excluded from enjoying the benefits of such a law. Here we will briefly look at why this is the case and why this matters:

In Bahrain we have two courts concerned with family issues based on Shariah law; the Sunni courts and the Jaafari (Shia) courts; reflecting the traditional legal differences in these religious schools of thought. 

In 2008, Bahrain succeeded in passing a Sunni Family Law. However, Shia legislators blocked efforts towards either a unified Family Law, or a Jaafari Family Law. These MPs claimed that the proposed bill contradicted religious teachings. However, their critics said that these Shia Islamist MPs had rejected the move because it lessened the ability of clerics to have influence over the private lives of local communities.

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On 21 November, Amnesty International issued a 55-page report investigating two Bahraini institutions for addressing human rights abuses – the Ombudsman’s Office and the Special Investigations Unit. The report was entitled: Window dressing or pioneers of change?

A review of Amnesty’s report into the Ombudsman’s Office can be found here.

The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) was established by the Public Prosecutor in March 2012 in response to BICI recommendations 1716 and 1722, with a mandate to determine the criminal liability of officials responsible for physical abuse and other illegal acts. Following its investigation, the SIU can bring criminal charges against the suspected perpetrator and refer them for trial before the courts or refer the matter to another government authority to impose disciplinary sanctions.

Amnesty noted that “the powers of the SIU have increased since 2014 when the head of the SIU was given the rank of Attorney General, enabling him to refer criminal prosecutions directly to the courts for trial without first obtaining the PPO’s approval.”

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Action needed after the Financial Audit Bureau report

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In the past few years the Financial Audit Bureau has done a commendable job in highlighting shortcomings of Government institutions through its comprehensive annual reports, presented to the leadership and announced to the public.

While this is a step in the right direction for Bahrain’s reform efforts, there is a need for action and for the public to have confidence that there are real consequences for management shortcomings and corruption. 

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