[The following report was published by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights on 10 February 2014]
Discrimination Against Women in Bahraini Society and Legislation
Overview of Women`s Rights in Bahrain:
Initially, one should look at the context of what human rights means. Are government officials in the Arab countries, which often claim that human rights are a Western invention, able to uphold the individual’s right to not be subjected to torture, their right to religious freedom, education, or protect them from being discriminated against? Or do they claim that these rights are not pre-rooted in local culture and values?
A human rights activist who strives to assess human rights in the country where they reside, makes a record of the place where he or she lives, and uses International Laws of Human Rights as the main gauge of local performance against international standards.
When comparing legal materials on women’s rights and the abuse experienced for centuries in Bahrain with International charters and conventions, as well as local legislation, and further linking it to the findings of human rights reports by the Women’s Union and associations concerned with women’s rights or even those of the Shura Council, the House of Representatives and the pro-government Supreme Council for Women, it is found that there exists violations of these obligations and laws in Bahrain.
The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, held on the 25th November of each year, has disclosed some disturbing figures, including the disclosure of 2800 cases of family violence, recorded through August of last year. Further, the report noted that there were 850 cases of divorce within the first six months of the year.
Sharifa AbdelHameed, a counsellor and psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral specialist for Batelco’s center for domestic violence, described to Al-Wasat Newspaper a worrisome Bahraini situation. She referred to the four year time period before the adoption of the Sunni portion of the family law, and further called for the adoption of the Jaafari portion, especially for the families dealing with issues of legitimacy, citing “the eleven thousand women battered and held in suspense for the ten-year waiting period to get a divorce” in Jafari Courts.
The National Foundation for Human Rights has called for the enactment of laws to criminalize violence against women and the development of long term strategies to create community awareness and education on the topic of violence. Further it stresses the need to combat violence against women when witnessed by a family, as it is an integral part of human rights. This statement issued by a government-sponsored human rights organization clearly shows the inadequate legislation in Bahrain for the protection of women. While legislatures witness dozens of laws that are passed annually for the benefit of the system towards greater stifling of freedom, laws such as those against domestic violence remain in locked drawers indicating a priority gap in favor of criminalizing sit-ins.
Since the King of Bahrain assumed the throne after his father, he issued most of the laws currently in use through royal decree, as well as issuing legal decrees to a lesser extent. Through such decrees it was agreed to participate in UN agreements related to women’s rights including the convention against torture and others such as cruel treatment, harsh or inhumane penalties and the international convention for the elimination of all types of sexual discrimination. Further it also included the UN convention for children’s rights and participation in the International Labor Organization’s 1999 convention eliminating the worst forms of child labor and the immediate action to abolish it as well as the convention to eliminate all types of discrimination against women. Similarly Bahrain participated in the Optional Protocol regarding involvement of children in armed conflict and the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography included under the UN convention for Child’s Rights. The Bahraini government agreed to participate in the international treaty related to economic, social and cultural rights. In 2006 and 2007, under royal decree the Kingdom of Bahrain participated in the International covenant for political and civil rights. In 2011 it ratified the convention on rights of persons with disabilities. Finally on 23/11/2013, Bahrain signed the UN agreement on arms trade.
In comparison to other regions of the world, Bahrain is lacking in the provision of protection of human rights relative to its adherence to its international treaties. Furthermore there are no efficient regional mechanisms to enforce and protect human rights similar to for example the US courts, the EU human rights courts or even the African Commission on human and tribal rights. The current example of such regional mechanism is the Arab Charter on human Rights which has been ratified by a number of Middle Eastern countries. It is however criticized for being amongst the weakest of similar charters internationally, mainly due to questions surrounding the effectiveness of the authority set up to implement the charter. Furthermore, the Arab League of Nations agreed to establish an Arab Criminal Court in Bahrain, despite Bahrain not being a signatory to the Rome convention for International Criminal courts. Questions may arise in regards to its mandate, who will be appointed as judges and under which legal principles will it conduct its proceedings?
The ratification of such treaties is an important matter, as it is upon ratification that a government holds itself to the obligations of these treaties and conventions. The real challenge however is in actual implementation of these rights as it requires a strict compliance and strong political will form the part of the government. Furthermore, it also requires the participation of civil societies and public engagement in order to ensure proper and transparent adoption of policies entailed in the treaties. This is particularly true for segments of society whose voice is often the weakest due to the discrimination and other similar factors.
Interpreting these treaties is the mental process intended to draw on the content and extent of the legal provisions contained in the international agreement in preparation for application to the reality. Currently, however, what is happening in Bahrain is a process of throwing away the book of laws and instead adopting an “end justifies the mean” approach, making the obligations contained in the treaties secondary to the challenge of limiting activism through preventing their rights to express their political views, peaceful assembly or association, getting a divorce and participating in government. Therefore it is not surprising that as a result there have been greater human right violations particularly against women.
Following the popular uprising in Bahrain, where greater detention of people has been witnessed, Bahrain has moved away from the obligations it created with these treaties. Despite being the largest participant in Human Rights treaties in the Gulf, Bahrain also maintains the majority share of violations and breaches of contracts.
The Department of Women’s Affairs of Al Wefaq, the largest political society in Bahrain, has confirmed violations committed by the Bahraini authorities in the violation of a woman’s rights and dignity. The detention of eight women due to their opposing political opinions, bears witness to these violations. This, they cite is part of a larger set of violations committed by the regime which continue against women. On November 23 2011, the National Commission for Truth presented a report of the arrest of 250 women, their abuse, torture and brutal violation of their rights through both psychological torture such as the threat of rape and physical torture including electrocution, crossing a line in disgracing their humanity. This comes at a time of international silence while 30 women were detained, including nine women in early pregnancies and three nurturing mothers. The figures have doubled in the two years since the report was first published
A further 308 women were not allowed to work and prevented from receiving an education while being detained, verbally abused (this includes family, faith and symbolisms) and coerced into confession under threat of torture. At a time when the UN resolution, on the occasion of the day of Elimination of violence Against Women, tried to use its bodies, funds, as well as NGOs, to raise awareness of violence against women, the Bahrain regime was arresting women and finding creative ways to torture them in order to deprive them of their freedom.
Bahrain has received a number of inquiries to its extent of its commitment to the CEDAW (Committee for Elimination of Discrimination Against Women) particularly a complete revision of its local legislation and administrative bodies to comply with its international treaties. Further it called for the training of personnel in law enforcement agencies and legal fields, especially the judiciary on the principles of human rights. To which the state replied that its legislative bodies have revised necessary legislation and that it had begun the training of the executive and judiciary branches. But has this resulted in visible change in the status of the state in its understanding or interpretation of violence against women, or an active effort toward inclusion of a unified family law rather than hiding it behind the passing of a section that does not cover all segments of society?
Further inquiries from international committees and special rapporteurs, working in the departments of special committees in the UN HCR, about the challenges and constraints and responses to the human rights situation on the ground have not be answered by the state, which the international community is aware of. Despite the treaties which Bahrain has signed to, calls from the international community, their questions and appeals and the principles upheld by the committees and organizations, Bahrain continues to crudely violate these treaties.
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