28 March 2018 – During the 37th session of United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), the European Union and Member States pushed for serious scrutiny of Bahrain’s human rights abuses by referring the Kingdom as ‘a human rights situation that require the Council’s attention’ (Item 4).
Last Friday marked the end of the 37th of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), which saw the EU and a number of countries raising serious concerns over the human rights situation in Bahrain.
Presenting his Annual Report and Oral Update (Item 2) on March 8th, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein condemned Bahrain’s crackdown on human rights defenders and civil society organisations, which “continue to suffer from intimidation, harassment and restrictions”, with Nabeel Rajab’s recent condemnation being “yet another serious setback for Bahrain’s international reputation.”
Despite largely documented cases of arbitrary detention and torture against peaceful dissidents and human rights defenders, Bahrain turned down the UNHCHR’s remarks, denouncing biased sources and “inaccurate information”.
Echoing the concerns of the UN High Commissioner, the EU referred to Bahrain as a human rights situation that required the Council’s attention (Item 4) for the first time since 2012 – the year that followed pro-democracy protests in Bahrain. The EU reiterated “its call to Bahrain to maintain its commitments as to the respect of freedom of speech and human rights defenders”, in light of the most recent development, notably the sentencing of prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab to 5-year imprisonment for tweets. Ahead of the session, the EU had expressed in its “Priorities in UN Human Rights Fora in 2018” its commitment to keep calling on States, including on Bahrain, to stop restricting space and freedoms for civil society and human rights defenders.
Going a step further, Denmark specifically called for the release of arbitrarily detained persons in the Kingdom and upheld its concern for the detention and torture of Danish-Bahraini Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, “a victim of torture who needs treatment and rehabilitation”. Ireland reiterated its condemnation of Bahrain’s overturn of the de facto moratorium on death penalty.
During the last HRC sessions, the EU and its Member States had already issued warnings over Bahrain’s “continuing deterioration of the human rights situation” (under Item 2). In March 2017, the EU deplored the “cases of revocation of nationality, increased restrictions on civil society and the dissolution of Al Wefaq”. In June 2017, it further condemned “the decision to file a lawsuit against the political society “Waad” and the resulting recent court decision to dissolve it”. The EU repeatedly urged the authorities “to respect the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly” and to “impose a moratorium on the use of the death penalty”.
Since June 2016, Ireland has been referring Bahrain as a human rights situation that required the Council’s attention (Item 4), repetitively voicing its concerns on “about restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and association, aimed at silencing the voice of civil society and human rights defenders”.
Ahead of the 36th session of the HRC in September 2017, the European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) and 10 others rights groups called for an increased pressure on the Bahraini government to adopt significant and immediate human rights reforms. ECDHR very much welcomes the EU and EU Member States’ efforts to address the intensifying human rights violations in Bahrain at the HRC. ECDHR joins their call for the respect of the freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and for the release of arbitrarily detained persons. In light of the recent developments, ECDHR encourages the European Union and its Member States to maintain and strengthen diplomatic pressures on Bahrain authorities during upcoming HRC sessions.
 See EU statement adopted on 22 September 2011 condemning the practice of trying civilians by special courts, and the statement of 12 March 2012 expressing concern about the detention of numerous political prisoners and the trial of Abdulhadi Al Khawaja (both under Item 4).