Human rights in Bahrain
|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
The government of Bahrain has marginalized the native Shia Muslim population. Torture and forced disappearances are common in Bahrain. The crackdown on protesters during the 2011 Arab Spring has brought further human rights complaints, including the destruction of dozens of long-standing Shia mosques.
The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry was established on 29 June 2011 by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to assess the incidents that occurred in the Kingdom during the period of unrest in February and March 2011 and the consequences of these events. The report was released on 23 November of that year and confirmed that there were some incidents of physical and psychological abuse on detainees. It has been criticized for not disclosing the names of individual perpetrators of abuses and extending accountability only to those who actively carried out human rights violations.
- 1 Stateless people
- 2 Torture
- 3 Sectarianism
- 4 Bahraini uprising (2011–present)
- 5 Civil and political rights
- 6 Freedom of speech
- 7 Freedom of Association
- 8 Bandargate
- 9 Freedom of religion
- 10 Women's rights and gender
- 11 Labor
- 12 Human rights NGOs
- 13 National human rights institution
- 14 See also
- 15 References
- 16 External links
There is a growing problem of stateless people, known as Bedoon, who are descendants of Iranians (especially ethnic Persians) who have lived in Bahrain for many decades. Most of Bahrain's stateless are Muslims, some of Bahrain's stateless are Christians.
In Bahrain, stateless people are denied the right to hold legal residency, are not allowed the right to travel abroad, buy houses, and to hold government jobs. They are also not allowed to own land, start a business and borrow loans. Recently, the Bahraini government issued regulations preventing them from sending their children to public schools and to receive free medical care. The stateless can also get deported at any time. Since the beginning of the 1980s, the Bahraini government has deported hundreds of Bedoon to Iran.
According to a 2011 report by Human Rights Watch, between 2007 and 2009, the government regularly practiced torture and ill-treatment in interrogating security suspects. Although government spokesmen have issued denials, there is no evidence of criminal investigations and the government has not imposed disciplinary measures on the alleged perpetrators.
In 2011, Human Rights Watch claimed to have found evidence that protections for migrant workers have improved.
Majority of the citizen population of Bahrain are Shia Muslims. The ruling Al Khalifa family, who are supported by the UK and the US, arrived in Bahrain from Qatar at the end of the eighteenth century. Shiites alleged that the Al Khalifa failed to gain legitimacy in Bahrain and established a system of "political apartheid based on racial, sectarian, and tribal discrimination." Vali Nasr, a leading expert on Middle East and Islamic world said "For Shi'ites, Sunni rule has been like living under apartheid".
According to the The Christian Science Monitor, Bahrain is practicing "a form of sectarian apartheid by not allowing Shiites to hold key government posts or serve in the police or military. In fact, the security forces are staffed by Sunnis from Syria and Pakistan who also get fast-tracked to Bahraini citizenship, much to the displeasure of the indigenous Shiite population."
According to the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, while the Shiites exceeds 70% of the population, "they occupy less than 18% of total top jobs in government establishments. In several government ministries and corporations no Shiite is appointed in leading jobs."
Jobs in the police and armed forced are reserved for Sunni. Sunni Saudis are admitted to Bahrain as citizens to fill these jobs. Shiites and "some Sunnis of Persian origins", are banned from residing in the city of Riffa, where only the Sunni Muslims are permitted to live.
There are also concerns of the Bahraini government's systematic efforts to diminish the Shia majority by promotion of immigration of Sunni Muslims and granting them citizenship. According to Dr. Saeeid Shahabi, a London-based journalist, "there is the problem of political naturalization. The ruling family -- similar to the Apartheid regime in South Africa, where you had a minority ruling a majority -- wants to change the demographic situation of the country."
On 28 April 2007, the lower house of Bahraini Parliament passed a law banning unmarried migrant workers from living in residential areas. To justify the law MP Nasser Fadhala, a close ally of the government said "bachelors also use these houses to make alcohol, run prostitute rings or to rape children and housemaids".
Sadiq Rahma, technical committee head, who is a member of Al Wefaq said: "The rules we are drawing up are designed to protect the rights of both the families and the Asian bachelors (..) these labourers often have habits which are difficult for families living nearby to tolerate (..) they come out of their homes half dressed, brew alcohol illegally in their homes, use prostitutes and make the neighbourhood dirty (..) these are poor people who often live in groups of 50 or more, crammed into one house or apartment," said Mr Rahma. "The rules also state that there must be at least one bathroom for every five people (..) there have also been cases in which young children have been sexually molested."
Bahrain Centre for Human Rights issued a press release condemning this decision as discriminatory and promoting negative racist attitudes towards migrant workers. Nabeel Rajab, then BCHR vice president, said: It is appalling that Bahrain is willing to rest on the benefits of these people’s hard work, and often their suffering, but that they refuse to live with them in equality and dignity. The solution is not to force migrant workers into ghettos, but to urge companies to improve living conditions for workers – and not to accommodate large numbers of workers in inadequate space, and to improve the standard of living for them.
There was a flurry of race hate messages sent to naturalized Bahrainis from developing countries after opposition political leaders alleged that immigration was tantamount to ‘cultural genocide’. In November 2006, Al Ayam published a collection of threats sent to naturalized citizens warning that they would have to ‘choose between the suitcase and the coffin’, promising ‘Death and fire are your destiny’ and another warned that the author hated all naturalized Bahrainis, "You are detested. You have taken from us, the sons of Bahrain, our homes, jobs and education opportunities. You will face the same destiny as the Egyptians in Iraq [after the end of the Iraq-Iran war]. It will be nails, hammers and a coffin. Your destiny is near."
According to Human Rights Watch, Bahrain's personal status law (Law 19/2009), adopted in 2009 and marriage, divorce, custody, and inheritance cases, applies only to Sunnis although women's groups believe that it should treat all citizens equally.
