Bahrain’s pro-democracy movement has spread around the world and generated unprecedented political support through citizens’ initiatives, NGO campaigns and government-sanctioned policy plans. More specifically, the attention of the Irish people to the deterioration of the human rights situation in Bahrain shows Ireland’s commitment to norms and values that guarantee fundamental freedoms, as well as the hard work and diligence of the Bahraini human rights community.
The Republic of Ireland and the Kingdom of Bahrain share common features: they are both small island countries with a similarly small population. These two countries also experienced periods of British rule followed by a politically active civilian population. These similarities have generated solidarity between Bahrainis and the Irish people, which has grown over time. Over the past year alone, members of Ireland’s lower house, the Dáil and its Senate, have repeatedly highlighted the problems faced by Bahraini citizens with the government and its relevant ministers.
In 2012, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Eamon Gilmore issued a statement highlighting his concern over the sentencing of 18 health professionals following the 2011 protests, with a particular attention to Dr. Ali al-Ekri, who had trained at the RCSI Dublin and sentenced to five years in prison.
On November 2018, ADHRB reported that over 70 members of Ireland’s Dáil Éireann (TDs), called on TD Simon Coveney to pressure the Bahraini Government to meet criteria prior to elections. They expressed “grave concern over Bahrain’s suppression of civil and political society ahead of the Kingdom’s parliamentary elections.” That number represents more than 44% of Ireland’s principal chamber. The letter noted the dissolution of political societies, the closure of independent newspapers, and the imprisonment of political opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman and human rights defenders Nabeel Rajab, Abdulhadi AlKhawaja, Hassan Mushaima, Abdulwahab Husain, and Dr. Abduljalil AlSingace.
On the regional level, Irish advocacy on Bahrain is also one of the most active for the actions of the Bahraini authorities over the past eight years. Indeed, Ireland and the other 27 EU counterparts have raised human rights abuses that have been committed in the Kingdom of Bahrain since 2011.
On June 14 2018, the European Parliament has adopted with an overwhelming majority a strongly worded resolution condemning Bahrain for human rights violations. Given the gravity of the situation, the MEPs decided that words were not enough, and the time has come for real action. This is why they called, for the first time, for sanctions against human rights violators in Bahrain. They also demanded that EU member states halt all transfers of weapons, surveillance, and intelligence equipment that can be used by Bahrain for its ongoing repression. Since 2011, EU has been informing the international community about the worsening human rights situations, political prisoners, religious discrimination, prison conditions, women rights, denationalization, the banning of political and civil society organizations, and many other rights violations.
For this purpose, every year from 2012 to 2015, Ireland signed on joint statements on Bahrain at the United Nations Human Rights Council condemning human rights abuses while simultaneously requesting the introduction of the recommendations made by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI).
In addition, there are crucial economic and immigration links between Bahrain and Ireland. Bilateral trade between Bahrain and Ireland reached 43 million euros, which is not negligible considering the geographical position of both countries. Plus, at the immigration level, nearly 800 Irish citizens currently live in Bahrain. Therefore, Ireland must ensure that Bahrain respects human rights and its obligations under international law and that the government of Bahrain respects the same civil liberties that Bahrainis would freely enjoy in Ireland, both for Irish and other foreign visitors as well as its domestic population.
On February 2019, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney highlighted the government’s attitude to the human rights situation in Bahrain, and the future relationship Ireland hopes to have with the Kingdom and its citizens. Ireland has revealed itself to be an advocate for human rights, democracy, liberty, peace, and the rule of law. Irish citizens and politicians showed empathy towards Bahrain’s pro-democracy movement. Irish support in the defense of human rights will undoubtedly continue to grow, despite the recurrent indifference demonstrated by the Al Khalifa royal family.
The European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) welcomes the consistent activity of the Irish government in the fight against human rights violations in Bahrain. We call upon the European Union to continue to pressure the Kingdom, in the hope that human rights issues will be tackled more concretely.