ELODIE INTROIA WRITES – Earlier this month, the European Parliament issued a warning on deteriorating human rights in Bahrain. Despite its seemingly progressive human rights legislations, NGOs and the international media have exposed the tight grip the kingdom is keeping on its citizens.
Bahrain is a beautiful island country where people from all over the Gulf like to go to relax. Unlike a lot of the other Arab states, alcohol there is legal and available, hotels are hip, and the beaches are stunning. Women are well regarded, able to be professionally active, and not obliged to wear the hijab. Overall, Bahrain is seemingly a rather liberal country.
Yet freedom of expression is still lacking and has contributed to shaky human rights practices. Dozens of reports have come out about people being imprisoned for kissing on the streets and displaying too much affection, for tweeting some unflattering 140 characters on twitter, for expressing their pro-democracy views, for expressing their dislike towards the kingdom… What is really going on in Bahrain?
Basically, a Sunni monarchy rules Bahrain and feels threatened by the Shiite majority that is demanding to gain a greater political voice. To achieve such ends, people have been gathering to protest against King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa in the name of democracy. In an effort to contain what the King has qualified as “acts of terror” against the monarchy, the government issued a new decree that would allow them to revoke any citizenship. Many individuals who have been punished as a result of this decree were Shiites and were protesting against what they called “a system of entrenched, official discrimination.”
I first became aware of Human Rights issues in Bahrain in 2011 after the famous Bahraini soccer champion made the headlines for his arrest, after his participation in a pro-democracy protest. Sure that was terrible, but it is not what stunned me the most… Human Rights Watch came out with a report on September 15th on how “Bahrain security forces routinely detain children without cause and subject them to ill-treatment that may rise to the level of torture.”
How could that be true?! Bahrain signed on to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992 (unlike the US), which prohibits any form of torture on children under the ages of 18. But, according to a Yale Law report the convention is in conflict with the country’s binding Sharia law.
Where am I going with all this? It seems like there is a strange dichotomy going on in Bahrain. According to an Al-Jazeera report, Bahrain came out saying it will host the “permanent headquarters of the Arab Human Rights Court following its approval at an Arab League meeting in Cairo.” Maryam Alkhawaja, a human rights activist who recently went on a hunger strike to protest the wrongful doings of the kingdom, warns us not to be fooled by this “public-relations stunt.” According to her it is not in the Bahraini government’s interest to be pro-human-rights.
Last but not least, Bahrain is the home of one of the United States’ largest military base abroad, and hosts the U.S Navy’s Fifth Fleet. The U.S Department of State calls Bahrain a vital U.S partner in defense initiative. It is evident the US has no interest in pressuring Bahrain with human rights issues or with any other ethical quest.
So, what really is going on in Bahrain? Can a country that appears to be the advocate of human rights in the region, actually be an abuser of human rights itself? Or is this just a pathetic and obvious scheme to cover up its own violations?
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