Swiss criticism of Bahrain sparks Gulf condemnation

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – FEBRUARY 27: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivers a speech during the 34th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council at the United Nations office in Geneva, Switzerland on February 27, 2017. Mustafa Yalcin / Anadolu Agency

By :May Elmahdi

Switzerland and the Gulf states are at diplomatic odds following Swiss observations on human rights issues in Bahrain.

Earlier this month, Switzerland’s ambassador to the United Nations criticised Bahrain during a speech addressing the United Nations Human Rights Councilexternal link in Geneva.

“The use of torture, inadequate fair trial guarantees and excessive use of force during peaceful demonstrations, as well as reprisals against victims of human rights violations or those who cooperate with the United Nations, are of concern,” said Valentin Zellweger on March 14. He called on Bahrain to “cooperate with the Human Rights Council’s actions”.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)external link – the political organisation representing the Gulf monarchies – condemned Zellweger’s statement a few days later.

“The GCC countries categorically reject the allegations and claims contained in the Swiss statement, which ignores the efforts of the Kingdom of Bahrain to protect and promote human rights in the Kingdom, stressing that the Kingdom of Bahrain is making vigorous efforts to preserve and protect human rights in the Kingdom according to international standards,” said GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani in a statementexternal link.

He expressed hope that the Swiss government would rethink its position on the issue as well as its ongoing efforts targeting Bahrain at the UN Human Rights Council. The GCC called for the need “to draw information on human rights from reliable sources rather than from suspicious sources with special agendas”.

Swiss ambassador summoned

On Monday, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) summoned Maya Tissafi, Switzerland’s ambassador to UAE, to Abu Dhabi to answer for the Swiss criticism of Bahrain’s human rights record.

In a statement, UAE’s foreign ministry informed Tissafi that “it would be good to solve such issues through the bilateral channels that have been created between Bahrain and Switzerland for this purpose”.

In confirming the summons, the Swiss foreign ministry told swissinfo.ch that the UAE authorities wanted clarification on the statement made by Switzerland at the Human Rights Council.

“Switzerland has been concerned for some time because of the evolution of the human rights situation in Bahrain, and we decided to express this concern during the current session of the United Nations Human Rights Council,” said the foreign ministry. It added that since 2012 Switzerland had issued five joint statements on the human rights situation in Bahrain and that 35 countries had supported a joint statement issued in September 2015.

The ministry pointed out that Switzerland had chosen this time to issue a statement on its own “because it had not been able to mobilise broad support in the preliminary discussions”. The Swiss foreign ministry has been talking with Bahraini authorities about women’s rights and the prevention of torture since 2016.

In the wake of British criticism in the field of human rights, Bahrain’s parliament last week invited the UN human rights chief to visit prisons and Shi’ite villages, promising unrestricted access.

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