The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined eighth to fourteenth periodic report of Bahrain, with Committee Experts commending the State on efforts to provide COVID-19 vaccination for all, and asking questions on the practice of stripping persons of their Bahraini citizenship and protections for migrant workers.
Ibrahima Guisse, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, welcomed efforts taken by the State party to provide COVID-19 vaccination for all.
Mr. Guisse noted that the Citizenship Act had provisions that could lead to statelessness. Why were divorced foreign women and persons accused of terrorist acts stripped of their citizenship? There were about 1,000 persons who had reportedly been stripped of their nationality in Bahrain. A certain number of these persons had had their citizenships restored, but there were still persons without citizenship living in the State. Did Bahrain plan to amend the Citizenship Act to bring it in line with international standards? Could persons who had been stripped of their nationality appeal the decision?
Yanduan Li, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said that migrant workers reportedly still faced issues such as poor labour conditions and lack of payment of wages. The sponsorship scheme led to migrant workers becoming dependent on employers, which opened up the possibility for abuse. How did the State party prevent such abuse? Did migrant workers enjoy the right to family reunification?
The delegation said that Bahrain had one of the highest rates of COVID-19 vaccination, at 99 per cent. All residents of Bahrain had access to vaccines. Vaccinations were provided free to all persons, including those without residency permits. There had been no documented deaths in detention centres due to COVID-19. The Government had developed guidelines for treatment and prevention in detention centres. Around 98 per cent of prisoners had been vaccinated.
Bahraini authorities sought to resolve the issue of statelessness, the delegation said. All foreigners required residence permits to reside in Bahrain. Individuals stripped of their nationality had the right to keep their identification cards until they obtained another nationality. Stateless individuals could also obtain travel documents and drivers’ licences. A law seeking to regularise the situation of stateless persons was in place.
Laws were in place, the delegation explained, to guarantee the rights of migrant workers. Legislation adopted in 2012 prohibited discrimination among workers for any reason, and provided for remedies against human trafficking and debt bondage. The Government could intervene to retrieve the passport of migrant workers if debt bonded. It was also considering the creation of a system for streamlining the receipt of complaints from migrant workers.
In concluding remarks, Ms. Li said that she was very happy to learn more about Bahrain through the dialogue. Mr. Guisse added that the dialogue had been fruitful, addressing the challenges and opportunities regarding the promotion of the rights of all races in Bahrain. He called on the State party to address the challenges that had been raised during the dialogue and continue its efforts to tackle racial discrimination.
Yusuf Abdulkarim Bucheeri, Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Bahrain to the United Nations Office at Geneva and head of the delegation, in his concluding remarks, said that Bahrain was a diverse country of co-existence, and was proud of its social cohesion. The State needed to make further efforts to incorporate the Convention into legislation and practice. The Government would work to raise awareness of the human rights of all members of society. Bahrain was determined to build on its achievements at the legislative and policy levels.
The delegation of Bahrain consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation; the Ministry of Justice and Legislation; the Ministry of the Interior and Public Security; and the Permanent Mission of Bahrain to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will issue its concluding observations on the report of Bahrain after the conclusion of its one hundred and eighth session on 2 December. Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here, while webcasts of the public meetings can be found here. The programme of work of the Committee’s one hundred and eighth session and other documents related to the session can be found here.
The Committee will next meet in public on Monday, 21 November at 3 p.m. to consider the combined seventeenth to twenty-second periodic report of Botswana (CERD/C/BWA/17-22).
The Committee has before it the combined eighth to fourteenth periodic report of Bahrain (CERD/C/BHR/8-14).
Presentation of Report
YUSUF ABDULKARIM BUCHEERI, Permanent Representative of Bahrain to the United Nations Office at Geneva and head of the delegation, said the Kingdom of Bahrain was known since ancient times for its civilization, coexistence, openness to others, and its continuous endeavour to serve humanity. The Conference on the Dialogue of Civilizations and Cultures, held in 2014, issued the Bahrain Declaration, which stated that all forms of hate speech violated human rights. The Bahrain Forum for Dialogue, held from 3 to 4 November 2022, promoted dialogue between religions and cultures for the good of all humanity.
The Kingdom of Bahrain was a small island country with a population of 1.5 million persons. Over the past few years, Bahrain had witnessed rapid population growth due to an increase in the number of expatriates, representing 52 per cent of the total population and 78 per cent of the total workforce.
The Constitution of Bahrain set out the place of international treaties in the legislative system. The Convention had the force of law and could be invoked before national courts. The Constitution also stated that all people were equal, and prohibited discrimination based on sex, origin, language, religion or belief. The State guaranteed the sanctity of places of worship and the freedom to perform religious rites, processions and meetings.
