Tag Archives human-rights

Provisional UNHCR report on Bahrain

unhcr-report-bahrain.jpgKiwi Nomad alluded to the “special” way that the GDN chooses to report the news, especially when the news is somewhat critical of the government. In this case, Geoff Bew seems to have chosen the ‘glass half full’ approach (of maybe his editor did? I don’t know) and printed the effervescent headline “UN report praises Bahrain’s progress” to describe how the UNHRC Advanced Unedited report on Bahrain human rights record classifies the country. While he is technically correct, the report does praise Bahrain for some advances, he neglected to highlight that more than half of the 45 issues raised are negative and urges Bahrain in unequivocal language to clean up its act.

You can download the report and read it yourself, but as far as I am concerned I fully stand by their requirements for change to the better – every single one of them – and I have called for the very issues to be championed and adopted.

I fully believe that should the government take up the task and implement the recommendations, our society as a whole will move inexorably forward to a better future.

I guess this is the golden opportunity for the government to show its probity by implementing the recommendations now, especially as parliament is a bit busy these days.

update 2306: hot on the heals of the UNHCR report, the US State Department released it’s report on Bahrain. Thanks to the BCHR for the heads up.

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Delivered a lecture at Princeton University

At Princeton University
lecture at Princeton University

findingourvoice-thumb.jpgAt the invitation of Daoud Kuttab, the visiting Ferris Professor of “New Media and the Arab World” at Princeton University, I gave a lecture to his students this morning about the Middle East Human Rights and Freedom of Expression situations from a blogger’s and political activist’s perspective. This is essentially the same presentation I did at RAND last week, but obviously to a different audience.

The talk was well received and generated many insightful questions by the students.

I’ve uploaded a zipped copy of my presentation (pdf 17MB), click the thumbnail to download it.

We’re having a fantastic time here – very busy actually, but very much worth it. We’re enjoying New York tremendously. I’ve been uploading some pictures on the Flickr album whenever I got a chance, I’ll hopefully upload many more once we get back home.

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HR Universal Periodic Review published

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has published the Human Rights report it is going to submit to the Universal Periodic Review panel at the United Nations in April 2008. The Arabic report is available here while the English, once it is published, is going to be available here.

I’ve had a brief look at the report and am impressed in the fact that it provides some recommendations on what the government should do in the future. The question is not that, anyone can table recommendations, the question is does the report have teeth? Will the government – the very one who published it – take heed of the recommendations and enact them?

I must admit that I’m not very encouraged when I see a recommendation like that given regarding the Freedom of Speech in which it says that “there are some journalists who are against imprisoning journalists for their opinions while there are others who condone and encourage it“. It goes on to say “they will look into the situation”.

There are other sections such as those on discrimination and anti-torture; which, although recognised that these things happen in Bahrain – barely, there are no real solid recommendations like proposing changes to questionable laws or proposing new legislation to correct a situation.

Is this report just a stop-gap measure until – once again – the spot-light points elsewhere and then recede once again into our own little hole?

Well, the absence of concrete steps to enact changes leads me to believe that it might be. The lottery was drawn, our name came up, and this is the response. But don’t get me wrong, I recognise that at least they pinpointed areas which must be looked into, maybe next year we will get some concrete steps enacted.

If there is a real will, both societal and political, to fix our situation, I am sure just like those magical days of 2001, changes could be done overnight. We all know what needs to be done, and in the preceding 7 years we have heard and read a plethora of ways to get there.

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“The Protection of Traditional Values”

I cringe whenever I hear or read those words. Why? Because they are always used as a pretext to restrict an intrinsic freedom or used as a justification for trouncing all over a basic human right.

It is as if “Traditions” are sacrosanct, enshrined and set in gold. They – we are led to believe – are the very essence of perfection.

This is not so of course, just like any other society on Earth, we do have traditions which are shameful, ones that we should diligently work at eradicating. But if we are faced with this oft-used mantra of “protection of our traditional values”, we might as well forget about the rest of the world and be content in our own little cocoon. Our isolation, in this case, is completely voluntary and well deserved.

We all know of course that protection of traditions or values are farthest from their minds. What they want to protect Рnot to put too fine a point on it Рare their well exposed derri̬res!

