On 6th November 2012 the ruling family of Bahrain revoked the citizenship of 31 Bahrainis as a punishment for their support of the People’s Revolution. Despite condemnation from human rights bodies and the UN Human Rights Commissioner, the decision has not been overturned. Instead, more Bahrainis face the threat of similar action. Victims of this draconian decision and international experts on the issue will address the meeting.
Press conference: 5th November, 2013
Nick Mcgeehan, Researcher at the Human Rights Watch
Professor Joshua Castellino, Professor of Law & Dean, School of Law, Middlesex University,
Mohammad Al Tajir, Bahraini lawyer who had himself been jailed and tortured
Bahraini victims whose nationality has been revoked
Lord Avebury, Vice Chairman of the Parliamentary HR Group: This meeting was called to mark the anniversary of the Bahraini autocracy’s revocation of the citizenship of 31 Bahrainis, as a punishment for their support of a change in the government of the country.
The ruling family falsely pretends their state is a democracy, but it lacks the basic characteristic of a democracy, that the people should be able to change their government through the ballot box.
The state also violates the rule of law, followed ever since Magna Carta, that no person shall be seized or imprisoned or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. The deprivation of these people of their citizenship without reference to specific laws they are supposed to have contravened, and without giving them the opportunity of challenging that decision, is plainly a violation of the rule of law.
This should be a matter of particular concern to the UK, because 11 of the 31 stateless Bahrainis are now in the UK, without any assets or the means of livelihood. One is in the US, and the remaining nine are in Bahrain, sentenced without any kind of trial. There is a petition for the restoration of these people’s citizenships on the website Avaaz, and I appeal to you to sign and tweet it.
Britain says nothing about this. At the same time we are entertaining the President of South Korea, whose arms manufacturers are in the process of selling 1.6 million tear gas canisters to Bahrain. I have written to President Park to underline that, as he must already know, tear gas is the main weapon of oppression against the civilian population of Bahrain. The inhalation of this gas has caused severe health problems amongst vulnerable children and pregnant mothers, and direct hits by canisters fired deliberately at short range have resulted in serious injuries and 39 deaths.
A worldwide campaign labelled ‘Stop the Shipment’ has been launched against the South Korean sale. The UN Human Rights Council, the European Parliament, Amnesty International Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch are among the many organisations that have raised their voices in this regard.
Meanwhile, arbitrary arrests, detentions and tortures continue apace, as you will hear. Long term prisoners, the victims of unfair trials, are being denied medical treatment such as Hassan Mushaima who suffers from cancer, and Abdulwahab Hussain who has paresthesia. Amnesty International condemned the mass show trial of 50 activists as appalling and called for an investigation of reports that some of these detainees had been tortured. The UN Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendes, himself a former political prisoner, is looking into these matters, and we should be assisting potential witnesses to send their testimonies to him. One of the 50 activists, the human rights defender Naji Fattel, dramatically took off his shirt in the court to reveal the marks of torture. Evidently the recommendations of the Bassiouni Commission, which dealt with the tortures and judicial misconduct of 2011, were torn up five minutes after the king pretended to accept them.
The only solution to the crisis of human rights in Bahrain is a change of government. Heaven forbid that Bahrain should degenerate into the state of anarchy we see in Syria, but unfortunately that is often the result when illegitimate rulers overstay their welcome. It would still be possible to negotiate a peaceful transition in Bahrain if the al-Khalifas would accept that its time for them to step down, and instead of the present futile dialogue, allow free and fair elections to a legislature with the power to form a democratic government.
Ahmed Ali, Researcher at Bahrain Watch: My name is Ahmed Ali. I am a researcher at Bahrain Watch: We recently uncovered a document detailing a large shipment of tear gas – 1.6 million canisters. This is almost twice the population of Bahrain. Part of the shipment also included stun grenades and flash grenades. They have all been used to suppress not only protesters but against civilians in their homes. We have recorded over 39 deaths of tear gas being shot at civilians in their homes. We have at least one death caused by South Korean tear gas which killed a young boy aged 15. We launched this campaign called Stop the Shipment which received large global support in order to ban the current shipment which we believe is being approved by South Korean authorities.
The South Korean president is arriving today and is going to be staying in the UK for two days. We really need to up the pressure. This is a short video that we created for the campaign.