Criticism of Bahraini government
Among the journalists, authors and human rights activists who have criticized Bahrain's system as apartheid are Mansoor Al-Jamri, former editor of the Bahraini newspaper Alwasat, the Voice of Bahrian, Saeed Shahabi of the Bahrain Freedom Movement, Iranian Press TV, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, Irshad Manji, Shibil Siddiqi, Ameen Izzadeen, Ben Cohen, Professor Staci Strobl, Ali Akbar Salehi, the Foreign Minister of Iran.
In 1996 the UK newspaper The Guardian stated that, "if Bahrain is to preserve its reputation as a financial and service center in the Gulf, then the government must begin to forge a new national consensus and end the apartheid against the Shi'ites".
Calls for an election boycott
In 2010 the Al-Wafa Islamic Movement, Haq Movement and Bahrain Freedom Movement called for a boycott of the October 23 election to the Bahraini Council of Representatives on the grounds that participation would be "tantamount to accepting the unjust sectarian apartheid system."
Bahraini uprising (2011–present)
In February 2011, the tensions between the Sunni ruling minority and the Shi'a majority spilled over into street protests which was violently suppressed by police forces, resulting in multiple civilian deaths. McClatchy Newspapers/csmonitor.com reported that as of mid-May 2011,
Authorities have held secret trials where protesters have been sentenced to death, arrested prominent mainstream opposition politicians, jailed nurses and doctors who treated injured protesters, seized the health care system that had been run primarily by Shiites, fired 1,000 Shiite professionals and canceled their pensions, detained students and teachers who took part in the protests, beat and arrested journalists, and forced the closure of the only opposition newspaper.
Physicians for Human Rights reported that during the 2011 uprising the Bahraini government initiated systematic and targeted attacks against medical personnel who had witnessed government atrocities while treating civilian protesters. In a report titled Do No Harm: A Call for Bahrain to End Systematic Attacks on Doctors and Patients, released in April 2011, Physicians for Human Rights documented violations of medical neutrality including the beating, abuse, and threatening of Shi’a physicians at Salmaniya Hospital; government security forces stealing ambulances and posing as medics; the militarization of hospitals and clinics, thus obstructing medical care; and rampant fear that prevented patients from seeking urgent medical treatment. Other key findings in the report included the use of excessive force against unarmed civilians and violent assaults on civilian detainees by government authorities and security forces.
In May 2011, Richard Sollom, Deputy Director of Physicians for Human Rights, testified before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a bipartisan caucus of the US House of Representatives, at a hearing on Bahrain. He reported the abuses documented by Physicians for Human Rights and called upon Congress to take a stronger stance against human rights violations in Bahrain.
An estimated 1000 Bahrainis have been detained since the uprising and Bahraini and international human rights groups have documented hundreds of cases of torture and abuse of Shia detainees. According to csmonitor.org, the government has gone beyond the crushing of political dissent to what "appears" to be an attempt to "psychologically humiliating the island’s Shiite majority into silent submission."
The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry was established on 29 June 2011 by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to assess the incidents that occurred in the Kingdom during the period of unrest in February and March 2011 and the consequences of these events. The report was released on 23 November and confirmed the Bahraini government's use of torture and other forms of physical and psychological abuse on detainees. It has been criticized for not disclosing the names of individual perpetrators of abuses and extending accountability only to those who actively carried out human rights violations.
Conviction of medical workers
A security court handed down what have been described as "harsh sentences" to 20 Bahraini medical workers in September 2011. The accused workers, who all worked at the Salminaya Medical Center, were given prison terms ranging from 5–15 years based on government claims that the medical workers had taken over the hospital and used it for antigovernment activity.
After the sentences were condemned by United Nations secretary Ban Ki-moon and international human rights groups such as Physicians for Human Rights, Bahraini judicial authorities nullified the convictions and ordered retrials in civilian court.
In January 2012, Richard Sollom, Deputy Director of Physicians for Human Rights, was denied entry to Bahrain, where he had travelled to monitor the appellate court trial of the 20 previously sentenced medics. Bahrain had promised greater transparency in the wake of an international investigation into the human rights violations that occurred during the uprising, yet refused to allow Sollom, who carried a valid entry visa, to view the trial or even enter the country.
Civil and political rights
Parliamentary and municipal elections take place every four years, since the restoration of elections in 2002, when women were also given the vote for the first time as part of reforms by King Hamad. Bahrain has a bicameral legislature with the lower chamber of parliament, the (Council of Representatives of Bahrain), elected by universal suffrage, and the upper chamber, the (Shura Council), appointed directly by the King. Those represented in the Shura Council include members of Bahrain's Christian and Jewish communities.
The Prime Minister and government ministers are not elected. They are appointed directly by the King, but ministers can be removed by parliamentary no-confidence votes. The current Prime Minister, Khalifah ibn Sulman Al Khalifah, is the King's paternal uncle and has been in office since 1970. Twelve of the twenty-three cabinet ministers appointed in November 2006 are members of the Al Khalifa royal family.
Bahrain has a complex civil society, which pre-dates the reforms introduced by King Hamad, and has its roots in the emergence of the labour movement and the development of an educated middle class in the 1930s. According to a 2006 study on civil society in Bahrain by the European University Institute, Voices in Parliament, Debates in Majalis, Banners on the Street: Avenues of Political Participation in Bahrain:
Generally, civil society has thriven, at least numerically. Bahrain’s NGOs are fragmented – many NGOs are really a spin-off of a political organisation and/or can draw only a narrow ethnic-sectarian segment to their activities. Generally the more elitist the NGO, the less narrowly defined its constituency in sectarian terms: Sectarianism does not play a role in many of the ‘arty’ clubs.
Contrary to views commonly held on Gulf states’ societies, Bahrain’s society offers a complex matrix of interlinking social institutions, understood in a broader anthropological sense. These can in varying degrees be mobilised for political ends.
Catering to the urban elites of both sects, the first clubs were opened in Manama earlier than in the rest of the Gulf region. Namely, the Uruba Club to which most prominent liberals are a member was founded in the early 1930s.
