Middle East
Bahrain pledges to improve rights record
Gulf kingdom says it will implement 158 of 176 recommendations in new UN report, but rejects abolishing death penalty.
Last Modified: 20 Sep 2012 02:28

The Gulf kingdom of Bahrain has said it will implement most of the recommendations in a new United Nations report on the nation's human rights situation.

On Wednesday, Manama pledged to improve its treatment of political activists, to crack down on torture and to prevent violence against ethnic and religious communities, while accepting the vast majority of the UN's recommendations regarding human rights.

Bahrain is now the first country to be subjected to the 47-nation UN Human Rights Council's review of all national records in both 2008 and this year.

Foreign minister says people and government
must work together for reform

This time around, the council issued 176 recommendations, 158 of which were accepted by the government.

Some of the recommendations focused on the government's response to the unrest that has hit Bahrain since February 2011, calling for fair trials in the wake of arrests and prosecutions of demonstrators - and guarantees against the use of torture.

Others called for increased co-operation with the UN in attempts to investigate alleged abuses in Bahrain, where the Shia majority have been demanding a greater political voice in the Sunni-ruled country.

In Geneva on Wednesday, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, the nation's foreign minister, told the UN's top human rights body that Bahrain would accept the bulk of the recommendations, including calls for fair trials and
improved religious protections.

But he rejected the recommendations for abolishing the death penalty, saying that would violate his country's constitution. He also offered to provide an interim report on the nation's progress.

"Our actions, more than our words, should dispel any doubts regarding my government's commitment to upholding human rights through the rule of law," the foreign minister said. "Let us follow the path of dialogue, not propaganda."

'Orderly discourse'

Khalifa promised his government would tolerate dissent within what he said were "the limits of orderly discourse in a democratic society".

"Ten months after the release of the report, however, we are concerned that the government is losing momentum on implementation"

- Michael Posner,
US assistant secretary of state

He added that "no one has the right to force factionalism upon a society against its will. We welcome peaceful expressions of disagreement, but not incitements to hatred and violence which damage the social fabric of a

In November 2011, Bahrain released a 500-page report detailing widespread abuses in the Gulf kingdom's crackdowns on the Shia-led uprising.

Bahrain's rulers authorised a special commission to investigate the nation's turmoil in a bid to ease tensions, and promised a broad range of reforms as a result.

Michael Posner, US assistant secretary of state, travelled to the Swiss city for the Bahrain session before a private meeting with Bahrain's foreign minister.

Posner said Bahrain's government showed "great courage" by sponsoring the commission.

"Ten months after the release of the report, however, we are concerned that the government is losing momentum on implementation,'' he said.

Activists focused attention on Bahrain around the UN's European headquarters in Geneva.

Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said the government's acceptance on Wednesday of the UN recommendations must be "quickly followed by releasing leaders of peaceful protests, holding accountable high officials responsible for policies of torture, and adopting broader reforms to uphold human rights''.


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