[Screening of video]
Lord Avebury: I found this video very impressive and very striking. I hope we will be doing a lot more to join this campaign Stop the Shipment both using the social media and perhaps and also organising a demonstration outside the Korean embassy. I don’t know if this has been organised but it would be excellent if we could do something during the visit of the South Korean President. While he is hear it should be brought home to him that the British people are violently opposed to the shipment of these horrible weapons which are being used to kill the people of Bahrain.
Before I call on the listed speakers I would like to ask my colleague Lord Ahmed whether he would like to add a few words.
Lord Ahmed: I am really hear to listen. Obviously I join in everything which Lord Avebury has already said. In relation to the situation in Bahrain nothing has really improved. On the tear gas if we can apply as much pressure as possible and write to the South Korean embassy and also MP’s. The campaign has to run from MP’s. If we can ask as many members of the community around the country to write to their MP’s so they could raise it. And also write individual letters. Perhaps you could prepare a standard letter for the community but if they can write it with their own hand and address it personally to HE the ambassador that would be good. I am hosting another meeting in a couple of weeks time. I will say the rest in that meeting.
Lord Avebury: I think it is a good idea for everyone to write to their MPS and get them mobilised in this campaign. I hope we will spread the word on that via the social media. We now turn to our distinguished speakers.
Nick Mcgeehan, Researcher at the Human Rights Watch: I would also like to add my congratulations to Bahrain Watch for the excellent campaign they have launched. Talking about human rights in Bahrain in brief is always tricky but I will give it a go.
Last week the crown prince of Bahrain was in London and William Hague did not miss the opportunity to promote the reform the narrative which Bahrain is so keen on. I think reform is the watch word when you talk about Bahrain. The government has gone to great lengths to ensure that its allies support this narrative: that there is dialogue and the we are moving forward.
When you examine the facts on the ground they are totally at odds with this narrative. I will go through some of the facts on the ground about human rights in 2013. We all know what happened in 2011 but when you look at what the Bassouni commission found and when you look at what is happening today they are almost identical if not worse.
If you start with the first three rights: freedom of association, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. Earlier this year Bahrain altered article 214 of its penal code to increase the sentences for people who were found guilty of insulting the king. In freedom of assembly in the run up to Bahrain’s Tamarid protests in August the Bahrain parliament proposed 22 recommendations to the king. One of these led to the indefinite suspension of the right to assemble in Manama. Persons who wish to organise any kind of protest or demo need to apply to the head of security who will dictate to them the number of protesters, the location and the time. This is in effect an indefinite ban on the right to assembly in the capital –a defacto state of emergency.
In the run up to these protests not content with having passed these laws, Bahrain effectively physically ring fenced villages where they expected the protests to come from with razor wire physically preventing people from going to the capital to protest. Putting entire towns under town arrest.
Freedom of association. Bahrain has altered the very act of civil societies – one of the things that sets in apart from its neighbours in the Gulf. I had the honour of attending a ceremony in Norway where the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights was awarded the Rafto 2013 Human Rights prize. I think this is a testament to how vibrant civil society in Bahrain is. Unfortunately it is under severe attack. The authorities continue to arbitrarily reject applications for civil society organisations, the provisions of a new law of association are even harsher than the law which exists today. We see this continual crackdown on the heads of leading civil society figures. Only last week we had Mohammed Al Miskati who is the head of the Bahrain Human Rights Youth Society called into a police station for questioning. He is an avowed pacifist, someone who promotes non violence. He was accused of inciting hatred. Frankly a ridiculous charge.
What about other human rights violations? Consider arbitrary detention. Dry Dock Detention Centre and Jaw Prison are both 50 percent over capacity because they are full of political prisoners. Bahrain ‘s jails are bursting. They do not have enough room for the amount of people they are detaining.
The Bassiouisni report talked about 1200 arbitrary detentions. Figures from local human rights groups put the figures far in access of that in 2013. The situation has became worse. Without doubt we can say that systematic torture is ongoing in Bahrain. Human Rights Watch is currently investigating and speaking to victims of torture in 2013. Many of them have been released because there is no space in prison.
The stories they have told us are consistent with the gruesome and systematic torture that the Bassiouni report detailed. Some of this torture involves children. In Dry Dock Detention Centre there are about ten functioning wings. In at least two of those wings the majority of the detainees are under 18 making them children under international law.