Other venues for political and social interactions are obviously the headquarters of political societies. Several of these also have regular weekly or monthly lecture days. Many headquarters of NGOs and trade unions are located very close to each other, since the king had donated a block of apartments for that purpose in 2001.
For the average politically active Bahraini, there are usually a number of outlets according to the European University Institute:
A typical male Bahraini with political interests has multiple affiliations: he is a member of a political society, has joined two or three NGOS in the first reform euphoria (related to human rights, women, environment), has been (since he entered his professional life) a member of a professional association. If Shiite, he attends ma’atim at least for holidays, and is involved in some charity, religious or through a local fund. It’s quite likely he is a regular to a majlis, the likelihood even increasing in case he is Sunni with tribal affiliations.
The government’s moves to join international treaties protecting human rights have often been opposed by parliament. The initial attempt to get parliamentary ratification of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was blocked in February 2006 on the grounds that leading MPs said contradicted Islamic laws. Al Menbar Bloc president Dr Salah Abdulrahman complained that the covenant would allow citizens to change religions without any restrictions, noting "This means that Muslims could convert to another religion, something against the Islamic law, since those who do so should be beheaded," he said. "Under the convention, women have the right to marry without their father's consent, while in Islam they should do so if she was a virgin".
It was not until June 2006 that a second attempt was made to ratify the country’s accession to the Covenant, meaning that Bahrain did not formally accede to the treaty until September 20, 2006.
Civil society has been prominent in supporting specific legislation promoting human rights through parliament. One recent campaign is the call for Bahrain’s government to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. It is being led by the Bahrain-branch of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court and wants the government to transfer the draft bill on ratification to parliament at the earliest. The Bahraini Coalition for the ICC is headed by Nasser Burdestani (who is also the head of the Bahrain-branch of Amnesty International), who commented:
"The fact that we in Bahrain do not suffer from such grave crimes that are within the court's jurisdiction should facilitate the process of ratification without any reservations."
Citing the role that Bahrain plays in the region and the domino effect, the Coalition for the International Criminal Court Co-ordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, Amal Basha, said Bahrain's ratification could have a significant impact among the neighbouring Persian Gulf countries: "We believe that Bahrain could serve as a real catalyst by ratifying as soon as possible," she said. "It would provide a serious boost to the growing world movement to ensure accountability for the worst violations of international human rights and humanitarian law."
On the weekend of 31 January/1 February 2015, 72 Bahraini citizens, including "about 50 journalists, bloggers, religious figures, doctors, political and human rights activists" and about 20 people "suspected of or known to have left Bahrain to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria", had their citizenships revoked. The citizenship revocations were discussed on the newly launched al-Arab News Channel on 1 February.
Freedom of speech
The government claims that the press is free. However, the Penal Code of 1976, still active today, has been widely criticized by local and international human rights bodies for granting the regime widespread powers to suppress dissent. Human Rights Watch noted in 2004 that the Penal Code gives the government "wide latitude to suppress public criticism" and that it "has provisions that contradict international human rights standards". Amnesty International in 2004 stated the Code can be used "as a justification to restrict freedom of expression. The organization reiterates its call for the Code to be reviewed as soon a possible to ensure compliance with international human rights standards."
According to Human Right Watch 2011 country report and the international press, freedom of the press both in print and on web sites is severely restricted, with websites blocked, journalists allegedly tortured and editors fired.
Internet censorship in Bahrain is classified as pervasive in the political and social areas, as substantial in Internet tools, and as selective in conflict/security by the OpenNet Initiative in August 2009. Bahrain was placed on Reporters Without Borders' list of Internet Enemies in 2012.
On 5 January 2009 the Ministry of Culture and Information issued an order (Resolution No 1 of 2009) pursuant to the Telecommunications Law and Press and Publications Law of Bahrain that regulates the blocking and unblocking of websites. This resolution requires all ISPs - among other things - to procure and install a website blocking software solution chosen by the Ministry. The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority ("TRA") assisted the Ministry of Culture and Information in the execution of the said Resolution by coordinating the procurement of the unified website blocking software solution. This software solution is operated solely by the Ministry of Information and Culture and neither the TRA nor ISPs have any control over sites that are blocked or unblocked.
Freedom of Association
According to the Human Right Watch 2011 country report, freedom of association is severely curtailed by an association law, "which prohibits organizations from involvement in political activities." The Bahrain Human Rights Society, the Bahrain Migrant Workers' Protection Society, Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and Bahrain Youth Human Rights Society have been closed or ordered to close.
The Bandargate scandal refers to an alleged political conspiracy by the certain government officials in Bahrain to foment sectarian strife and marginalize the majority Shia community in the country. The conspiracy was allegedly led and financed by Sheikh Ahmed bin Ateyatalla Al Khalifa, Minister of Cabinet Affairs and head of the Civil Informatics Organization and member of the Al Khalifa royal family. The allegations were revealed in September 2006, in a 240-page document produced by the Gulf Centre for Democratic Development, and authored by Dr Salah Al Bandar, an adviser to the Cabinet Affairs Ministry. Following the distribution of the report, Bahraini police forcibly deported Dr Al Bandar to the United Kingdom, where he holds citizenship. According to Dr al-Bandar, the Minister paid five main operatives a total of more than $2.7 million to run:
- a secret intelligence cell spying on Shi’as
- ‘GONGOs’ – government operated bogus NGOs like the ‘Bahraini Jurists Society’ and the ‘Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society’
- internet forums and websites that foment sectarian hatred
- subsidisation of ‘new converts’ from Shia Islamic sect to the Sunni sect
- payments for election rigging.
