Q&A: The Human Rights Situation in Bahrain

June 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

In a blog comment, Jan Ryan asks:

Do you ever think the Human Rights situation in Bahrain will improve? It is a tragedy.

First off, I want to thank Jan for the question. The issue of human rights in Bahrain is important to me personally, as well as to the government. As you may know, I was instrumental in the founding of the Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society – an independent organization that aims to promote a culture of human rights in the Kingdom and promoting dialogue between the many cultures that call Bahrain home. This experience has made me keenly interested in making Bahrain a better country for all its people.

In February and March 2011, Bahrain faced a challenge unprecedented in its history. In responding to the unrest, Bahrain made many mistakes and did many things we are not proud of. I think what distinguishes Bahrain from other countries in the region is the way we responded to and learned from these mistakes. It is particularly worthwhile to note that His Majesty the King invited an independent panel of human rights experts – the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry – to examine what happened in Bahrain and to provide recommendations for how to address specific problems. The government has made substantial progress in implementing the Commission’s recommendations – so far, 18 have been fully implemented – and is committed to continuing work on those that remain. Earlier today, His Highness the Deputy Prime Minister announced his support for the establishment of a supreme committee to implement recommendations from the UN Human Rights Commission as well.

Bahrain has always been and still is widely considered to be the most progressive country in the Arabian Gulf. Over our history, we have set a strong human rights example for the region. Women first obtained the right to vote in municipal elections in 1934 and the government has repeatedly pushed to expand civil rights for women over the past several decades. The government supported progressive amendments to Bahrain’s family law that would provide women with additional rights. The opposition not only opposed the law, but mobilized its supporters in the streets against it. As a home to many people of many faiths, Bahrain also encourages freedom of religion. In addition to thousands of mosques, Bahrain is proud to be home to churches, Sikh and Hindu temples, and a synagogue. Like any other country, we are not perfect, but Bahrain is working hard to make the changes necessary to heal our society.

Despite assertions to the contrary, the reform process in Bahrain has been ongoing since it was initiated 11 years ago. The government recognizes that more work remains to be done. The only way forward is through an inclusive, multilateral, comprehensive dialogue that engages all segments of Bahraini society. Over the past 16 months, the government has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to engage in dialogue with all Bahrainis while the opposition has made excuse after excuse in order to absolve it of any responsibility for progress. During the unrest, His Royal Highness the Crown Prince called for dialogue without preconditions to address the legitimate aspirations of all Bahrainis. The opposition rejected this offer out of hand. They also withdrew from the National Dialogue last July, boycotted parliamentary elections last September and refused to participate in the National Commission to implement the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry Report. I would once again call upon the opposition to sit down in meaningful dialogue to resolve our issues peacefully.

Thank you again for your question and I am very much looking forward to answering more in the future.

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