Citizens of Nowhere: Maintaining Civil Liberties in the face of Terror

Oral intervention to be given by the Next Century Foundation at the 37th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Item 3 Clustered ID on 1st March 2018, the special report on terrorism:

Mr President. The Next Century Foundation understands the tremendous pressure faced by nations to combat the nefarious forces of international terrorism but condemns the suspension of citizenship as a measure to counter extremism. The NCF feels that while this pragmatic approach may have advantages in the short term, it is simply a band-aid that masks the underlying problem and could prove to be counter-productive in the long term.

We stress the importance of creating a society that everyone is a part of regardless of cultural, religious or historical heritage. Two nations who particularly claim to foster and cherish the notions of tolerance and inclusivity are the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Kingdom of Bahrain. Both profess to aspire to build a world in which all citizens are equally valued and whose rights are equally upheld. To this end, both nations have signed various UN conventions on civil and political rights; most notably both have ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. However both nations continue to use the suspension of citizenship as a tool. The NCF believes that citizenship is an inalienable right to which every individual is entitled, and the removal of citizenship should not be wielded as a tool of oppression or punishment even when terrorism provokes national outrage. Indeed doing so may further alienate or even galvanize individuals that are already on the fringes of society into extreme action.

We do not wish to underestimate the difficulty the UK government faces with returning UK-born ISIS fighters nor do we wish to underestimate the anger provoked by instances of bloodshed and sectarian violence in Bahrain. But by depriving individuals of their citizenship, these nations are forsaking civil liberties in the pursuit of security and setting a dangerous precedent. We therefore appeal to both the UK and Bahrain to adopt other more considered and perhaps more compassionate measures when it comes to dealing with extremists in their midst.

We believe that it is only through the creation of a more tolerant global society that we can truly combat extremism. Thank you.

 

Freedom of Religion in Iraq and Bahrain

Oral intervention to be given by the Next Century Foundation at the 37th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Item 3 on 2nd March 2018, the special report on Freedom of Religion:

Mr President. Freedom of Religion is one of Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” and is a basic pillar of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Middle East is riven by a sectarian divide within Islam between the Sunni and Shiite sects, the consequences of which have been dire. Levels of hatred in this internecine strife have now reached unprecedented heights.

The Republic of Iraq and the Kingdom of Bahrain are two nations on the faultline of this disturbing rift and both have national elections this year.

The Iraq elections are unlikely to generate full participation from the Sunni community. If the majority of the Sunni community were to boycott these elections out of a sense of vengeful resentment of the Iraq central government it would be a grave error.  New Sunni politicians untainted by the past are emerging in areas like Anbar province. It would be wrong to disempower them at a time when their voices should be heard.

Bahrain’s elections will be held later this year and as in 2014, the Islamic Republic of Iran is likely to put pressure on Bahrain’s Shiite community leaders to encourage the non-participation of the Shiite community as a whole in the forthcoming elections.  This nonparticipation serves no purpose other than to weaken the voice of that community. It is essential that Bahrain’s Shiites participate fully in the forthcoming elections. Thank you.

Press Freedom in Bahrain

The following is a written intervention by the NCF to the United Nations in Geneva:

Freedom of Expression is one of the greatest freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 19 of which states “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

It is sad to see that the Kingdom of Bahrain has fallen to 164th position in the ranking of the 175 nations assessed for the 2017 World Press Freedom Index. This index ranks Bahrain slightly above Sudan, Syria and Saudi Arabia but below all other Arab nations.

The reform program introduced by His Majesty the King of Bahrain has, by and large, been exemplary. The King expressed a particular interest in promoting freedom of expression in Bahrain. It was with the active encouragement of His Majesty the King that Al-Wasat Newspaper was established in Bahrain.

The establishment of Al-Wasat widened freedom of expression, in part by encouraging the people of Bahrain to express their own views in what had thus become a diverse media spectrum.

Many of the interlocutors in the current Universal Periodic Review of the Kingdom of Bahrain have expressed a desire to encourage greater press freedom in Bahrain. Countries making reference to the issue include Montenegro / Slovenia / United Kingdom / Denmark / France / Spain / Mexico / New Zealand / Switzerland / United States of America / Canada / Estonia / Cyprus / State of Palestine / Germany / Iceland / Italy / Lebanon / Australia / Lithuania / Luxemburg / Austria.