Freedom of religion
The Constitution states that Islam is the official religion and that Shari'a (Islamic law) is a principal source for legislation. Article 22 of the Constitution provides for freedom of conscience, the inviolability of worship, and the freedom to perform religious rites and hold religious parades and meetings, in accordance with the customs observed in the country; however, the Government placed some limitations on the exercise of this right. The Government continued to exert a level of control and to monitor both Sunni and Shi'a Muslims, and there continued to be government discrimination against Shi'a Muslims in certain fields. Members of other religious groups who practice their faith privately do so without interference from the Government. There were occasional reports of incidents between the Government and elements of the Shi'a majority population, who were often critical of the Sunni-controlled Government's rule. Problems continued to exist, stemming primarily from the Government's perceived unequal treatment of Shi'a in the country.
Destruction of religious facilities
In the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising and crackdown against Shia protest in Bahrain, "dozens" of Shia mosques have been leveled by the government according to a report in McClatchy newspapers. According to Shiite leaders interviewed by the reporter, work crews have often arrived "in the dead of night, accompanied by police and military escorts", to demolish the mosques, and in many cases, have hauled away the buildings' rubble before townspeople awake so as to leave no trace. Sheikh Khalid bin Ali bin Abdulla al Khalifa, the minister of justice and Islamic affairs for Bahrain, defended the demolitions stating: "These are not mosques. These are illegal buildings." However the McClatchy reporter found that photos taken of several mosques before their destruction by the government "showed they were well maintained, decades-old structures."
Media and publication
Bahrain has eight daily newspapers representing a broad section of opinion. In 2002, Al Wasat was set up by Mansoor Al-Jamri, the son of Bahrain's spiritual Shi'a leader, Sheikh Abdul-Amir Al-Jamri and the spokesman of the Bahrain Freedom Movement. The paper is as broadly sympathetic to the Shia Islamist opposition, particularly Ali Salman. Akhbar Al Khaleej has traditionally been close to Bahrain's Left and Arab nationalist strands, featuring controversial columnists such as Sameera Rajab. Al Ayam is seen as solidly pro-government, with its proprietor an advisor to the King.
The Press Law 47 of 2002 has been strongly criticised as restrictive as it specifies criminal charges against those who criticise the head of state or Islam, or "threaten national security". However, discussion in the newspapers is often robust with journalists frequently criticising government ministers: for instance one newspaper recently criticised the Minister of Housing, Fahmi Al Jowder, for lavishing "ludicrous praise" on the King.
In October 2006, the Criminal Court issued a ban on the publication of any news, information or commentary on the series of allegations in the Bandargate scandal, which has continued to date. In the following weeks, the Ministry of Information ordered Bahraini ISPs to block several websites that violated the ban, include the websites of National Democratic Action (liberal opposition political society), the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and the Arab Network for Human Rights Information. The block order was accompanied by press statements from the Ministry threatening the website owners with legal action.
Many political websites and blogs are blocked by the government, and as of November 2005 the government requires all Bahraini websites to register with the Ministry of Information. In August 2006, Bahraini government authorities blocked internet access to Google Earth and Google Video. Recently they have blocked the popular site anonymous.com
Liberal intellectuals in the press have faced concerted campaigns against them by Islamists. In 2005, hundreds of Shia Islamists protested outside the Al Ayam's offices after it published a cartoon on Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's election victory; while a Sunni Islamist campaign against the paper's editor, Isa Al Shaygi, was condemned at a conference of the International Federation of Journalists: “The vicious and unprovoked attack on a respected and distinguished colleague is an example of the intolerant and undemocratic character of extremist politics that is increasingly being used against the free press."
All broadcast media is owned and managed by the government. In 2005, three website administrators were arrested by security forces.
On August 31 2014, photographer Ahmed Humaidan was condemned to 10 years in prison after covering the 2011 uprising, allegedly for attacking the police.
New political freedoms mean that public political activity and demonstrations are a common occurrence: according to the Ministry of Interior’s figures there were 498 street demonstrations in 2006, up from 259 the previous year.
In July 2005, Human Rights Watch said:
Bahrain has been a poster child for political reform in the Middle East, but police attacks like this one are a worrisome trend. [...] Bahrain is growing more repressive in response to peaceful political activism.
Despite this prediction, the European University Institute, in its study of civil society in Bahrain in 2006, Voices in Parliament, Debates in Majalis, Banners on the Street: Avenues of Political Participation in Bahrain, found that:
Demonstrations of all sorts occur on a regular bases – less than common in the region. The laws regulating rallies and demonstrations predate the reforms; a bill for a new one has not yet been passed by parliament. As is the case with press freedom, a general liberal practise without the necessary legal foundation can be assessed. Normally neither the government nor the security forces interfere with demonstrations – unless feeling threatened. This lack of legal certainty is obviously wanted: ‘You have to see what we practice, not what is written in laws. Our practise is very liberal. One also has to see in which part of the world we’re living’ says the then head of the central informatics organisation and now minister of the royal court, Sheikh Mohammed bin Atiyatallah Al Khalifa.
Bahrain is the only country in the Middle East to have sacked a senior government minister as a direct result of a human rights issue. In 2004, when the security forces fired rubber bullets at a demonstration led by Shia religious leaders, King Hamad immediately fired the country’s longstanding Interior Minister (and member of the royal family) Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Khalifa.
While public demonstrations about various issues regularly take place, they have sometimes resulted in clashes between the police and youths. Fifteen Bahraini Shia activists were arrested between May 16 and 20 May 2007 following clashes the police. Thirteen remain in custody, (as of June 2007) according to the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights. In response to the problem presented by violent protestors, the Serbia-based human rights group, the Centre for Applied Non-Violent Action and Strategies, has been invited to Bahrain to teach demonstrators how to demonstrate peacefully. Under the scheme begun in 2007, peace camps will be set up in various trouble spots where specialists will advise on using protest strategies that do not involve violence. It is expected that a thousand youths will go through the training scheme.
The Interior Ministry had to resist pressure in May 2007 from business leaders to ‘crack down’ on the rioters, as well as deal with concerns that local residents would take matters into their own hands and deal with the rioters themselves. Concerns about vigilantism resulted in a call by Central Municipal Council vice-chairman Abbas Mahfoodh for closer cooperation between politicians and the Interior Ministry to stamp out rioting, after residents of the town of Tubli confronted and chased away three masked men who allegedly planned to commit acts of sabotage using Molotov cocktail firebombs.