So that is a brief picture of what is going on now in Bahrain in 2013. The conclusion that we have to draw is that any state which peddles this reform narrative does so out of wilful political expediency because the facts are well documented and we know that the situation is not getting better. It is getting steadily worse.
Lord Avebury: Thank you Nick. I just want to reemphasise the possibility of getting individual testimonies to the UN Rapporteur on Torture. I sent him a particular statement and I got an immediate response from him by return. That is unusual. Juan Mendes is a good man. He is very thorough and hard working. He has personal experience of being a political prisoner himself. If we were to mobilise the victims and the relatives of the victims of torture to send material in to this rapporteur in the form they have suggested on their website. Anyone can go to the website and see the form which his proposed by him for submission of evidence of torture. We can get that translated into Arabic if it is not posted in Arabic on the website and we could encourage people in Bahrain to submit that evidence so that the special rapporteur has got a lot of material on what is happening. I believe that that would be thoroughly effective. So I hope we will take that one up.
Professor Joshua Castellino, Professor of Law & Dean, School of Law, Middlesex University: I want to thank Lord Avebury for hosting this meeting. I want to talk about the international legal regime and its impact and how it impacts on Bahrain.
When states got together a long time ago they decided that they would have to come up with rules that would bind every single state. It is in the interests of states as a community to make sure that certain laws are upheld. Among the greatest rules is the concept of recognisable law. We have to ensure as a human community that there are certain lines in the sand that are drawn that we will not cross no matter circumstances may arise.
Among those norms is the right to self determination. Among that is the prohibition of torture and the arbitrary revocation of citizenship. These are the three aspects I want to focus on today. It is in every states interest to make sure that international law is upheld. When one state in a community of states starts to wilfully break international law in the manner we have seen it affects the entire international community because it reduces the law, it reduces the goal of the rule of to a paper promise.
To give you a bit of background there are three elements I want to speak about: the right to self determination in Bahrain. This is part of a greater revolution that is sweeping through the Middle East and that many have documented, the double standards that we have seen in the context of Libya and Syria and Egypt to the response in Bahrain is really very shocking and an indictment on all states in the international community and not just those with interests in Bahrain.
So it really is important within the context of international law to except that revolution is a legitimate way to change government as long as that revolution can be peaceful. It is very clear that what is happening in Bahrain is an attempt to get to a dialogue with the government. The initial protests were about reform but the response to those protests has been so damming that there has been much aggravation of the rights violations. But it really is imperative that we accept what was promised in the UN Charter on the self determination of all peoples.
We need to ensure that governments are legitimate and that they have the democratic legitimacy by the backing of their people. We cannot say for certain that that is the case in Bahrain and every attempt has to be made in the interests of the international community, in the interests of humanity to understand what is the will of the Bahraini people and to give a voice to that.
A central element of this violation is the clamping down on the freedom of expression. If you have a system which prevents any form of protest from arising, if you simply dismiss all the evidence that is presented as fabrication it is impossible to get a genuine dialogue. That failure to get a genuine dialogue automatically affects the extent to which you can have the legitimate right to self determination. So the right to self determination really is at the heart of this protest and as Lord Avebury mentioned in his opening address it is inevitable that a change of government or discussion of the change of government has to be central to any discussion on Bahrain.
A second element that I want to focus on is the prohibition against torture. In the context of 400 years of history that we have had in the realm of international law it has been decided that under no circumstances is torture permissible. This is a norm that has grown and that states have accepted. States in their own constitution – including the Bahraini constitution – have made this promise to their people. They have basically said that this is a trust between the state and the citizen that torture will not be used as under any circumstances. That promise lies in tatters. That promise already came under great pressure in the aftermath of September 11th. Even if you look at the way in which the various decisions around the world were taken that challenge that existed by countries like the USA have been successfully defeated and the norm on the prohibition of torture remains absolute and has been strengthened in the aftermath of the various events of September 11th.