We would like to join our voice to theirs. It is sad to note that Al-Wasat Newspaper was closed down by the Government of the Kingdom of Bahrain on 4th June 2017. Whatever the reasons for this action, were this action to be reversed it would be of great benefit to democratic progress in Bahrain, and give the Kingdom of Bahrain a far better image in the eyes of the world at large.

Bahrain was once regarded by some as the best country in the Gulf with regard to freedom of media. It would be to the benefit of all of the nations of the Gulf were Bahrain to maintain the high standards of press freedom for which it was once noted. Bahrain can and should be an example to the region. To allow Al-Wasat Newspaper to again run its presses would be a gracious and positive gesture and one worthy of international acknowledgement.

The Next Century Foundation at the United Nations – Intervention on Human Rights in Myanmar, Bangladesh and India

The Next Century Foundation took part in the 36th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. During the General Debate on Item 5 “Human rights bodies and mechanisms” the NCF delivered an oral intervention on the issue of human rights violations of the refugees in Myanmar, Bangladesh and India. The Next Century Foundation urged these States to all sign the Refugee Convention and take the necessary steps in order to improve refugees human rights.

The Next Century Foundation at the United Nations – Intervention on Human Rights in the Syrian Arab Republic

The Next Century Foundation took part in the 36th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. During the General Debate on Item 4 “Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention” the NCF delivered an oral intervention on the issue of human rights violations in the Syrian Arab Republic. The Next Century Foundation urged the Syrian Arab Republic to establish a mechanism to monitor prisons and provide safeguards that ensure abuse and torture in the country is brought to an end.

The Next Century Foundation at the United Nations – Intervention on Discrimination and Intolerance against Women

The Next Century Foundation took part in the 36th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. During the General Debate on Item 9 “Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance” the NCF delivered an oral intervention on the issue of gender discrimination in the Arab States urging them to take the necessary steps in order to improve women’s conditions, following the recent example of Bahrain.

Bahrain bristles at threat to move 5th Fleet

US Navy Fifth Fleet destroyers in joint operations with the British and Australian navies in the Gulf.

This has just come in from a senior NCF Board member in the USA. The opening comment is his:

While the 5th Fleet remains secure at its moorings in Bahrain, pro-Shi’a (and pro-Iranian) activists are pressing members of Congress to insert themselves into Bahrain’s sensitive domestic debate.

The proposed amendment in the House of Representatives only calls upon DOD to look at basing options in the region (these are few and far between) should the political situation in Bahrain dictate such a drastic decision. The chairman of the Senate Armed Services panel — Senator McCain — opposes the amendment, so it is unlikely to be make it into the actual DOD appropriations bill.

Still, its very mention should encourage the GOB to take continuing steps to ease the scope of grievances on the part of its Shi’a majority population. End Introduction

———————————-

“Bahrain bristles at threat to move 5th Fleet” AL-MONITOR By Julian Pecquet 8 June 2015

WASHINGTON — Congress is putting Bahrain on notice that it needs to get serious about political reforms if it doesn’t want to see 5,000 US sailors and Marines take their business elsewhere.

The House last week passed an annual defense bill that requires the Department of Defense to plan for a potential relocation of the US 5th Fleet if political tensions persist. Lawmakers made clear the provision was aimed squarely at putting pressure on the Sunni monarchy to respond to what they consider to be legitimate grievances of the majority Shiite population.

“The reason that we have to do some planning now for that contingency is exactly because of the Bahraini monarchy’s failure to address the concerns of the people,” the sponsor of the provision, Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., told Al-Monitor. “If they choose not to address those concerns or do so in a heavy-handed way and somehow things end up getting worse there, then we may be forced to have to leave. And I don’t think any American policymaker wants to see that happen.”

The Bahraini government declined to directly comment on the legislative text but made clear its displeasure at being told how to run its affairs.