Witness the latest “protection” visited upon us by the two old stalwarts of human rights and personal freedoms and democracy: Saudi Arabia and Egypt. They have successfully towed 21 other countries – this valuable rock amongst them – to put their thumb-prints on a document restricting broadcasting – sorry, sorry, it’s not restriction, but really at attempt at

organization and putting rules and restrictions to increase the investment opportunities in these channels and ascending by the presented informational message.

Ah yes, of course. The minister of disinformation of Egypt continues:

Al-Fiqi said that there is a state of randomization in the satellite channels which don’t differentiate from the random housing in some countries. The examples of such randomization are many, such as transforming the channel possession without rules and its deviation from the registered form, besides the programs of jugglery and nakedness and so on.

Other than suddenly and categorically understanding what actually ails our own beloved BNA, I have no idea what they guy is going on about. Click the link and have some comic relief, maybe you’ll make head or tails of that erudite piece of journalism. Oh, and his wit and effervescent personality, of course.

The document being non-binding is moot of cousre. Yet, only Lebanon specifically opposed it, while Qatar is “studying” it. The others, well, they follow the piper.

Remembering all of these organisational efforts which we have signed into, you can imagine the tears of mirth pouring down my face while reading Al-Waqt this morning. You see, our illustrious Shura Council are discussing legislation for the establishment of private radio and television stations! [translate]

Now, with “organising” measures which

allows authorities to withdraw permits from satellite channels deemed to have offended Arab leaders or national or religious symbols.

Who in their right mind is going to establish anything in these countries, let alone enter into the highly unpredictable and treacherous world of visual and aural media?

Ah well, let me just be on record in thanking Ebrahim Bashmi & Co. in the Shura Council on their valiant efforts over the last 6 years in trying to codify modern and fair press and media laws which will elevate and protect the basic and most important human right, the freedom of expression, and humbly tell them to not bother. The high blood pressure they and other honest persons endure, is really just not worth it. Leave it to the Internet to give them real heart-burn!

What they want; really, is nothing more than the traditional noddy dog backed by the various excellent musical themes of Monty Python on their screens.

Let them have it, and a wise company would take its money elsewhere.

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Chicken for lunch?

I’m not sure what those “guest workers” are complaining about. Really. They just hear a rumour by the Indian Ambassador that his country is planning a minimum wage for their citizens working in the Gulf for BD100 ($265) a month, and they automatically think that they should be included in that new criteria. Not only that, they mistakenly assume that as they are working on multi-billion Dollar projects, they think that their contractors – their benefactors – whom they wrongfully accuse of enslaving them and who make no qualms of reiterating that status in their provision of comfy accommodation complete with amenities, could actually afford to raise their wages! I think they just conveniently forget that they have already agreed to their BD57 dinars ($150) a month they legally – and I stress – legally signed in India or wherever they were recruited from. And come on, they don’t know much business, do they? Budgets have long been set and any variation would actually kill the poor downtrodden contractors!

Blah. Those people are never satisfied. I mean, just look at how well they are treated! They are even given wholesome and well prepared chicken for lunch!

Pissing on the chicken tenderises them for cooking… yum!

Don’t these people realise that some Arabs in our beloved Arab World still cannot afford the luxury of meat for their daily diet? I’ve heard that some even run after the zoo animals’ feed carts crying “feed us meat, feed us meat, we want meat” and fight even lions for the privilege. Roman gladiators would be impressed, I tell you.

Regardless, I join Mr. Sameer Nass, the chairman of the Construction Committee at the Chamber of Commerce who rightly says: “This will not do“. I agree with him, all of those rabble rousers should be sent home, carted off in a ship and dumped at the closest port of call in their countries of origin. That will teach them. Way above their station, they are. They should know that we could easily import labour from other and more deserving places in the world whom we will undoubtedly shower with our largess. Isn’t some Gulf countries already negotiating with Vietnam and parts of Africa for labour? Africa should be easy really, we’ve had hundreds of years of experience in that continent, but Vietnam I’m not too sure of. Other than them soundly defeating the Americans, I don’t know much about them, but that should make them a bit more of a “security risk,” I should think, but seeing as how our intelligence community actually assisted the Thais where our boys “provide accurate information on the continuing insurgency in the three Thai southern provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat“, we do do our homework and that security risk shouldn’t be an issue, considering how far our intelligence tentacles reach!