That norm however is once again being violated quite consistently in Bahrain. Juan Mendes is an individual of great integrity with a personal interest to ensure that the prohibition of torture is upheld. He requested a visit to Bahrain. Special rapportuers when the go to countries all they can do is investigate. They do not have the power to change but they have the power to investigate and they have the power to tell others in the international community what is happening on torture. His visit has been denied by the Bahraini regime for a variety of reasons. It is imperative for governments and those who have the voices of governments to speak and highlight that if in fact as the Bahraini government is alleging there is no torture taking place then there should be no harm in Mendes visiting Bahrain and documenting that for the rest of the international community.
So it really is imperative that Mendes is given the right visit Bahrain and to look at the evidence is being presented on torture. That is a central element. So if we say that the probation of torture is absolute it means that. It does not mean that there are certain circumstances where you can torture certain people you do not like. It does not mean that you can use national security as an excuse to perpetrate torture. It simply means that torture is absolutely prohibited. And that absolute nature of torture has to be upheld in this particular context because it underpins much of the narrative in Bahrain since Feburary 2011.
The final aspect I want to talk to you about and I think that is the reason we are here is the arbitrary deprivation of statehood and citizenship. It is really quite simple in the way that human rights law has evolved. Essentially citizens gain human rights by virtue of the fact that they belong to a particular state. We determined in 1948 when the universal declaration on human rights was passed it was decided by the community of states that every single individual had the inherent dignity and rights and those rights had to be upheld.
That promise of 1948 has been converted in many legal systems as real promises between a state and its citizens. If you make an individual stateless you deny them all of those promises, you deny them all of the rights that flow from them because essentially citizenship tends to be the first point of contact between an individual and the law.
The arbitrary deprivation of citizenship is a gross violation of human rights. Any deprivation of citizenship is a violation of human rights. When it is arbitrary that particular violation is heightened. In the context of our colleagues some of whom are in the room today, whose citizenship was taken away a year ago today, that particular violation is horrific. And the fact that we have not had adequate attention paid to this is an indictment of all of us – of the media, of the press, of the community of nations.
Essentially to allow uncontested the deprivation of the citizenship of an individual is to permit the state to effectively disappear an individual. Disappearances are something that Mendes was very familiar with during his time with the Argentinian junta. It shocked audiences all over the world but actually in a modern the arbitrary deprivation of citizenship is equivalent to disappearing an individual as a legal entity. So we need to emphasise this.
In summary we are in a context where as a community of nations we have to uphold the fact one among us – Bahrain – is violating the norms that have been generated and agreed on over 400 years. These norms did not grow up yesterday. These norms were arrived at as we, as humanity, determined that there were certain standards we had to uphold. We insisted on those particular standards, we have put them in constitutions, we have placed them in institutions. If those rights are violated, if those standards are violated and we do nothing we are saying we do not believe in the rule of law and we are saying that it is ultimately power that can dictate elements. And the whole point of law and the whole point of order has been not just to maintain order but a just order. An order that is just, an order that is fair and an order that pays attention to justice. By not standing up in the context of what is happening in Bahrain – and I know people in this room have. We need to get the message out to the wider community, to the press that what is happening in Bahrain is an indictment not just of Bahrain but of every single world government because it is our promises as states and our promises as civil society that are being broken here. Thank you.
Lord Avebury: If any of you passed through Westminster Hall on your way out of this building walking down the steps you will see a brass plaque. It indicates the place where Charles 1 stood when he was put on trial for treason against the people. I always like to remind Bahrainis that we have in our history a very singular instance where the people took power against a dictatorial monarch and managed to overcome. So it has happened in history and it will happen in Bahrain. The rule of self determination which has existed all these centuries has to apply in Bahrain as it does in the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Now I want to move on to the next speaker. We have great pleasure in welcoming Mohammed Al Taji a Bahraini lawyer who himself was imprisoned and tortured.
Video message from Mohammad Al Tajir, Bahraini lawyer who had himself been jailed and tortured: Many Bahrainis have been deprived of their citizenship. Some of them were my very close friends. Some of them I know since decades, some of them I knew from the time of martial law when I was jailed with them. What find so strange, so astonishing, so disgusting is what happened on the night the Americans were busy in the presidential elections.
What happened on that night shows that the government of Bahrain has the intention to violate the laws, to violate the constitution, to violate the universal declaration of human rights and the international conventions as a decision was taken on 6th November but it was delayed on the night of the election of President Obama. It shows that the Bahrain government, again and again has gone further in its violations, has gone against its own citizens, against its own people.
