Bahrain’s F1 Grand Prix: the race towards Human Rights

The annual Bahrain Formula 1 Grand Prix will be taking place this forthcoming weekend, from Friday 17 April till Sunday 19 April, at the Bahrain International Circuit. The race has been taking place since 2004, but was suspended in 2011 due to the civilian uprisings and protests against the Al Khalifa regime.

Amnesty International published a new report on 15 April “Behind the Rethoric: Human Rights abuses in Bahrain continue unabated“. This document highlights the continued use of torture and other degrading treatment and abuses of detainees in Bahrain, as well as the constant assaults of Human Rights Defenders, regime opponents, peaceful protesters and pretty much any individual exercising his or her freedom of expression and association in Bahrain. After the 2011 uprisings, and following international pressure, the Bahraini government set up the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) to investigate allegations or torture, abuse and other unjust punishment suffered by hundreds of peaceful protesters of the Pearl roundabout. The BICI indeed found that flagrant abuses and violations of Human Rights had been committed by Bahraini authorities and forces during the protests, and the Al Khalifa government committed itself to working on the issue.

However, and as Amnesty’s report rightly points out, barely any tangible progress has been made in four years and the situation has actually worsened in the past few months, with police forces conducting more arbitrary detentions and reported cases of torture and abuse flooding the international media outlets. In an article by The Guardian, Said Boumedouha, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director, said: “As the world’s eyes fall on Bahrain during the grand prix this weekend, few will realise the international image the authorities have attempted to project of the country as a progressive reformist state committed to human rights masks a far more sinister truth.” It is not surprising that in the weeks prior to the F1 race, Bahraini authorities are even less tolerant of dissidents, protesters or any individual or organisation which in their eyes could pose a threat to that progressive image of the country. Last thing the government wants is for a witness or protester to get hold of the international media and shed light onto what is really going on in the Kingdom.

Precisely because human rights violations increase prior to the race, the arrest of leading Human Rights Defender Nabeel Rajab being an example, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) has taken action. In 2014, ADHRB submitted a complaint to the OECD regarding Formula One’s links to adverse impacts on human rights in Bahrain in relation to its annual race. The UK National Contact Point for the OECD accepted that the complaint merited examination. After extensive mediations, Formula One has for the first time in its history publicly committed to respecting internationally recognized human rights in all of its operations. Included in this commitment is a promise to develop and implement a due diligence policy in which Formula One analyses and takes steps to mitigate any human rights impact that its activities may have on a host country, including on the human rights situation in Bahrain.

This development is certainly to be welcomed, but the reprisals and curtailing of Human Rights in Bahrain continues. Ahead of this world-famous sporting event, attracting millions if viewers world-wide, ECDHR wants to reiterate the continued existence of human rights violations and restrictions on freedom of expression in Bahrain.

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