In a report issued in 2006, the "Arab Network for Human Rights Information" (a member of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange) documented two cases of human rights activists being harassed by government authorities, through physical and sexual assaults, and fabricated cases.
Women's rights and gender
King Hamad’s moves to promote women’s rights have been described by Amnesty International as representing a “New Dawn for Bahraini Women”. In 2002, women voted for the first time in national elections and were given equal political rights.
However, these top-down reforms have proven contentious, with calls for reform opposed by conservatives and the royal family. In 2002 the decision by King Hamad to grant women the right to vote and equal political rights with men was opposed by a majority of Bahraini women, with 60% of women surveyed saying they disagreed with the move. Salafists have publicly restated their opposition to women's participation in parliament, and none of the Islamist parties that dominate parliament has ever fielded a female candidate. One woman won a seat in parliament in 2006, although her victory in the sparsely populated constituency in the south of the country was seen by some as engineered by the government which wanted to see a woman represented in Council of Deputies.
A bill prompted by women's rights activists in 2005 to introduce a unified personal status law to protect women's rights in marriage, divorce and other family matters was opposed in a series of large-scale demonstrations organised by an alliance of salafists and Shia Islamists including Al Wefaq and Asalah. The demonstrations (and the implicit threat of escalation by those who organised them) forced the government to withdraw the law and was seen as a major defeat for women's rights activists.
In response to sweeping poll victories by Islamists in 2006's election, Amnesty International Bahrain's head of campaigns, Fawzia Rabea, described the threat to women's rights as 'very serious' and called on women to do everything in their power to fight laws proposed by the new parliament that could limit their freedom. After newly elected Al Wefaq MP, Sayed Abdulla Al A'ali, called for legislation to restrict women's employment rights by banning women from "male-orientated jobs", Ms Rabea said, "With this type of thinking I am sure we are facing a very big challenge with parliament. I am worried about this, it is very serious." Bahrain Women's Union president, Mariam Al Ruwaie, expressed surprised at the MP's suggestions, "This does not agree with His Majesty the King's reforms, which give women and men the same rights for education and work. In Bahrain's society women make up 26 per cent of the labour force, there are more girls in schools and universities than men and their results are better...I am worried because the parliament has not started and he [Mr Al A'ali] has said something like this. It is a bad start."
The government is using the family law issue as a bargaining tool with opposition Islamic groups. This is evident through the fact that the authorities raise this issue when ever they want to distract attention from other controversial political issues. While no serious steps are taken to help approve this law, although the government and its puppet National Assembly had no trouble in the last four years when it came to approving restrictive laws related to basic freedoms.
All of this is why no one in Bahrain believes in Government clichés and government institution like the High Council for Women. The government used women’s rights as a decorative tool on the international level. While the High Council for Women was used to hinder non-governmental women societies and to block the registration of the Women Union for many years. Even when the union was recently registered, it was restricted by the law on societies.
Women in the 2011 crackdown
According to reports in NPR Bahraini human rights groups say "hundreds of women have been detained" in recent weeks prior to 30 May 2011, "the first time in the wave of protests sweeping the Arab world that large groups of women have been targeted", according to analysts in the region.
According to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions annual report of 2006 unions are allowed to play an "effective role" with workers having the right to unionise. According to the ICTFU's annual report:
The Workers' Trade Union Law of September 2002 introduced the right to belong to trade unions in Bahrain. It established the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU) but not full freedom of association, as all trade unions have to belong to the GFBTU. Workers in the private and public sector may join trade unions, including non-citizens, who make up the majority of Bahrain's workforce.
Only one trade union may be formed at each establishment, but no prior authorisation is required to form a union. The only requirement is that the union's constitution must be communicated to the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, together with the names of the founding members.
An amended trade union law that would allow government employees to form trade unions but would remove some workers rights' protection was submitted to Parliament in October 2004. However it had still not been approved by the end of 2005.
Trade unions are not subject to administrative dissolution. They may not engage in political activities.
The ICFTU's main concern in its 2006 report was that a new labour law would be far more restrictive of worker's rights. The ICFTU commented:
A new law, soon to be passed, looks set to restrict unions' freedom to carry out a legal strike. There was much concern about the lack of proper protection foreseen for foreign workers who make up 60 per cent of the workforce. The head of Gulf Air's union was sacked shortly after his election.
A visiting delegate from the International Labour Organization at a seminar in Bahrain on trade unionism, held under the patronage of the Labour Ministry, described some of Bahrain's labour laws as out of line with international standards. According to the ILO international labour standards department deputy director, Karen Curtis, the current rules governing where strikes can be held in Bahrain were too restrictive.
In response to the government’s labour reforms, Bahrain’s Crown Prince, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, was invited as guest of honour to the International Labour Organisation’s 96th session, where he used the opportunity of addressing the conference to announce that the first regional dialogue on workers' issues would be held in Bahrain. "This will offer countries that recruit manpower and those that provide it an opportunity to engage in an open and honest discussion on the impact of globalisation." The ILO Director General Juan Somavia has described the Crown Prince as an innovator with a modern vision of commitment to change and a belief in dialogue. Somavia has noted that Bahrain had been one of the pioneers of Decent Work Country Programmes, beginning with a pilot programme in 2002.
According to Human Rights Watch, in as of 2011 there were more than 458,000 guest workers in Bahrain, many of whom experience prolonged periods of withheld wages, passport confiscation, unsafe housing, excessive work hours and physical abuse. Government protective measures are "largely ineffective."
In August 2009 Bahrain adopted Decision 79/2009 permitting guest workers, except for domestics, more freedom to change jobs. According to Human Rights Watch, as of 2011 many workers were unaware of this right.