These Bahrainis who lost their citizenship have no common things between them. Why do they revoke the citizenship of 31 Bahrainis? Some of them fled from the country a long time ago seeking asylum in other countries. Some of the them have decided to live away from the corruption, from the ongoing violence which erupted as a result of the measures taken by the government itself. Some of them have no political, religious or even civil activities but all of them have one thing in common: they are standing for a better human rights situation and they took a stand with the Bahraini people during 14th February revolution in 2011.
After they showed that they were not backing down from their demands for democracy and a better situation in Bahrain. Most of them have shown that they are vocal and are ready to shout for their rights to be given back to them. That is why their citizenship was revoked.
Still we are worried that Bahrain has tried to pretend for years that it is a constitutional state a legal state which has several bodies which will ensure that nobody’s constitutional rights are violated. But on one night you realise that you have no citizenship or that you cannot move outside your country, you can’t move inside your country. You can’t live peacefully, you can’t use the health system, you can’t use the educational system, you can’t work, you can’t get a license to work privately. This happened in one day just because you have been classified as an enemy to the regime. Why have you been classified as an enemy? Because you have raised your voice to ask for your rights. We are so worried about families who have been affected by the revoking of the citizenship of their brothers and their fathers. We are worried for the family of Ibrahim Karim who has had his citizenship revoked. His family were not allowed to enter Kuwait previously because of intimidation and reprisals carried out by the government of Bahrain against the 31 families.
We are worried about Ayatollah Sheikh Hussein Najati who has been put under pressure day after day to fell from his country or he will be deported. We are worried about Ferouz brothers who fled from Bahrain and are asking for asylum in the UK where they have been separated from their families.
We are worried about people living in the UK like Ali Mushaima, Abbas Omran, Dr Saeed Shehabi etc because this decision of the government of Bahrain has effects on people in other countries. They are worried to leave the countries where they are living even though they have citizenship or asylum in these countries.
We are so worried that even the people who are living in Bahrain do not even have the right to go and complain to a police station. We find that Sayeed Mohammed Mosawi and Ibrahim Karim have been arrested when they approached a police station to complain about a crime that was committed against them. On both occasions these people were detained and jailed. Some for one day and some for several hours, just because the Ministry of Interior has circulated a letter saying that those who live here in Bahrain should be pressured more and more. They have been stripped of their nationalities and their id’s. I am wondering how a person can move inside the country without id. How can a person trust a government which does not even allow him to live peacefully in Bahrain.
We are so worried about the family of Mohammed Abdullah Mohammedi who fled from Bahrain and was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in jail because he is part of these 51 people whose nationality has been revoked. His family is worried because even though he has been married to a Lebanese lady for 21 years she did not get Bahraini citizenship. Now she needs a sponsor so she can live in Bahrain. This is a worrying situation for a family, for daughters and sons who see their mother living here illegally because their father’s citizenship was revoked.
It is a very dangerous situation we are going through. That is why we are asking the international community, the friends all over the world, human rights defenders to put more pressure on the government of Bahrain to raise their voice on behalf of the Bahrainis who lost their nationality.
Lord Avebury: I have just been told that Amnesty International issued an urgent statement calling on the Bahraini regime to reinstate the nationality of the 31 people which has been revoked. Now we will hear from one of the MPs whose nationality has been revoked.
Jawad Al Farouz: Thank you ladies and gentlemen. First of all I would like to thank Lord Avebury and thank all those who are here with us and all the speakers for coming together to support us. I have a short presentation on the issue of revoking nationality.
The Bahraini authorities have used this tool to revoke the nationalities as a tool of political punishment. The first was in 1954 during the British colonisation. It was used against the opposition leader Mr Abdul Rahman Al Bakr. On 6th November 2012 this was used once again. The same tool has been used in the 70s, 80s and 90s. The regime used the revoking of political nationality as a tool against the opposition figures. On 6th November 2012 almost a year ago the Ministry of the Interior revoked the nationality of 31 Bahrainis without any reason or evidence. Up till now the regime has failed to prove or give any evidence for taking such a horrible decision. The decisions was taken without any proof by the executive authorities and not through an independent judiciary. It was unconstitutional.
