By William Fisher
Even as Bahrain accepted many of the recommendations to end human rights violations made during a UN review this week at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Bahraini human rights defenders reported threats against them as a result of their participation in the process.
At the upper levels of Bahraini Government, officials appeared to be using the rhetoric of statesmanship to convey their wish for sweeping reforms and maximum dialogue with citizens who have been demonstrating against the official repression that has kept the tiny country's revolution alive for more than a year.
Bahrain, strategically positioned in the Arabian Gulf, is a kingdom ruled by Hamad bin Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the King of Bahrain, and the al Khalifa family. King Hamad is a Sunni Muslim while a large majority of the country's population is Shia Muslim. Shia citizens complain against discrimination in landing top jobs, accessing credit and property ownership. The country is of particular concern to the US as it is the home of the Fifth Fleet and a close neighbor to US ally, Saudi Arabia. At least 50 Bahrainis have been killed in clashes with the country's security forces and with Saudi troops, who were dispatched under the aegis of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
The King and his men have taken a number of bold moves to neutralize their opposition. He commissioned as blue-ribbon task force, headed by a distinguished Egyptian judge, to study the conflict from the very beginning and present findings and recommendations. He accepted the judge's report personally and promised to begin immediately to implement its recommendations.
The report corroborated many of the people's complaints, including the use of torture in the county's prisons. The King made a number of appointments to correct that situation, including the appointment of John Timoney, former chief of police in Miami, Florida, as a senior consultant, and the naming of a new head of the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of police and prisoners. The King also approved the establishment of an Ombudsman to investigate and adjudicate complaints made by either government or citizens against authorities.
In his final remarks at Bahrain's UPR adoption, H.E. Mr. Shaikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Bin Mohamed Al Khalifa, Minister of Foreign Affairs, denied that anyone was kept in jail for exercising their free expression. He claimed all charges related to free expression had been dropped, and admitted "there may be some controversies" over certain cases.
Another major move by the government has been its attendance, along with several human rights groups, at the United Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Bahrain, a United Nations process whereby states and NGOs contribute towards improving the human rights record of a country. Bahrain was presented with 176 recommendations, immediately accepted 145 of them, and promised to study others.