Bahrain has acceded to six of the seven major United Nations Conventions concerned with human rights, namely: the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1990); the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (2002); the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1998); and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1992), The International Covenant for Civil And Political Rights (2006), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (2007).
Bahrain also acceded to the two optional protocols of the Rights of the Child Convention pertaining to involvement of children in armed conflicts, sale of children and exploiting them in prostitution and pornographic materials (2004).
Bahrain has also acceded to four of the eight International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions on human rights, namely: the two conventions (29 and 105) on Forced or Compulsory Labour (1981 and 1998 respectively). Convention (111) concerning the Elimination of Discrimination in Respect of Employment and Occupation (2000). Convention (182) pertaining to Forbidding the Employment of Children and Minors (2001).
Bahrain made reservation of certain provisions of the conventions it acceded to:
- The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination: general reservation that acceding to this convention does not imply recognizing Israel or is to be considered a basis for establishing any relations with Israel. Article (22) on ways of settling disputes among states over interpreting or implementing the convention through referring the dispute to the International Court of Justice. Bahrain declared that this requires approval of all parties to the conflict on case by case basis.
- The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women: article (2) concerning equality before the law and banning discrimination against women in constitutions and national legislation. Bahrain linked implementation to principles of Islamic law (Shari'a). Article (9/2) concerning granting women equal citizenship rights for their children. Bahrain said this article contradicts its citizenship law. Article (15/4) on women and men's equal rights in terms of freedom of movement and choice of residence, because it contradicts Shari'a provisions. Article (16) on eliminating discrimination against women in all matters of marriage and family affairs; Bahrain abides by this as far as it is compatible with Shari'a principles. Article (29/1) concerning arbitration between state parties to the convention, and referring disputes over interpreting or implementing the convention to the International Court of Justice.
- The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: article (30/1) concerning settlement of disputes among parties to the convention; Bahraini government considered itself uncommitted by the content of this article. In August 1998, Bahrain retracted its reservation on article (20) pertaining to jurisdiction of the international committee against torture.
Bahrain has agreed to the "Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam" issued in 1990 by foreign ministers of Muslim countries. The declaration is a guiding document that does not require ratification. It also ratified the "Arab Charter of Human Rights/Amended" prepared by the Arab Summit in Tunisia in May 2004, and delivered the relevant documents to the General Secretariat of the Arab League on June 18, 2006.
Human Rights Institutions
There are two types of human rights institutions in Bahrain. The first type belongs to governmental structures, most prominent of which is the National Human Rights Authority created by the Cabinet on 11 November 2007. The government authority will be in charge of setting an integral plan to promote human rights in Bahrain, forward recommendations, proposals and study complaints, as well as communicating with international organizations and NGOs. The Human Rights Committee at the ministry of interior is in charge of training officers on citizens rights, especially those pertaining to arrests, interrogation and imprisonment. The Bahraini Human Rights Association commended that committee for joining its efforts in strengthening human rights work and preventing violations. The Supreme Council for Women's Rights (August 22, 2001) works on advancing women's rights. The King strengthened its jurisdiction and capacities on August 11, 2004 to enable it to submit its suggestions on legislative amendments, give its opinion with regard to draft laws that affect women's status before they are examined by specialized committees. The King ordered official agencies to seek the Women's Council opinion before making any decision or implementing any measure relating to women. Since the launching of the reform project several human rights NGOs have appeared in Bahrain. These include: "Bahrain Human Rights Association" (2001), "Bahrain Center for Human Rights" (2001), "Human Rights Watch Association" (2004), "Rights of the Child Society" (2004), "Society for the Protection of Expatriate Workers" (2004) and "Bahrain Association Against Family Violence" (2005).
Achievements on the Road to Good Governance
1. Promulgation of a new constitution on February 14, 2002 that includes many guarantees of human rights and public freedoms. The constitution adopted a two-chamber legislative system, approved women's right to vote and run in public elections, and stipulated the establishment of a supreme constitutional court to monitor the constitutionality of the law. However, the constitution aroused public debate over the second chamber in terms of appointing, rather than electing, its members and in terms of sharing legislative power with the elected chamber.