This decision is contrary to all the articles of international conventions, civil and political rights which have been adopted by the government of Bahrain. They have already issued Law No 56/ 2006 that in article 15 of the Universal of the Universal Declaration that they are accepting all these articles that everyone has the right to have a nationality. No person shall be deprived of their nationality arbitrarily.
Here is the list of the 31 – ten of these are with us here in this room. They are in exile. We have started a campaign a few days ago to write a letter to the leaders of the world and reputed international organisations. We have already addressed a letter to them to indicate certain points. This letter says that we are 31 people who were affected by this decision including lawyers, scholars, MPs and so many well reputed opposition leaders. The decision by the Ministry of the Interior is a flagrant violation of the basic human rights of the citizens. This has been condemned by international human rights organisations. Just now we received another condemnation from Amnesty International. Other reputed human rights organisations have condemned this. The Human Rights Council has asked Bahrain to change its decision.
The government has failed to justify its allegation that members of the group posed a threat to national security. That claim that we pose a threat to national security but this claim is made without any proof or any court decision. There is no evidence of this. One of the outcomes of this decision is that most of those affected how now become stateless.
This move is also viewed as a continuation of the massive crackdown. It is one of the tools. The rest of the tool as everyone knows include killing the people, torturing, sacking them from their jobs and sentencing them to live imprisonment. This is what happened to leaders of the opposition like Sayed Wahab Hussein, Hassan Mushaima, Mekdad, Khawaja and Nabil Rajab the human rights activist. They have been kept in jail.
The decision was motivated solely by political intentions. It has shaken most of them. Imagine hearing through a broadcast on local tv that your name is there and your nationality has been revoked without any type of notice. At least you should be informed what crime you have committed. There is no justification for such an act. We want the international community in general, the world leaders, reputed international human rights organisations to put more pressure on the regime of Bahrain.
We are calling for the abolition of all decisions and acts taken by the authority in Bahrain based on the decision to revoke citizenship. Mr Taji indicated certain examples. Those people whose nationality has been revoked and are in Bahrain cannot have access to health care, education and they cannot have the basic rights. They cannot engage in activities of a normal life.
In summary we say that we continue our struggle. This decision will not stop us and we will not be silent because the goals and demands of the people of Bahrain are to have freedom, to have an elected government, to have self determination. We feel the international community should put pressure on Bahrain – especially the allies of Bahrain, Britain and the USA. We can reach these goals. The peoples movement is peaceful and we will not give up.
Qasim Al Hasemi: victim who was deprived of nationality: I just need to announce that we did not such a decision until it as published. I was shocked to hear about such a decision and to know that I have no nationality. Only Bahrain and Jordan are revoking nationalities as far as I know. There are no other regimes who would take such an action without informing the victims about what there faults are. I am here to appeal for pressure to be put on the Bahraini regime not only for us but for the people to come. We are not the first and we will not be the last.
Saeed Shehabi, London representative Bahrain Freedom Movement: Professor Castelini said earlier that you can have an order but not any order. The regime of Bahrain is always talking about establishing law and order. What order? The order that is based on the bodies of the victims, on killing people and torturing them. It believes that establishing order justifies any illegal action. The state itself has become a weapon against its citizens. That is when the essence of the state itself disappears. You cannot have a state based on denying the rights of its citizens. You cannot have state which is based on torture. Torture cannot be justified under any circumstances – national security or whatever.
These are the sorts of justifications that are presented by the regime every time it undertakes serious human rights violations. Why is the regime not allowing the treatment of people like Hassan Mushaima, Abdel Wahab Hussein, Dr Abdeljalil Singace who have been in jail for just under three years. Talk of national security does not warrant the sacking of people from their jobs. They have revoked the citizenship of 31 people and they were planning to revoke more nationalities. Why? Because the security of the state needs that. Who determines the security of the state. Whose country is it? Revoking the citizenship is the one face of the coin.
The other face is granting citizenship. There are two sides of the coin, the aim of which is to alter the geographic balance. The government of Bahrain comprises (I am not talking about Sunnis and Shias here because I do not believe that the government is a Sunni government). The regime is a tribal regime who hates both Sunnis and Shias who are opposing them. If someone is a Sunni liberal he is in jail and being mistreated like any other person. It is trying to alter the balance of power.