A draft law containing a definition of discrimination was currently being discussed by the Ministerial Committee for Legal and Legislative Affairs. Recent legislation implemented to combat discrimination included the child law of 2012, the labour law in the private sector of 2012, and the law of 2005 on political associations, which stipulated that organizations should not seek to discriminate or incite hatred of any kind. The Penal Code enshrined equality between men and women, particularly with regard to the right of women to acquire and retain nationality. A draft law had been approved by the Council of Ministers and referred to the legislative authority which would allow the children of Bahraini women married to foreigners to obtain Bahraini nationality.
The Constitution guaranteed individuals the right to express their opinion and publish it orally, in writing or otherwise. Human rights defenders were protected against reprisals, and there were national remedies available to victimised persons.
The Supreme Council for Women implemented an ongoing programme promoting training, rehabilitation and awareness of the concepts of integration and social justice between the sexes. The Council had also developed a national model for promoting equal opportunities, changing the stereotypical image of women in school curricula, enhancing women’s participation, and raising awareness of women’s issues.
The Government had established follow-up and redress mechanisms, including the Ombudsman, which examined complaints against employees of the Ministry of Interior and took legal action. The Special Investigation Unit, an independent judicial body, determined criminal responsibility in any allegations related to torture or ill-treatment.
The national human rights institute was established in 2009, and a decree-law was introduced in 2016 to ensure the institution’s compliance with the Paris Principles.
Bahrain’s National Plan for Human Rights 2022-2026 promoted the harmonisation of national legislation with international human rights standards. It also promoted the right to freedom of religion, belief and expression; developed restorative justice mechanisms; and strengthened the capacities of the national human rights institute and civil society institutions.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government had conducted free examinations and vaccinations for all citizens and residents alike. It had granted full immunity to foreign workers whose residence permits had expired so that they were ensured full access to examinations and vaccines.
The voting rate in the 2018 parliamentary elections was 73.18 per cent. This was a clear indication of the vitality of the democratic process in Bahrain.
Questions by Committee Experts
YANDUAN LI, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said the report was 12 years overdue. The Kingdom of Bahrain had achieved good progress in the implementation of human rights instruments. The Committee welcomed Bahrain’s ratification of international treaties, including the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It also welcomed that civil society played a more and more active role in promoting human rights.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights had been invoked by the Constitutional Court in the past. However, it was unclear whether other courts could invoke human rights treaties. How were conflicts between international conventions and domestic law resolved? Had awareness raising or training programmes on the Convention been conducted for public officials?
Non-discrimination provisions in Bahrain were not in accordance with the Convention, as domestic legislation only covered origin as a basis for discrimination. Legislation prohibited discrimination among Bahraini nationals only. Did the State party plan to introduce legislation that prohibited discrimination irrespective of nationality, race or colour? Ms. Li called for information on legislative steps to prohibit racial discrimination. Some Shi’a groups continued to be subjected to wide-spread discriminatory practices. What special measures would be implemented to prevent discrimination against these groups, in particular measures promoting participation in the workforce and elections?
The Committee noted efforts by Bahrain to combat racist hate speech. A person who publicly incited hatred was liable to a penalty of up to two years imprisonment. Did the Criminal Code or other legislation criminalise dissemination based on racial superiority; threats or incitement to violence against certain races; insults and slander of races; and participation in activities that promoted racial discrimination? What measures were in place to prevent racist hate speech in the media? Ms. Li called for disaggregated data on complaints of racial discrimination and hate speech acts, and penalties imposed. Did the State party intend to increase penalties imposed for inciting racial hatred? How were officials tackling hate speech within prisons? Did the State party take measures to prevent hate speech against minority communities on social media?
Were there examples of case law where racial motives were considered as aggravating circumstances?
IBRAHIMA GUISSE, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said Bahrain was a small country with significant ethnic, religious and cultural diversity. This diversity was an opportunity as well as a challenge. What was the current ethnic composition of the State party?
The Committee welcomed the creation of the national human rights institute in 2009. Various treaty bodies had expressed concern regarding the independence of this institution. What measures had the State party taken to strengthen the independence of the institution? The institution had a mandate to receive complaints on racial discrimination. What measures had been taken by the institution in response to complaints received? Mr. Guisse called for detailed information on any complaints of racial discrimination to the national human rights institute or police departments which had not been submitted to the Committee. A lack of complaints indicated insufficient means to deal with the complaints or a mistrust of authorities. Which institutions received complaints regarding racial discrimination in the workplace?
What measures were in place to combat prejudice and intolerance in society? Had there been an overhaul of the education system to prevent discrimination based on sex, race and age in schools? What measures had the State party taken to include chapters on racial groups and cultures in school textbooks? Mr. Guisse asked for information on training courses for judges, public servants and teachers on preventing racism.