26 April 2018 – This Wednesday, the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) announced that Bahraini authorities had denied their request for a country visit ahead of the elections, sending out a clear signal of their unwillingness to openly discuss human rights and accept international scrutiny, despite ongoing violations.
Second EP request denied despite recent MEPs visit
At yesterday’s DROI meeting, Vice-Chair Christian Dan Preda announced the Subcommittee had received a reply letter from Bahrain regarding their request for a country visit running through 6-8 of May, in which Bahraini authorities declared unable to host the DROI delegation “due to time constraints and a difficulty in ensuring a successful visit with high-level contacts”. Bahrain’s authorities’ decision to “block” a DROI visit, for the second time in a row, indicates that “they are not prepared to discuss human rights with [DROI]”, noted Dan Preda.
Paradoxically, two other visits had been agreed upon with Bahraini authorities for that same period: one with the Parliament’s Delegation for relations with the Arabian Peninsula (DARP), which Chair Michèle Alliot-Marie (EPP) preferred to cancel, and one with the Bahrain Group of Friends at the EP, an unofficial MEPs friendship group, though its president, MEP Ivo Vajgl (ALDE), agreed to reschedule so as to avoid any confusion, explained Dan Preda. Despite these attempts at clarification, Bahrain still decided to decline the DROI visit, deplored Dan Preda, adding that this visit would have allowed to “better understand” the human rights situation of Bahrain, which still “poses many problems”. Early March 2018, Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry Undersecretary for International Affairs also welcomed a delegation of MEPs from European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR), whom he lauded the “positive stances with the Kingdom of Bahrain” and efforts to “clarifying the reality of the situation in the Kingdom in the European Parliament”.
This decision comes as Bahrain’s second refusal to host a DROI delegation. Last October, the Sub-Committee was due to return to Bahrain but the Government cancelled their visit. Remarkably, last DROI’s visit to Bahrain in December 2012 was followed up by an urgency resolution denouncing the “ongoing human rights violations by the Bahrain authorities and security forces” and urging the government to ensure accountability and to halt its crackdown on human rights defenders and on freedom of expression and assembly.
Bahrain’s decision to deny access to DROI delegation while approving visits of MEP delegations which are either supportive, either far less likely to raise human rights concerns, sends out, once again, a clear signal of its refusal to openly engage debate on its abysmal human rights record. In public statements, Bahrain has repetitively prided itself on respecting human rights and claimed its commitment to the prevention of torture. It also denied human rights abuses, including restrictions on the freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and religious discrimination – for example, last December during an event hosted by MEP David Campbell Bannerman (ECR). But its repeated refusal to accept external scrutiny does not align with these claims.
Entry systematically denied
This decision fits the larger pattern of Bahrain’s refusal to work with international human rights mechanisms and to accept external scrutiny. Since 2006, Bahrain has not permitted a single UN Special Procedures mandate holder to enter the country. For instance, UN Special Rapporteur on torture was granted approval for a visit to Bahrain, which the authorities then cancelled twice, in 2012 and in 2013.
Likewise, authorities have systematically denied entry to international NGOs, human rights advocates and critical journalists – preventing them from documenting the government’s ongoing human rights abuses. On 3 April, Bahraini authorities denied entry to Lars Aslan Ramussen, a Danish Parliamentarian, and Brian Dooley, advisor for the Gulf Center for Human Rights. They were travelling to Manama to visit Abdulhadi Al Khawaja on the anniversary of his arrest.
In light of Bahrain’s refusal to openly engage with EP Human Rights Subcommittee, ECDHR reiterates its deep concern over the ongoing human rights violations in Bahrain and strongly condemns Bahraini authorities’ decision to deny access to members of DROI Committee. We further call on Bahrain to lift its restrictions on access to the country by critic journalists, NGOs and officials and to swiftly accept visit requests of UN Human Rights Council special procedures mandate holders. We also encourage the European Union, and in particular the European Parliament and the EEAS, to adopt a strong, common stance on this new refusal and to seize this opportunity to increase diplomatic pressure on Bahrain.