I believe that the support granted especially by the UK is embolding the regime. Any time you hear Mr Hague talking he talks about welcoming the reforms. All the time he gives the impression that there are reforms. But everybody is asking where are the reforms? Two years after the Bassouni report torture is still being administered systematically. The revoking of the citizenship is continuing. Using tear gas as a weapon is continuing. Zeinab’s father is in hospital because tear gas was fired at his house.
It is unfortunate that the world community is turning a blind eye to the situation in Bahrain. It cannot be resolved with repression. Repression can only intensify the resolve of the people to get a fundamental change in the regime because this regime has proved to be incapable of upholding the rule of law.
Lord Avebury: Just as an aside you say that the support by the UK emboldens the regime to intensify the repression. We saw another example of this with the arrest of Sheikh Ali Salman. I think that also helps to expose the falseity of the political dialogue which has continued for months without producing a result. Not one concession from the government.
Sheikh Ali Salman is one of the least vociferous of the opponents of the government. They will not tolerate Sheikh Ali Salman and the arrest so many of the opponents who are out on the streets and are speaking about the torture and the corruption that infests the judicial system.
Saeed Shehabi: What has the government here say about calling Sheikh Ali and summoning him. He is supposed to be a partner in the dialogue. He met Alistair Burt several times. He met senior figures here.
Lord Avebury: I would be very interested to know what the government has to say about the dialogue because as you say Saeed whenever we have protested about the violations they say there is a process of reform in progress. Now that that process has been exposed as a fake I would like to know what Alistair Burt and the foreign office has got to say about it. And we will find out if we ask questions in parliament to bring them to account. They are giving a mistaken support to this fake dialogue over the past months when it has proved to be a failure. I want to call the representative of redress.
Kevin Lowry, Redress representative: thank you very much for organising this meeting. Two things in particular are worth mentioning. Lord Avebury has referred to the Special Rapporteur on Torture and I would certainly endorse the suggestion that people who are within Bahrain should use whatever facility they can to make complaints and record their experiences in written form and send them to him.
Regarding people who are in the UK – we at Redress have already made four reports including those who are in this room. Their cases will be on our website. The possibility for more detailed petitions to the special rapportuer arise when people are out of Bahrain because then we can obtain medical legal reports, we can document their experiences with a great deal of detail and that is what we have done.
Some people think what can the special rapporteur actually do. He doesn’t have the power to take the Bahrain regime to court and that is true. But as Lord Avebury has said he is persistently trying to visit Bahrain and I hope that he will get there eventually and if he is furnished with detailed case studies of torture in particular then that gives him lots of ammunition and it puts on record what has happened and it is available for the future. So if there any other torture survivors in the UK who have not made their way to redress then we are always available to try and make further petitions to the Special Rapportuer.
The second point I think most of us will know that for almost a year the Foreign Affairs Committee has been conducting an inquiry into the relationship between the UK’s foreign policy and Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. It has been quite a controversial inquiry already and I think at one point a Foreign Affairs Committee spokesman said that this not a human rights inquiry. But nevertheless a lot of organisations have made submissions to the Foreign Affairs Committee and we await with great interest what the Foreign Affairs Committee is going to say about the government’s policy.
When the Foreign Affairs Committee publishes its report which may be any day now, It may be an opportunity to have some kind of event, meeting or response whether they are critical of the government or not. So it is a very important mechanism to keep pressure on the government.
Lord Avebury: Thank you for the suggestion that has been made that we should have a special meeting to discuss the Foreign Affairs Committee report. There was an asylum seeker who was tortured in Bahrain. The evidence for him was so powerful that the lawyers did not consider it necessary to obtain medical reports for submission to the tribunal. He was advised to pay £500 to an independent medical/legal expert. Maybe there are other victims in Bahrain whose cases are so plain and obvious that lawyers do not obtain medical/legal reports. We have to ensure that there is funding for the reports for submission to the special rapporteur when they are required for the purposes of asylum.
Kevin Lowry: For people who are in the UK without suggesting that Redress has a bottomless fund, we have so far managed to obtain and pay for medical/legal reports even when they have not been necessary for the asylum application. In principle we will always try fund those ourselves.
