Human Rights Concerns in Bahrain: An Overview
The 2011 Arab Spring protests resonated across the region. Governments have cracked down on political dissent, perhaps fearing that the protests could result in instability and an overthrow of current regimes. In February of 2011, protests in Bahrain calling for increased civil and political rights resulted in a human rights crisis. Excessive force used by the government forces resulted in almost fifty people killed and hundreds of injuries. Hundreds of protestors were arrested and torture was commonplace. Thousands of protesters lost their jobs or were expelled from the university system.
Amid concerns for the civil population in Bahrain, the United States continued a planned sale of weapons and military equipment to Bahrain. This sale was put on hold and a smaller sale was carried out. There are concerns that this equipment would be used to continue to commit human rights violations by the Bahrain government against its own people. The fight against terrorist groups has to be balanced with respect for individual rights. Unfortunately, anti-terrorism legislation can often be used to shut down activists and classify peaceful dissent as a terrorist activity. This makes international relations particularly complicated.
An independent commission set up by the Bahrain government concluded that the force used against protesters was excessive, that torture was used against protesters, and that many prison terms were unlawful. The King of Bahrain has promised to follow through on many of the recommendations made by this commission. In fact, some steps have been taken by the government. A trail was opened against policemen accused of mistreating prisoners and murdering protesters. International human rights experts have also been commissioned to train Bahrain’s police forces. However, various human rights organizations have expressed concern regarding these steps, which do not go far enough to ensure that human rights abuses stop. The most glaring omission is the lack of action against any high ranking government or police officials for any involvement in human rights violations. Investigations into torture allegations have also not been made public.
One of the aftermaths of the 2011 protests was that thousands of individuals were fired from their jobs or expelled from university. Currently, hundreds of people have not been reinstated or allowed to continue their studies. The most worrying human rights abuses in current Bahrain is the widespread use of torture and excessive force against protesters. Hundreds of people are currently detained, waiting for trial, or have received lengthy prison sentences for exercising their freedoms of expression, assembly, and association. There is no doubt that the consensus among Bahrain’s citizens is that democracy and greater respect for individual rights are needed. Bahrain’s largest obstacle in human rights will be to ensure that protesters and dissenters are treated fairly and that government forces deal with protesters without resorting to violence and repression.