In 2007, government passed legislation to ban construction and other outdoor work between noon and 4pm during the summer – the hottest times of the day. The vast majority of those involved in this type of work being expatriate labourers from the Indian sub-continent. The move was backed by a “massive” labour inspection campaign by the Ministry of Labour to ensure that companies obeyed the decision. The ban was criticized by construction companies saying that the government’s decision would delay their projects, but according to the Ministry of Labour, migrant workers' protection representatives and human rights activities have welcomed the move.
An ICFTU Annual Report 2006 found that "Foreign workers harshly treated":
There are a large number of foreign workers and, while in theory they are allowed to join unions and run for union office, they mainly prefer to stay out of union activities as they have no protection against dismissal. According to the proposed legislation, if expatriate workers overstay their work permits, they suffer heavy fines, are imprisoned for unspecified lengths of time and then deported. The government admitted that the new law would not give domestic servants any employment rights, but contained measures that would protect them against abuse from employers.
Despite these reforms, Bahrain remains a Tier 3 country on the US State Department Trafficking in Persons report, the worst tier which means that these countries made little or no efforts to improve the situation.
Human rights NGOs
There are several generic human rights NGOs in Bahrain, and other NGOs working in related fields such as women's rights, child rights and migrant labour. The two most prominent organisations have been the Bahrain Human Rights Society and the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, which have frequently been highly critical of one another, the Center accusing the Society of having been unduly close to government. Other NGOs active around 2008-10 included the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, the Women’s Petition Committee, the Committee for Martyrs and Victims of Torture, the Human Rights Office of the Haq Movement for Liberty and Democracy, the Committee for Citizenship-less and the Coordinating Committee for the Defence of Political Detainees.
In the wake of the 2011 uprising, Physicians for Human Rights has become internationally recognized for its work exposing human rights violations in Bahrain, particularly regarding medical neutrality. The organization released a report titled Do No Harm: A Call for Bahrain to End Systematic Attacks on Doctors and Patients, in April 2011 which detailed the government's persecution of medical professionals.
Shia Rights Watch, an NGO based in Washington, DC, has also stepped up to expose the violations against Shia Muslims in Bahrain. The organization published a report titled Shia Target of Inhumane Treatment: Bahrain Report 2011, which documents the systematic oppressions of Shia Muslims by the government of Bahrain.
National human rights institution
In 2008, during the Universal Periodic Review of its human rights record at the UN Human Rights Council, the Government announced plans to create a national human rights institution for Bahrain. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Foreign Ministry jointly organised a workshop in Manama, bringing in NHRI experts from Jordan, Morocco and Northern Ireland to meet a wide range of Bahraini civil society. The NHRI was duly established by the King on 11 November 2009 through Royal Order No. 46/2009.
On 25 April 2010 Royal Order No. 16/2010 appointed 17 men and five women as the first members of the NHRI, including prominent human rights activists Salman al-Sayyid ‘Ali Kamal al-Din, the former deputy secretary-general of the independent Bahrain Human Rights Society, as president. While the appointments were initially welcomed by Amnesty International, other NGOs including the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights questioned the credibility and independence of the new institution. The Center alleged that several of the 22 nominees held government appointments or were linked to bodies accused by the Society of operating as government fronts or GONGOs, such as the Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society, the Jurists Society and the Association of Public Freedoms and Human Rights.
On 6 September 2010 Salman Kamal al-Din resigned as president, in protest at the institution's failure to criticise the arrests of pro-democracy activists.
- Bahrain Centre for Human Rights
- Bahrain Human Rights Society
- Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society
- List of Bahrain-related topics#Human rights in Bahrain
- Al Bandar report
- Human rights in Islamic countries
-  World Report 2011:Bahrain, Human Rights Watch.
- Human rights organizations criticize rampant abuses in Bahrain, jurist.org 8 April 2011
- Bahrain stages trials of opponents, despite new US criticism| By Roy Gutman, McClatchy Newspapers| June 20, 2011
- Bahrain News Agency, "HM King Hamad Sets up Royal Independent Investigation Commission", Bahrain News Agency, 29 June 2011
- Iranians in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates: Migration, Minorities, and Identities in the Persian Gulf Arab States. Eric Andrew McCoy. 2008. pp. 47–48.
- World Migration 2005 Costs and Benefits of International Migration. International Organization for Migration. 2005. p. 53.
- Conclusions and recommendations of the Committee against Torture : Bahrain., Committee Against Torture, United Nations Commission for Human Rights, June 21, 2005
- Bahrain ended issue of systematic torture, Arabic News.com, September 29, 2005
- Nakash, Yitzhak (2006). Reaching for Power: The Shi'a in the Modern Arab World (PDF). Princeton University Press. p. 24.
- Bobby Ghosh (5 March 2007). "Behind the Sunni-Shi'ite Divide". Time. Retrieved 18 March 2012.
- Raymond Barrett (15 February 2011). "Bahrain emerging as flashpoint in Middle East unrest". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 18 March 2012.
- Bahrain Centre for Human Rights  "Sectarian discrimination in the kingdom of Bahrain: The Unwritten Law," A paper Presented to: WANGO ANNUAL CONFERENCE 2003 (Toward an Ethical and Caring Global Community)September 25–28, 2003 Bangkok, Thailand.
- Nabeel Rajab  "Press TV:Nabeel Rajab:Discrimination and sectarian oppression in Bahrain, a systematic reality", 23 Feb 2009, Press TV.
- Bethany Breeze  "A silent apartheid in Bahrain," April 1, 2011, University of Idaho Argonaut.
- Arabia Through the Looking Glass, Jonathan Raban Picador, 1987, p. 47.
-  "Bahraini Despot Wages Demographic War", Feb. 17, 2009, Voice of Bahrain.
- commentator and political analyst and member of the Bahrain Freedom Movement
- Mahdi Amirisefat  'Bahraini rulers importing extremism', Feb. 15, 2009, Press TV.
- Staff writer (28 April 2007). "Parliament's law to ban migrant workers who are unmarried from living in residential areas is discriminatory attitudes". Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. Retrieved 11 July 2011.
