On 21 February 2019, the European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) held its eighth conference at the EU Parliament on the current human rights and political situation in Bahrain. The meeting, which occurred during the first anniversary of Nabeel Rajab’s incarceration, was successfully organised thanks to the cooperation of two major ECDHR’s collaborative NGOs, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Front Line Defenders, along with the precious support of the S&D party, represented by MEP Julie Ward, and MEPs Ms. Barbara Lochbihler (Vice Chair DROI) and Mr. José Inácio Faria (EPP).
The panel focused on the human rights issues in Bahrain including an overall analysis of other regional countries, members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) committee board. All panellists eagerly expressed their concerns and thoughts on the matter, including unique points of view highlighting the intricated frame and the paradoxical maze of substantial interests among regional and international political actors. The panel was directed and hosted by MEP Julie Ward, a vital supporter and defender of worldwide human rights causes and campaigns.
MEP Julie Ward (S&D) – as chairman of the meeting, successfully introduced the round of discussion by pledging democracy as the fundamental pillar of the event and of the general human rights overview, a unique principle vitally enshrined into European history and background. Ms. Ward continued by depicting the general unchanged situation in Bahrain, with a special attention to infringements of human rights. She mentioned a series of unacceptable measures that the international community has been reporting constantly and denouncing for years, such as the manipulation of elections, the lack of proper impartial judiciary system, the application of compulsory law, the absence of any form of civil and political freedom. Furthermore, she stressed the systematic repression directly dictated by the Bahraini Government, an executive actor which cannot stand any form of public criticism and disapproval, and the unchanged and paralyzed situation that has been encouraged directly and indirectly by other international superpowers. Concerning this issue, Ms. Ward harshly criticized the current political role of the UK Government, emphasising the unjustified silence of London’s politicians and encouraging them to a more keen and sensible participation.
MEP Barbara Lochbihler (Vice Chair DROI) – Ms. Lochbihler articulated her speech on a wider analysis focusing on neighbouring GCC actors in order to offer a bigger picture on the matter. By referring to a series of statistics (taken from the Global Index of the Economist), MEP Lochbihler underlined that the Bahraini Government has implemented minimal or non-existent measures to comply with international needs. Bahrain is an authoritarian monarchy, that during the past years, along with Kuwait, has integrated in the formation of the government a Representative House. However, concretely, this new institution is not representative at all. Ms. Lochbihler progressed by stressing the attention on those societal groups that more than others are subjected to constant repercussions: women, under-aged, elders, the LGBT community and migrant workers. She explained a series of cases of injustice that can be traced as red lines in all the countries of the Arab Peninsula. Moreover, MEP Lochbihler praised the firm strategy of the German Government that launched a series of suspensions on companies’ arms exports, by mentioning the present humanitarian crisis and ongoing massacre in Yemen lead by Saudi coalition forces.
Andrew Anderson (Executive Director of Front Line Defenders) – The Executive Director opened his speech by dredging up a recent telephone call he had with the human rights activist and president of Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) Nabeel Rajab in which he remarked his gratitude on the collaborative struggle for his and others human rights causes. Mr. Anderson decided to articulate his intervention on the case of Abdulhadi Abdulla Hubail al-Khawaja another activist and co-founder of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and until 2011 he was also the Middle East and North Africa Protection Coordinator of Front Line Defenders. Mr. Anderson mentioned the series of ill-treatments that Mr. Al-Khawaja has been suffering since his participation to the Bahraini uprising in 2011. Mr. Anderson had the “unfortunate” chance of attending Al-Khawaja’s trial, a masquerade in which the possibility of parole was denied by the martial court to the defendant’s lawyer and where a general indifference was displayed by all judges and participants. The executive director of Front Line Defenders praised the courageous work of other Bahraini activists by also thanking the European Parliament for its constant interest on the issue.
MEP José Inácio Faria (EPP) – Mr. Faria raised the issue on a different perspective. He remarkably introduced the aspect of natural intermingling interests in-between international political actors. Mr. Faria suggested that the European agenda cannot move towards two different and opposite parallel lines which consist on trading interests on one side and on the other, promoting human rights issues. Arms exports and protection and mediation for human rights movements cannot share the same common ground of priority. Referring to the case of Nicaragua and the US Government, the NIC Act and Regulations, Mr. Faria calls upon the European institutions to integrate and adopt the same strategy with the Bahraini case. National and European enterprises that negotiate and trade with GCC Governments must not be able to discuss with EU Institutions. He called on the EU to prioritize the struggle for fostering human rights rather than greed and lust by emphasising the importance of social reconstruction than deconstruction. Mr. Faria concluded his speech with a short statement: “We can’t change the world but on our little we can.”
FIDH Representative – FIDH activist welcomed the previous hearings by introducing the symbolic relevance of such event and of the round-table talks. The importance of the event, as underlined by the representative, keeps alive the struggle and constantly feeds the exhaustive mobilization of individuals. The FIDH representative renewed the tragic statistics concerning the cases of activists persecuted and added personal considerations on the issue. For instance, he addressed the failure of 2011-14 EU political pressures on Bahrain, the continuous repression of opposition political groups and other national minorities such as religious, feminist and ethnical ones. He pointed out authoritarian role of the military and prosecutor offices which maintain a status of impunity under Bahraini Government compliance. The speech concluded with a rather optimistic observation, by stating that the current post-Khashoggi crisis could boost even further the process of re-evaluation of human rights issues in the region for international talks.
Ali Mushaima (Bahraini activist) – Mr. Mushaima could not attend the panel for unforeseeable reasons. Ms. Ward read his planned speech on his behalf. Mr. Mushaima decided to share his personal experience as a unique way to sublimate the much greater suffer of his fellow compatriots. He wrote harsh and moving words of a troubled adolescence altered by ill-treatments, injustice and sorrow, started at the age of 15, when he was arrested on the 8th of August 1998. Subjected to systematic torture and solitary confinement, Mr. Mushaima never stopped fighting and patiently held for a better breakthrough. He shares the same personal experience of other 4000 Bahraini political prisoners and he fully understands the level of pain and struggle they are enduring. Now his relatives are experiencing the very same tragedies. His father, Hassan Mushaima, was arrested in 2011 because of his involvement in the pro-democracy movement and because of his leadership position as the secretary general of the Haq Movement and founding member of Al-Wefaq. He is a former cancer patient and has been denied access to medical care and was also placed under continuous isolation. Mr. Ali Mushaima also mentioned his 63-day hunger strike outside the Bahraini embassy in London as a form of protest for such ill-treatment.
Flavia Caronna (ECDHR Advocacy Associate) – Ms. Caronna brilliantly summarized the other members’ interventions by integrating their statements with more accurate statistics on the Bahraini case. Ms. Caronna provided a wide range of numbers of detained, persecuted and stateless cases since 2012 up to date. She also pointed out the case of Sayed Alwadaei’s relatives who are currently detained in Bahrain because of reprisal for Alwadaei’s continuous activism. The political recriminations still tear up any form of political opposition movement and any level of criticism. Moreover, as stated in the Constitution, Bahrain is technically a constitutional monarchy even though de facto the royal family dictates all the branches of the government. In addition to that, no type of judicial impartiality is recorded by local and international observers. In fact, the Government seemingly appreciates this type of retaliation. In conclusion, Ms. Caronna highlighted that in the past 8 years since the pro-democracy uprising nothing has changed. On the contrary, indeed, things worsened. This demonstrates, a dramatic scenario that probably should include a self-critical process on the current approach of international NGOs and actors.