“There is no doubt in the relationship between our two nations,” a Bahraini official told Al-Monitor. “The defense relationship has been established to protect the country from foreign threats and to safeguard regional stability. This has nothing to do with Bahrain’s domestic affairs.”

“Bahrain has an extremely strong defense relationship with the United States that spans decades, and has just been further reinforced after the conclusion of the GCC-US summit,” the official added. “We only expect this relationship to strengthen and grow.”

A Pentagon spokeswoman refused to talk about pending legislation. Military planners, however, have long balked at taking any action that could indicate a lack of support for a country that hosts the main US naval base in the Gulf.

“Most policymakers in the Department of Defense believe that the United States’ strategic partnership with Bahrain dictates that Middle East stability will trump calls for any military withdrawal,” Navy Cmdr. Richard McDaniel wrote in a 2013 Brookings Institution policy paper that argued for contingency planning.

“Because of a strong desire to support the government of Bahrain, losing critical access is not currently being considered, and strategic basing alternatives are not being developed,” McDaniel wrote. “As a result, the United States could be heading towards the loss of key access in a critical region.”

Indeed, the US-Bahrain relationship has continued to strengthen over time. The two countries in 2002 secretly extended their defense co-operation pact until 2016, the Financial Times reported nine years later, reportedly at the behest of Bahrain.

“President [Barack] Obama’s administration has been right to resist the calls made by some individuals to remove our support from Bahrain’s government and embrace a protest movement that has legitimate grievances, but is nonetheless being used by Iran for its own nefarious purposes,” retired Vice Adm. Charles W. Moore, the former commander of the 5th fleet, wrote in a 2011 Washington Times op-ed when he was an executive for Lockheed Martin. The op-ed, facilitated by lobbyists for Bahrain, also said, “Indeed Iran and its allies would be the only winners should the United States abandon our partnership with Bahrain at such a critical juncture in the history of the Middle East.”

The United States, however, continues to withhold some weapons that could be used against protesters following the 2011 crackdown despite Bahraini lobbying.

The Johnson amendment was championed by human rights groups, including the US-based Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), which unsuccessfully advocated for it in previous years.

“ADHRB welcomes the amendment and thanks Congressman Johnson for his continued support,” the group said in a statement. “ADHRB continues to encourage the United States to call on Bahrain to make meaningful, impacting reforms that increase political dialogue and representation in a push for a more stable and democratic society.”

The provision is now in the hands of the Senate, where the Armed Services Committee passed its version of the defense bill last week but has yet to make it public. Panel Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., has called for a resumption of all weapons sales to Bahrain.

While McDaniel suggested New Doha Port in Qatar and Shuaiba in Kuwait as potential alternatives for the 5th Fleet, Johnson acknowledged the United States has no good options.

“There are no good options. I realize that. I think others in Congress realize that as well,” Johnson told Al-Monitor. “We would like the domestic situation in Bahrain to be settled — that’s the ideal. And that’s in the hands of the monarchy in Bahrain.”

Trouble Continues to Simmer in Bahrain

Political protests in Bahrain have been regular but ineffective in recent months. In February, there was an incident where 72 citizenships were revoked from what human rights group, Amnesty International, described as peaceful protestors. Possibly as a result, opposition to the government has become less vociferous.

Sheikh Ali Salman, the leader of the al-Wefaq movement, had been losing popularity because of Wefaq’s failure to stand at the elections but was arrested in December following what was regarded as a deliberately provocative speech by the Bahrain government because of its reference to liaison with a foreign government. He was later charged with inciting a change of government by force. Since when almost all political demonstrations have held images of Salman and called for his release.

On the 20th May, the Bahrain court deferred Ali Salman’s fifth hearing to the 16th June and protests were held both before and after the ruling in the Shia villages in the northern part of the country.

The government had offered modest but significant democratic reform prior to the elections but the reforms on offer were rejected by al Wefaq at the time. Meanwhile poor economic conditions continue to leave many feeling disillusioned.

The Bahrain government has the backing of its powerful neighbour, Saudi Arabia, so can feel secure but the failure of the government and the opposition to come to terms will only further polarise society, even if the situation remains relatively calm in the short term.