- Tariq Kkonji (23 January 2006). "'No go' rule for bachelor labourers". Gulf Daily News. Retrieved 2 January 2012.
- Staff writer (28 April 2007). "Bahraini parliament moves to segregate migrants from citizens". Migrant rights. Retrieved 11 July 2011.
- Naturalised Bahrainis face death threats, Gulf News, 11 August 2006
- Mansoor Al-Jamri says of the political system in Bahrain, "It's apartheid... They've made a decision that half the population is not wanted, and they want to instill fear in this population and dehumanize them."
- Jeffrey Fleishman  "After crushed protests, Bahrain is accused of deepened oppression of Shiites", May 12, 2011, Los Angeles Times.
- UNHCR resolution (Ref: E/CN.4/Sub.2/1997/L.8) "Questions of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including policies of racial discrimination and segregation and of apartheid, in all countries," is a "resolution condemning the government of Bahrain."
-  "UN Human Right Sub-Commission Passes a Historic Resolution on Bahrain on 21 August 1997." Aug. 21, 1997, Voice of Bahrain.
- Saeed Shahabihas called for an end to the "sectarian apartheid" system in Bahrain.
- Saeed Sharabi  "'People to continue protests in Bahrain'", April 18, 2001, Press TV.
-  "'US, Saudis behind Bahraini apartheid'; A sectarian apartheid against the majority Shia population is taking place in Bahrain by the ruling al-Khalifa family whose support comes from Saudi Arabia and by proxy from the United States", April 26, 2011 PressTV.
- Amir Madini  "Arabian Spring: The Hidden Tragedy of Bahrain", April 27, 2011, Huffington Post.
- Press TV describes the systematic descrimination against the "indigenous people" of a policy of "sectarian discrimination, segregation and apartheid."
-  "'Human tragedy unfolding in Bahrain", April 5, 2011, Press TV.
- “the language of the ruling party sounds a lot to me like the language of white South Africans — or even like the language of white southerners in Jim Crow America... There’s a fear of the rabble, a distrust of full democracy, a sense of entitlement.”
- Nicholas Kristof, "Is This Apartheid in Bahrain?" New York Times, Feb. 22, 2011
- Euronews, "Bahrain: A Country Divided", Feb. 21, 2011, Euronews.
-  "Deep division in Bahrain raises echoes of apartheid," The Register-Guard,March 18, 2011,
- "Bahrain: Assault on girls' school in Hamad by security forces, April 23, 201, The Muslim News.
- Irshad Manji says "Sunni Muslim minorities control the Shia majorities", Irshad Manji, The trouble with Islam: a wake-up call for honesty and change, Random House Digital, 2003, p. 221.
- says "Bahrain is virtually an apartheid state." Shibil Siddiqi From the Centre for the Study of Global Power and Politics at Trent University, "Democracy and the Middle East," March 21, 2011, Espress Tribune of the International Herald Tribune.
- "after the dismantling of the apartheid regime in South Africa, Bahrain remained the only country where a minority dictated terms to a majority. More than 70 percent of the Bahrainis are Shiite Muslims, but they have little or no say in the government." Ameen Izzadeen  "Bahrain: the butchery of democracy dream," March 18, 32011, Daily Mirror
- Ben Cohen, says "Bahrain is a society where inequality is ethnically rooted, and then buttressed by the denial of civic and political freedoms."
- Ben Cohen,  "Bahrain: The Missing 'A' Word," Huffington Post, Feb. 17, 2011
- Writing in the International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice , Professor Staci Strobl of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice describes the demonstrators as "protesting an apartheid system that denies them opportunities equal to those of their Sunni neighbors.", "From colonial policing to community policing in Bahrain: The historical persistence of sectarianism", Staci Strobl, International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice, 2157-6475, Volume 35, Issue 1, February 2011, Pages 19 – 37.
- Ali Akbar Salehi, has formally expressed his government's concern over the “apartheid-like” discrimination practiced against the Shiite majority by the government of Bahrain in a letter addressed to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
- ill Varner,  "Bahrain Tells UN About Hezbollah’s Efforts to Topple Monarchy", April 26, 2011, Bloomberg.
- Gavriel Queenann  "Bahrain Accuses Hizbullah of Provoking Its Domestic Unrest", April 27, 2011, Israel National News.
- "Crackdown on Shi'ites hurts Bahrain trade" June 20, 1996, The Guardian, as cited in Joe Stork, Routine abuse, routine denial : civil rights and the political crisis in Bahrain, ISBN 1-56432-218-1, New York, Human Rights Watch, 1997, p. 40.
- Joe Stork, Routine abuse, routine denial : civil rights and the political crisis in Bahrain, ISBN 1-56432-218-1, New York, Human Rights Watch, 1997
- "Security Forces in Bahrain Open Fire on Protesters". The New York Times Company. 2011-02-18. Retrieved 22 February 2011.
