House debates

Monday, 3 June 2013

Private Members' Business

Bahrain: Human Rights

6:29 pm

Photo of Laurie FergusonLaurie Ferguson (Werriwa, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

The main ingredient of this resolution seeks that the Bahraini regime follows the full implementation of recommendations in its own November 2011 report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry on human rights violations. One cannot be very confident that this will occur. In April of this year, amongst other events since the outbreak in 2011, there was the cancellation of a UN visit, after which Amnesty International concluded that the Bahrain regime was not serious about human rights. That followed the second cancellation of a planned visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Mr Juan Mendez, the other having been in February 2012. Mr Mendez himself went on to say:

'This is the second time my visit has been postponed at very short notice. The authorities seem to view my visit as an obstacle rather than a positive factor to the reform process …'

Now, we know that events in Bahrain in 2011, including an upsurge in resident action, was followed by Saudi Arabian intervention in the internal affairs of Bahrain in protection of the current regime. There has been wide coverage by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the US State Department in regard to events there.

A disturbing development was the contract signed between Prince Charles, with one of his operations, and the Bahrain regime for the architectural oversight of a 4,000-home development in the southern part of Bahrain, where there are discriminatory housing policies against Shia residents of the country. They remain on waiting lists while priority is given to migrant workers who join the police and security forces, from countries including India, Pakistan and Syria. What we have in a sense is an attempt by the regime to change the population balance in the country and to utilise outside bodies to enforce their measures. Amongst their other activities over the last little period were dawn raids and incarcerations of people in demonstrations, legitimate though they are. With regard to the Formula 1 Grand Prix in April 2013, it was said:

'This latest crackdown and the way it’s being carried out raises new questions about the Bahraini authorities' commitment to reform,' said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. These raids and detentions suggest that officials are more concerned with getting activists out of circulation for the Formula 1 race than with addressing the legitimate grievances that have led so many Bahrainis to take to the streets.'

On 6 April, security forces shot 16-year-old Hussain Khadem in the head with a teargas canister during a protest in the town of Sitra; the incident was filmed and posted on the internet. Khadem was reported to be in stable condition in a hospital awaiting surgery.

In an article from Amnesty International entitled 'Bahrain's dark side—empty promises while repression goes unabated', there is significant coverage of the government's failure to agree with the public perception that their forces had been especially repressive. A commission set up in November 2011 by the regime released a report about abuses carried out during the initial protests. The authorities conceded abuses were committed and said they were reforming. However, in the interim, we have seen their complete failure to act on their commitments; we have seen them fail to engage with outside human rights bodies and NGOs around the world; and we have seen the cancellation of the visit by the UN special rapporteur. We have seen the US State Department report on the Bahraini government repeatedly refusing entry to representatives of international human rights organisations, stating:

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption; however, the government did not always implement the law effectively, and some officials reportedly engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

The US State Department report further concluded:

The government owned and operated all radio and television stations …

The report also talks of the arrest of a 13-year-old boy, Yassin Shebar, on 29 April 2012:

… according to local and international media, he was beaten by security officials when arrested. On May 3, he was charged with illegal gathering (participating in an illegal protest or demonstration), rioting, and tearing a policeman's shirt.

The State Department also noted:

… in many such situations, the law prevents citizens from filing civil suits against security agencies.

It is a regime that, by any international standard, is suppressing the majority of its people, denying democratic rights and suppressing political opposition.


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