2. Promulgation of a new municipal law and a new municipal electoral law on December 1st, 2001 that adopted administrative decentralization, established several municipal councils instead of the single central municipal council, allowed women to vote and run in municipal elections, approved municipal councils sharing with other governmental institutions in proposing draft laws, setting their own priorities in terms of their projects and dealing with citizens' grievances and complaints.
3. Approval of several laws and procedures that enhance judicial authority, such as abolishing the State Security Court (2001), establishing a supreme judicial council (2000) and inaugurating the supreme constitutional court (2005).
4. Enhancing the principle of equality between men and women through granting political rights to women, appointing 6 women to the consultative council, facilitating women's right to occupy high-level public positions (Bahraini women hold the positions of government ministers, ambassadors, deans of university colleges) and enhancing women's civil rights through amending article (13) of the passports law by dropping the condition of obtaining the approval of husbands with regard to issuing passports to their Bahraini wives.
5. Allowing, for the first time, private ownership of radio and satellite TV stations, publishing daily newspapers and establishing an association for protecting the rights and freedoms of journalists (2000), in addition to approval of the ministry of information to transform the journalists association into a syndicate after modifying its regulations (2002), until the associations law is promulgated.
6. Resolving the problem of "citizenless" persons by granting Bahraini citizenship to thousands of persons in this category, and allowing the return of "citizenless" persons who have Bahraini relatives.
7. Promulgation of the Labour Union Law (No. 33/2002) that allowed workers to strike as a legitimate means of defending their rights and interests in accordance with legal controls. The law also allowed the establishment of a general union for Bahraini workers as an umbrella for all syndicates. A general secretary of the workers union representing 40 syndicates was elected during the founding conference of the general union in 2004.
8. The parliament approved on March 22, 2006 a new labour market law that eased the constraints of the guarantor system on foreign workers. The new law permitted foreign workers to resign and work for another employer without the permission of the original employer, on condition that the worker had completed the period of his original contract. This is the first time whereby foreign workers in any Gulf state are allowed to take another job without the approval of the employers who originally brought them into the country.
9. Legislative elections took place on November 25, 2006. A total of 220 candidates, including 18 women, contested the 40 seats of the Council of Deputies. Participation rate was higher than that of 2002 as it reached 73% in the first round, 69% in the second round compared to 43% in 2002. The opposition won 18 seats while loyal groups won 22 seats. One woman candidate won her seat uncontested, while no women were elected.
10. The King passed a decree on December 5, 2006 appointing members of the new Shura Council. The decree renewed the membership of 24 Shura members and appointed 16 new members including the Council's president. Women's representation increased from 6 to 10 members.
11. The government of Bahrain completed in mid-August 2007 a draft-law on combating trafficking in persons that will be submitted to the parliament for discussion and approval in its autumn session. The draft-law is made of 10 articles. The first article defines trafficking in person as: recruiting, transporting, housing or receiving a person for the purpose of abusing him/her, whether through coercion, threatening, deception, use of position or influence. Abuse includes exploiting that person in prostitution, sexual assault, compulsory work, semi-slavery, slavery or removal of body organs. The second article stipulates imprisonment and a fine between 2000 and 10,000 Dinars against anyone who commits the crime of trafficking in persons. Article 3, stipulates punishing any corporate person in whose name or for his benefit a trafficking crime was committed by a fine of 10,000 to 100,000 Dinars, while carrying out criminal charges against the natural persons whose committed the crime. Article 4, calls for maximum punishment if the vicitim is under 15 years of age, a female with special needs, or if the victim develops an incurable disease. Article 7, stipulates establishing a committee by order of the minister of social development, called “The Committee for assessing the conditions of foreign victims of trafficking in persons”. Article 8, stipulates establishing a committee by order of the minister of foreign affairs, called “The National Committee for Combating Trafficking in Persons” which is composed of representatives of several government ministries and representatives of 3 NGOs nominated by the minister of social development.
12. The Upper House (Majlis al Shura) passed amendments to the “press and publications” law on 28 May 2007 abolishing jail sentences for press offences. The new draft law has to be adopted by the Lower House, where it is currently awaiting discussion, in order to become effective.
13. King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa has issued a law on 9 January 2008 to combat human trafficking. According to the law, persons convicted of human trafficking would face prison and a fine ranging from 2,000 Bahrain dinars to 10,000 dinars. The law also calls for the establishment of a committee to combat human trafficking.