Reviewing a year for human rights

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The opening of the 32nd session of the UN Human Rights Council is a good moment to look back over a year of developments concerning human rights in Bahrain. As the below report demonstrates, there have been important developments such as parliamentary approval of CEDAW and domestic violence legislation and important work by the Ombudsman’s Office and other human rights institutions. However, there have also been challenges and setbacks.

June 2015

Ombudsman’s Office report: The Ombudsman reported a 375% increase in the number of complaints it handled, with a growing number of cases being referred to the courts and other legal bodies for further action. The office’s work has been recognized by the prestigious Challiot Prize for promoting human rights.

Religious freedom report: The report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom praised the Bahrain authorities for “demonstrable progress in rebuilding mosques and religious structures” damaged during the unrest: “The government increased to approximately $8m the amount to rebuild Shi’a mosques and religious structures, nearly twice what it pledged in 2012. It also moved the deadline from 2018 to the end of 2014 to complete the construction of the 30 destroyed structures identified in the BICI report… 14 mosques had been rebuilt, eight by the government and six by the Shi’a community and 13 others were approximately 80-90% complete. The government helped secure legal permits for the six structures built by the Shi’a community.”

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Should Al-Wefaq Islamic Society be closed down?

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The 14 June announcement by the Bahrain Justice Ministry of the closing down of Al-Wefaq Islamic Society quickly gained strong reactions from both those supporting and opposing the decision.

For many Bahrainis, Al-Wefaq is the main entity responsible for stirring up sectarian tensions and fuelling the 2011 unrest. To them, this is a long-overdue move which will silence the clerical figures who have done so much to incite instability and undermine Bahrain internally and externally.

Others view this move against Al-Wefaq Islamic Society in the context of the King’s ratification of a law banning clerics from involvement in politics. Should a movement dominated by clerics have a place in a political system committed to the separation of religion and politics, democratization and a progressive constitution?

Participants in the political process should as a basic prerequisite have a clear national and non-sectarian agenda while not being subject to any form of foreign influence.

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On 1 June the Ombudsman’s Office submitted its third annual 2015-16 report to the Minister of the Interior. The report welcomed the fact that there had been no public casualties as a result of rioting and public order incidents – resulting in a sharp fall in the number of complaints submitted to the Ombudsman regarding such occurrences.

The full report, which can be found here, includes comprehensive statistics for all aspects of the Ombudsman’s work over the past year, as well as a number of case studies, including cases where allegations of mistreatment were upheld.

The Office was established by Royal Decree as one of the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry in 2011. This independent office within the Ministry of the Interior is mandated to investigate all complaints and requests submitted to it by the public. Its sister organization, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) is tasked with “carrying out criminal investigations into unlawful or negligent acts resulting in the deaths, torture and mistreatment of civilians”.

From 1 May 2015 – 30 April 2016 the Ombudsman received 908 investigation requests (687 assistance requests and 305 complaints), a 375% increase on the previous year; increasing by 9% to 992 requests during the current report period.

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Citizens for Bahrain asked a range of Bahrainis across different parts of the country what they thought of the new law banning clerics from membership of political societies or any kind of direct involvement in politics.

Most Bahrainis were very supportive of the new law and only a couple of those interviewed saw the involvement of clerics in politics as a good thing. Most people felt that the participation of Sunni and Shia clerics in political issues had increased sectarian tensions and led to an undue level of influence for ideological agendas.

A range of the views expressed are included below.

Citizens for Bahrain’s reporting about this new law can be found at the link here.

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