BJDM Editorial – Human Rights and Political Reform

Today sees the publication of the long awaited Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), a full report on human rights violations in Bahrain based on months of research and interviews.

The report will say that human rights abuses have been committed since February 2011. We know this and the Government knows this. What it will not do is recommend political reform, as this was not its remit.

Of course once we have had time to read and digest the full report we will provide analysis and a statement. The purpose of this article is not to pre-judge BICI but to warn of the danger of separating human rights from the political issues in Bahrain.

In the past few months it has been somewhat pleasing to see world leaders talk about human rights abuses in Bahrain, although many dismiss these comments as hypocritical. Indeed to some extent this is understandable but with a situation like Bahrain it is important to take as many positives as possible.

But what has been missing is comments on the political system in Bahrain. At no point has any world leader come out and applied real public pressure to Bahrain to make serious democratic reforms based on a real dialogue with the people.

The world seems content to draw a line between individual abuses and the system as a whole. In doing so they are ignoring the very reason why these protests began in the first place; to achieve change.

It is crucial that the world understands that human rights abuses in Bahrain do not exist as something separate from the political system that allows such violations to take place.

It is crucial that the world understands that human rights abuses in Bahrain do not exist as something separate from the political system that allows such violations to take place.

Police violence, political persecution, unfair sentences, torture and all the other deplorable acts that have been on display in Bahrain in recent months are not an anomaly. They are the systematic realities of a minority rule Government and are the product of a political system that needs to act in such a way to maintain it’s existence.

To provide an example of this we need only to look at the recent case of the 20 Bahraini medics that has caused such international outcry. The whole world can see that it is not a crime to treat injured protesters and the sentences of between 5 and 15 years have quite rightly been labeled as ridiculous.

But how can this happen? The answer is that in Bahrain the judicial system works under directives from the Royal Court and has absolutely no semblance of independence. So the prosecution is deeply political and is a tool to enact the revenge of the Government.

Western Leaders have been very quick to condemn the treatment of these medics. Even the most extreme must recognize this. This is of course very welcome and no doubt the international reaction of concerned citizens has forced Governments to make such strong statements.

But without recognizing the political dimension of this latest infringement the international community is not only making a mistake but also doing the struggle for democracy a great disservice.

So what is the use of BICI if they are unable to make political recommendations?

Great importance has been attached to this commission, with the US Government apparently delaying a $53million arms sale to Bahrain based on its findings. This is actually a very good step. It shows that states may indeed base policy towards Bahrain on the Commission’s conclusions.

What’s more such an acknowledged report will bring a huge amount of attention to the dire situation in Bahrain, which of course can only be a good thing.

But the real strength of BICI will be if the international community uses it to apply real pressure on Bahrain to begin the process of political reform. The Government is happy to accept mistakes were made but will never accept the need for reform.

The Government reaction thus far to the Commission provides a great deal of insight into how they hope to use it.

They realize that despite mass protests, huge opposition and international condemnation all they really need to do is admit they made mistakes and then they can move on.

They may have accepted some level of responsibility for their actions but not one single thing will have changed since the evening of February 13th 2011, a few hours before hundreds of thousands of people poured onto the streets to demand change.

Bahrain will be back to square one. And what is square one? It is a political system that is not representative of it’s people, a Prime Minister who has been in power for over 40 years, constant discrimination, major corruption and all the other features that make Bahrain anything but democratic.

All of those people who have laid down their lives, their jobs, and their stability in the pursuit of change will have done so for absolutely no gain. The people demanded change. This is what is needed.

The world cannot allow Bahrain to cop out of this crisis by simply admitting mistakes were made and then trying to continue as before. Human rights abuses will happen over and over again until Bahrain reforms politically and creates a democratic system.

And yet there are those in the region who fear a democratic Bahrain. They fear what it would mean for their own interests if the country was allowed to be run by the will of the people and will do anything they can to stop this from happening.

This is why Bahraini democrats so desperately need the strength of the international community to create the groundwork for reforms, to counter those powerful players in the region who are openly hostile to democracy.

We urge Foreign Leaders to make the link between human rights and politics and to publicly and unambiguously call for an immediate dialogue, encompassing all political trends to begin the process of reform.

Five opposition parties have released the Manama Document, a summary of what reforms are needed and how they can be achieved. Thus far The Government hasn’t even acknowledged this paper. This is clear evidence that the Bahraini Authorities take seriously neither the need for reform nor the opposition’s role within it.

Bahraini’s have fought for their rights and will continue to do so. Without international support for political reforms, there is the danger that democratic voices will be drowned in a sea of repression.

23rd November 2011 – London

 

 

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