Foreign AffairsWritten evidence from the Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society

1. The Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society (BHRWS) was founded in 2004. It is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation. Our board is made up of people from all backgrounds of society from a multiple religions, sects and social standards. The society works to ensure that the principles of human rights are followed in Bahrain. BHRWS works at both legislative and practical levels to prevent violations of human rights and guarantee non-discrimination of citizens on race, language, religion, sex or opinion. In addition, the society works to raise the standards of democracy in Bahrain, to monitor the application of existing human rights and political legislation and to encourage the membership of international conventions and agreements in relation to human rights.

2. We recognize that when His Majesty came to power, he brought in considerable reforms. Among many reforms we welcomed the introduction of the bicameral parliament, the participation of women in parliament and key ministerial posts and the establishment of a Constitutional Court. However we felt that a few years later, the speed of reform and implementation had slowed down.

3. Because of the reduced pace of reform, at the beginning of the protest movement of 2011 BHRWS joined the calls for reform from the Government. We felt that reforms had slowed down and not enough progress was being made. However over a short time it became apparent that radicals were hijacking what had initially been legitimate calls for reform and were turning protests violent with the intention of regime change in favor of an Islamic republic. It was clear that there was some influence by foreign actors. We had absolutely no interest in calling for the overthrow of the Government so we decided to withdraw from the protests, however we were intent on following the actions closely.

4. It was apparent by their coverage that the majority of Western media did not understand the situation that was taking place in Bahrain and applied similar analysis in Bahrain as they did in North Africa (Tunisia, Egypt and Libya). The Crown Prince promptly offered an unconditional dialogue to the main opposition party Al Wefaq for reforms. Al Wefaq refused the Crown Prince’s call for dialogue, and refused to cooperate with the government.

5. Things worsened in Bahrain. The protestors began striking in schools, hospitals, universities and shut down major roads. BHRWS was extremely concerned with the impact this was having on the fabric of Bahrain’s society and the economy, which became polarized and was more or less shut down. As a result some foreign companies left Bahrain, putting the economy and jobs at risk. It was clear to BHRWS that the protestors had no programme of reform and did not seek to engage the Government.

6. As things began to escalate the Gulf Peninsula shield entered Bahrain to protect essential installations. The BHRWS is not critical about the Peninsula shield’s presence as they have not had any contact with any protestors since they entered Bahrain and we believe their presence in Bahrain is essential until things stabilize. Their entry into Bahrain was based on longstanding defense agreements with the GCC.

7. The security forces reacted by taking a heavy-handed approach that the BHRWS is very critical of. As the Independent Commission’s report highlights, serious mistakes were made and as a result, tragically a number of protestors and police officers lost their lives. However the BHRWS found that in some situations individuals among protesters deliberately sought out confrontation with police (and in some cases migrant workers) to raise their profile and encourage further radicalization.

8. Following these events the government held a National Dialogue, 300 people including our organisation took part from across Bahraini society including a number of the opposition parties. 291 recommendations were reached through consensus and are in the process of being implemented. However the main opposition party Al Wefaq withdrew after just two days. BHRWS felt this highlighted that they had little interest in genuine reform; instead wanting to impose their own agenda on the Bahraini society.

9. A number of activists called on the Government to allow Iran or Iraq to mediate between the Government and the opposition to reach a path forward. We believe that as a sovereign country the Government was right to reject these calls. The majority of the Bahraini people also felt this was inappropriate.

10. The Government of Bahrain then called for the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. The inquiry looked into the mistakes that were made during the unrest of 2011 and came up with a series of recommendations. This was led by Professor Cherif Bassiouni and we worked with the commission to give our evidence. The Government wanted to correct the mistakes that had been made and do what they could to ensure such mistakes would not happen again. Subsequently we believe the Government is genuinely working hard to implement the recommendations in full. We are following the implementation process closely and we accept that some of the recommendations the Government is implementing may take time (such as training) or may require infrastructure and legislation. We believe it is crucial that the quality of reforms is not undermined through rushing the implementation process, but we will be following this process closely and critically to ensure it stays on track.

11. We are now certain that for peace and further reform there needs to be an end to the violence and the beginning dialogue. We agree with HM King Hamad’s call for an end to the violence and for the opposition to join in inclusive dialogue, which have so far been rejected. Without both we are unable to come to an understanding that represents everyone’s interests. BHRWS does not believe that one party should decide the future of Bahrain.

12. Our biggest concern is that violence is escalating. Explosives, molotovs and the targeting of innocent civilians are all becoming more common. This is resulting in injuries and deaths to the protestors, police and innocent bystanders which we feel is completely unacceptable. We are also concerned by the way the police has handled protests, and call on them to practice restraint and appropriate force when handling protesters.

13. BHRWS also believes that international actors have played a role in the attempted overthrowing of the Government under the guise of an “Arab Spring movement”.

14. In conclusion, our organisation has always supported further reform. We were initially supportive of the objectives of the movement in early 2011 as we felt the reform process had stalled. It has since become clear to us that the intentions of certain political activists are more about political power than reform and as such we cannot condone the behaviour. The actions that took place on both sides have concerned us over the past months, however we welcome the Government’s efforts to correct mistakes that have been made and introduce further reform. We are concerned that irreparable damage is being done to the unity and fabric of Bahrain’s society and all Bahraini’s should work to prevent this. We call on the international community to encourage opposition activists to condemn all forms of violence and engage in dialogue for the benefit of all Bahrainis.

15. We are able to provide written and photographic evidence to support our submission should you require this please do let us know.

14 November 2012

Prepared 21st November 2013