- Bahrain's Sunni rulers target Shiite mosques, By Roy Gutman, McClatchy Newspapers, May 11, 2011
- Jared Voss, Emergency Report Decries Bahrain Human Rights Abuses, Physicians for Human Rights, 22 April 2011, http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/blog/bahrain-emergency-report.html
- Richard Sollom, Do No Harm: A Call for Bahrain to End Systematic Attacks on Doctors and Patients, Physicians for Human Rights, April 2011, http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/library/reports/bahrain-attacks-on-doctors-2011-04-22.html
- Richard Sollom, Richard Sollom Testifies on Bahrain to Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Physicians for Human Rights, May 2011, http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/library/other/testimony-2011-05-13.html
- Bahrain campaign to humiliate Shiites goes beyond politics, By Caryle Murphy / csmonitor.com / June 7, 2011
- J. David Goodman, Bahrain Hands Down Harsh Sentences to Doctors and Protesters, New York Times, September 29, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/30/world/middleeast/bahrain-court-hands-down-harsh-sentences-to-doctors-and-protesters.html?_r=2&partner=rss&emc=rss&src=ig
- Rick Gladstone, Bahrain Orders Retrials for Medical Workers, New York Times, October 5, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/06/world/middleeast/bahrain-orders-retrials-for-medical-workers.html?_r=3&hpw
- Megan Prock, PHR Condemns Bahraini Authorities’ Denial of Entry to PHR Deputy Director on Eve of Doctors’ Trial, Physicians for Human Rights, January 8, 2011, http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/press/press-releases/phr-condemns-bahraini-authorities-denial-of-entry-to-phr-deputy-director-on-eve-of-doctors-trial.html
- Voices in Parliament, Debates in Majalis, Banners on the Street: Avenues of Political Participation in Bahrain, Katja Niethammar, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, European University Institute, 2006
- MPs refuse to ratify rights law Gulf Daily News February 22, 2006
- Signatories of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
- Bahrain urged to ratify Rome Statute Gulf Daily News, January 7, 2007
- Bahrain urged to ratify Rome Statute Gulf Daily News, January 7, 2007
- "Saudi prince's Al-Arab news channel goes off air hours after launching". The Guardian. 2015-02-02. Archived from the original on 2015-02-02. Retrieved 2015-02-03.
- Bahrain Press one of freest, Gulf Daily News, April 8, 2007
- Bahrain's media under scrutiny, Gulf News, March 29, 2007
- Bahrain: Activist Jailed After Criticizing Prime Minister, Human Rights Watch, 29 September 2004
- Bahrain: King Should Reject Law on Public Gatherings, Human Rights Watch, 8 June 2006
- ">Bahrain: Amnesty International welcomes the release of Abdul Hadi al-Khawaja, Amnesty International, 22 November 2004
- . Bahrain News Agency.
- "ONI Country Profiles", Research section at the OpenNet Initiative web site, a collaborative partnership of the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto; the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University; and the SecDev Group, Ottawa
- Internet Enemies, Reporters Without Borders (Paris), 12 March 2012
- Resolution No 1 of 2009, Ministry of Culture and Information, published in Official Gazette, Issue No.2877, dated 8 January 2009
- Minister criticised for lavishing 'undue praise', Gulf News, January 3, 2006
- Bahraini Higher Criminal Court: Banning Publication of News or Information Related to the “Bandar-Gate” Scandal, Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, 5 October 2006
- Ahead of elections: Bahrain govt threatens website owners with prosecution, Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, 2 November 2006
- Banned 'blogs' face legal action, Gulf Daily News, 31 October 2006
- Authorities block access to influential blog covering Bandargate scandal, Reporters Without Borders, 30 October 2006
- Onslaught on freedom of expression in Bahrain continues, Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, October 30, 2006
- Reporters Without Borders denounces press freedom threat in website registration, Reporters Without Borders, 26 April 2005
- Google Earth spurs Bahraini equality drive, Financial Times, November 24, 2006
- Bahraini Authorities Block Access to Google Earth and Google Video, Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, August 8, 2006
- Journalists’ Leaders Condemn Attack on Independent Newspaper and Editor in BahrainInternational Federation of Journalists, May 15, 2005
- World Press Freedom Review 2005: Bahrain, International Press Institute
- Bahraini rallyists 'often do not know' purpose of protests, March 26, 2007
- Bahrain: Investigate Police Beatings, Human Rights Watch, July 22, 2005
- Peace camp a hit in villages Gulf Daily News, July 28, 2007
- Action against rioting urged, Gulf Daily News, May 14, 2007
- Sexual assaults and fabrication of cases against journalists and activists: "Tunisia, Egypt, and Bahrain", Arab Network for Human Rights Information, 2006
- New Dawn for Bahraini Women The Wire, Amnesty International, March 2002
- In the Gulf, women are not women’s best friends, Daily Star, June 20, 2005 (republished by Yale Global)
- Women fight to keep freedom, Gulf Daily News, November 30, 2006
- Ghada Jamsheer, Time magazine, May 14, 2006
- Activist on Forbes list, Gulf Daily News, 15th May 2006
- Women in Bahrain and the Struggle Against Artificial Reforms, Ghada Jamsheer, 18 December 2006
- Women The Latest Target Of Bahrain's Crackdown by Kelly McEvers, May 31, 2011
- Bahrain, Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights Worldwide Report, International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, 7 June 2006
- Brutal Suppression of Workers’ Rights Detailed in Worldwide Report, International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, 7 June 2006
- Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights, 2006, International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, June 2006
- Union law 'out of global step', Gulf Daily News, 21 December 2006
- ILO honour for Crown Prince, Gulf Daily News, June 11, 2007
- Voice for workers, Gulf Daily News, July 12, 2007
- Crown Prince of Bahrain calls for increased social dialogue, fair globalization, announces regional labour summit, International Labour Organisation, June 11, 2007
- Wage row workers in protest march, Gulf Daily News, February 27, 2007
- Campaign to ensure implementation of break rule in Bahrain launched, Gulf News, July 17, 2007
- New union for construction workers, Gulf Daily News, July 28, 2007
- Amnesty International press statement, 30 April 2010
- Bahrain Centre for Human Rights press release, 2 May 2010
- Human Rights Watch World Report 2011: Bahrain
- Human Rights Watch: Bahrain
- Amnesty International: Bahrain
- Bahrain Centre for Human Rights
- Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society
- Redress Trust: Bahrain
- International Freedom of Expression Exchange: Bahrain
- National Democratic Institute: Bahrain
- Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2005, US Department of State
- International Confederation of Free Trade Unions: Bahrain
- Arab Human Rights Index: Bahrain
- PDF (116 KB), Arab Press Freedom Watch Third Annual Conference, May 2004
- Bahrain: Five years of lost opportunities, Proceeding of a seminar held under the auspices of Lord Avebury, the Vice-Chairman of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group in the House of Lords, 15 December 2005
- Review of Bahrain by the United Nations Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review, April 7, 2008