Jaffar Al Hasabi: I do not want to repeat what my colleagues said earlier. When dealing with Bahrain we are not dealing with a state with law and justice. We are dealing with organised crime and it is a state which uses its tool to punish people. It is organised crime. You can call it the state of Bahrain. I would like to ask the Professor of Law how can we deal with a state like this. And also we are living in a country in the UK. There is a democratic system and the role of law but unfortunately they are receiving these criminals who have been identified everywhere by the media, by human rights organisations. Forty seven states organised a petition against Bahrain and documented all their crimes. It has taken more than 30 months since the revolution started. There has not been any reform or change in that regime. We hear from the people here or the officials here that there is reform and they are going to carry out reforms. What kind of reforms? In Bahrain crimes are committed every day – people are killed every day. Last week people were killed in cold blood. Nobody raised their voice. We did not hear anything from this state condemning what they do.
Professor Joshua Castellino: The wheels of justice move slowly. It seems that the wheels of international justice move at all. In many ways there is very little that can be done here with regards to law. So much is dependent on politics. But there is nonetheless if we look through history real oppression has been overcome. It has not been overcome because of smart lawyers and sleek courtrooms. It has been overcome by the actions of people very much like yourselves who have been victims of this. I do not think there is anything that can be done in the context of international justice because there isn’t a forum as such that can hear these kinds of cases. But it is very important to document every single violation, it is very important to stress when there is a violation and to collect this information because there will come a time when it becomes important. And great injustice has been overcome by this particular way, not because of any courtroom but because people have stood up and said they will not take anymore of it. The people in this room are a testimony to this. You have been fighting against unbelievable odds. You have been fighting not just against the regime in Bahrain but its allies including this country. And you have kept going and I think that is important. This is testimony that you will overcome but you will overcome on the basis of evidence and that evidence is important to collect. The work that Redress is going is a vital part of this. You can give evidence to the special rapporteur. These are all small bits of the wheel that can be put in place. They are not going to make the wheel of justice turn any quicker but when it starts turning you have the evidence to document it. Your frustration is obvious. We would like to see a much harsher, swifter international justice system. If we had that it would be hijacked by the most powerful states. We have had that. Colonialism was one way of civilising the rest of the world they have told. So I would be slow to suggest that we have summary justice at the international level because I wouldn’t have confidence that if that tool was so strong it would be objective.
Lord Avebury: One organisation that has constantly fought injustice and is doing so now is Amnesty International and I believe that the Middle East Deputy Director of Amnesty is with us.
Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui: I think the biggest challenge that we face in our work is to challenge the narrative that the Bahraini authorities are putting forward with the help of their pr companies and their allies. They are able to put out their propaganda. When we try to do advocacy be it with the UN or be it with the British government we have found it extremely difficult. Even in the face of evidence the UK government in particular has been very reluctant. We have said that the Bahraini authorities are just putting in place institutional reform. They are trying to see what they can get away with, what they can implement without touching the core of the system and without having real accountability. They have all reasons to continue to do so because the UK government would be praising them for the slightest development when in reality the situation of human rights on the ground is worsening. So our efforts are really trying to challenge the narrative that the authorities and their allies are giving. To us it is a key that the UK and the USA start taking their human rights obligations seriously. This is where we see that the press reports are not being used and the Bahraini government is just getting bolder and bolder in what it does. It also provides blatantly wrong facts. I remember having this discussion with the authorities saying that the visit of the special rapporteur has been postponed because it is not convenient for us at this time and because we have a national dialogue. But when we met detainees in prison, including the 13 opposition activists they were asking what dialogue is going to start because we are all in jail. Since then we see more and more people being put in jail. We are possibly not as efficient as the 100 million pr firms are but events like this one are extremely helpful. Thank you.
Lord Avebury: If there are no more contributions from the floor I think we should bring this meeting to a close and in so doing I would like to thank our contributors for the powerful speeches they have made and for their ongoing battle to highlight the violations of human rights that we see in Bahrain. I have to assure all of them that we in parliament will do everything that we possible can to make sure that the criminals who rule Bahrain are one day brought to justice. We can do it. We need to have the time and we need to have more resources in terms of the support of the people of Britain to combat the ‘do nothingness’ of the regime. That will be the secret. If we can get the US and British governments to see the reality in Bahrain for what it is and not for the pretence that the regime makes of it we will begin to make some real progress. In the meantime thank you all very much.