Ali Alaswad: European Parliament Calls on Bahraini Authorities to Carry out Urgent Reforms

Ali AlAswad - 2021-03-26 - 7:34 am

Bahrain Mirror: Ten years following the eruption of the peaceful uprising in Bahrain, the European Parliament offers a chance to resolve the crisis and the opposition is adopting it, but will the authorities in Manama take this opportunity? Perhaps there are other questions, but the major question remains: Will the international community be able to make real sustainable change? This is the most significant issue worthy of attention at the moment by both the authorities and the opposition.

On March 11, 2021, the European Parliament passed a resolution on the human rights and political situation in Bahrain, of which an overwhelming majority of parliamentarians voted in favor (633 out of 689 MPs).

The resolution adopted by the European Parliament sheds light on the current human rights situation in the country, condemns the authorities' actions over the past years to date, and includes an accurate detailed description of this issue.

The European Parliament resolution contains 23 articles, but in terms of content, it comprises names and persistent demands regarding the deterioration of the human rights situation in the kingdom, describing them as becoming worse 10 years after the start of the peaceful popular movement in 2011.

The main demands were the release of human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience, namely the opposition leaders, most of whom sentenced to life imprisonment, including the Secretary General of Al-Wefaq, Sheikh Ali Salman, who was arbitrarily imprisoned on accusations related to his activity as a leader of the opposition in the country.

The resolution also included demanding putting an end to the death penalty and improving the human rights situation by bringing back the opposition after eliminating them from the political scene, through the dissolution of the two largest political societies in Bahrain, the National Democratic Action "Wa'ad" and National Islamic Al-Wefaq societies.

It further highlighted the stifling of freedoms in general, harassment of human rights defenders, dissolution of the country's only independent newspaper, Al-Wasat, in addition to conducting an investigation into allegations of torture to hold those involved accountable, implementing the recommendations of the (Bassiouni) Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry report and the Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review, as well as allowing UN rapporteurs, European Union officials, independent observers and human rights groups to visit Bahrain.

What is noteworthy, however, was the parliament's call urging the new prime minister, Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, to open a page of serious dialogue and give Bahrain an opportunity to move towards political reform and comprehensive national reconciliation, including the relationship between Sunnis and Shiites.

The Parliament called on the government of Bahrain to fully cooperate with the UN bodies, to extend a standing invitation to visit Bahrain to all Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council, and to cooperate in a proactive manner. It also called on the Bahraini Government to allow EU officials, independent monitors and human rights groups to visit Bahraini prisons, and urged the Bahraini authorities to ensure in particular that the UN Special Rapporteurs on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, on Human Rights Defenders, on Freedom of Expression and on Freedom of Assembly are allowed to enter the country.

The Parliament also called for reinforcement of the dialogue in accordance with the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Dialogues; stressing that an EU-Bahrain human rights dialogue is no substitute for a proper dialogue between government, opposition and civil society in Bahrain itself, emphasising that Bahraini authorities should meaningfully and genuinely engage in this process.

The Parliament's support for the idea of further dialogues, engagement and the sharing of best practices on human rights and judicial procedures between the EU, its Member States and the Kingdom of Bahrain provides an opportunity for a real review instead of continuing the recent targeting of lawyers under the pretext of disciplining them.

The European step is not the first of its kind, except that it coincided with the fact that a decade had passed since the political stalemate in Bahrain and the absence of a serious solution to the political and human rights crisis in the country, with a growing security grip, while the authorities continue to ignore all the initiatives presented and proposed by the opposition in order to reach a serious dialogue that would pull the island nation out of its black shell, the latest of which was the Bahrain Declaration.

Since the announcement of the European Parliament resolution, the official Bahraini reactions have expressed condemnation, denouncing it as a politicized decision made by countries that target Bahrain and harm its international reputation, according to a statement issued by the Bahraini Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as if the international community hasn't been monitoring the behavior of the authorities towards the people since the beginning of the pro-democracy movement.

The international resolution caused quite a tremor, as Bahrain, with all its bodies and agencies-  its foreign and interior ministries, parliamentarians, shura council, and journalists- mustered all its efforts to deny what was stated in the resolution, and deemed it a "foreign interference in the country's affairs," but the reality on the local level is different.

The opposition, specifically Al-Wefaq, fully adopted the resolution, found that it constituted a roadmap for resolving the crisis in Bahrain, and called on the authorities to take advantage of international opportunities; opportunities that give space for serious European action with Bahrain, by sponsoring a serious dialogue table between the authorities and the opposition, whose aim is to reform for the sake of a nation for all, and meet the demands outlined in the popular Manama Document.

The document included demands for an elected government that represents the popular will, a fair electoral system with redrawn constituencies to guarantee equal representation between citizens based on a voting system that guarantees a vote for every citizen, a legislative authority consisting of one elected chamber with full legislative, regulatory, financial and political powers, and the establishment of an independent and trusted judicial authority, in addition to the idea of security for all.

The hypothesis that Bahrain will benefit from this new international opportunity depends on its timing with regional and international changes. The Democrats return to the White House with US President Joe Biden, and his talk about promoting the principles of democracy and human rights in the world, as well as his shifted foreign policy towards the war on Yemen, his relationship with Saudi Arabia, Washington's dialogue with the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the possibility of a return to the nuclear agreement are all very helpful factors that would calm the situation in the Gulf region in general, and Bahrain in particular, but the most prominent question remains: Will the authorities in Bahrain wait for foreign dictates to make changes at home, or will it make the brave decision to start a dialogue with the opposition and release the imprisoned political leaders to achieve stability instead of complicating the issue further and handing down a life sentence to the political crisis?

Arabic Version