Contingency planning, which shows our complete preparedness for any eventuality, does not stop at finding alternate sources for manual labourers, of course, witness the 3,000 Thai nurses being trained in Bangkok and who will be deployed here soon. I’m not sure what they will be trained in; however, but whatever it is, I hope they also provided tested prophylactics as some of those Thais have been found blasé about their use; hence, suffer the indignity of being sent home with our material thanks in them. We should welcome them regardless of course, especially as it seems that our ungrateful local nurses seem to want to tread the same route as those unwelcome guest workers.

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The West’s Acquiescence to Autocracy

Posted on
Download the HRW Report 2008
pdf – 5.5MB

The US, EU and other democracies are accepting flawed and unfair elections out of political expediency, Human Rights Watch says in its annual report.

Allowing autocrats to pose as democrats without demanding they uphold civil and political rights risked undermining human rights worldwide, it warned.

HRW said Pakistan, Thailand, Bahrain, Jordan, Nigeria, Kenya and Russia had been falsely claiming to be democratic.
BBC News

Will this report wake them up?

Doubtful.

Have a wonderful, if very windy, Friday!

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The Cultural Tsunami is coming

Bahrain labour minister warns of ‘Asian tsunami’

A Bahraini minister has warned of an “Asian tsunami” because of the reliance of “lazy” Gulf Arabs on foreign labour to carry out even the simplest tasks, in an interview published on Sunday.

Labour Minister Majid al-Alawi told Asharq Al-Awsat that the presence of almost 17 million foreign workers in the Gulf, mostly from the Asian sub-continent, represented “a danger worse than the atomic bomb or an Israeli attack”.

“I am not exaggerating that the number will reach almost 30 million in ten years from now,” he told the pan-Arab daily.

Alawi has called for the residency of foreign workers in the oil-rich Gulf states to be limited to six years but the leadership of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council has not followed up on the proposal.

“The commercial lobby in the Gulf thwarted the project which was in the final phases before being implemented,” he said.

Alawi said that Gulf nationals were “lazy” and “spoilt”, relying on imported labour for the simplest of tasks.

“A lord with billions in Great Britain cleans his own car on a Sunday morning, whereas people of the Gulf look for someone to hand them a glass of water from just a couple of metres away,” he said.

“If the Gulf governments do not watch out for this tsunami of foreign labourers, the fate of this region is very worrying,” he said.

In October, Alawi called for the Gulf’s “sponsonship” system to be abandoned, saying it left foreign workers at the mercy of the individuals or institutions which employ them.

He called for government to oversee visas and work permits to protect the rights of foreign workers, in a region which human rights organisations have often accused of abusing employees in slave-like conditions.
AFP – 28 Jan, ’08

There you have it. It’s official. We – the Arabs – are lazy, greedy and incompetent. Said by the sitting Minister of Labour. The same minister who had his plans to limit the expatriate entry-level worker’s presence in the Gulf to a maximum of 6 years thwarted rather spectacularly by the Board of Directors of the Arabian Gulf.

The passion which was evident in his 6-year-stint plan has not left him, in fact he is now passionately warning of another ‘Asian Tsunami’ which will result in a complete demographic change in these countries. In his latest salvo, it is akin to him gleefully poking eyes and saying ‘I told you so’.

Mansour Al-Jamri, the editor of Al-Wasat in Bahrain agrees with him. In his column this morning, he outlines the legitimate danger [translate] this situation can result in. Al-Jamri suggests that foreign labour we customarily have and as their visas suggest, should not be classified as temporary due to their semi-permanence in our communities. He contends that what we really have is full-scale emigration. And this, denotes the possibility of them soon demanding their human and political rights.

Dubai Labourers with a local in the foregroundWhether we like it or not, international conventions give them those rights. After all, quite a lot of them have already surpassed the requirements to gain the citizenship in the country they chose to work in even by using local constitutions and laws.

When this happens, a big political problem will occur for our communities. This concerted and sudden demographic change left unchecked and uncontrolled will lead to social disharmony at the very least. In Bahrain, we are already experiencing this phenomenon with the supposed “immoral” naturalizations.

What’s the solution then? Just stop development and force a cultural change in the community to be more productive and less dependent? Of course not. A raft of changes must be adopted to change our way of life; inclusive rule, transparency and accountability will go a long way into forming a new society and even a new culture. Social responsibility will prevail and hopefully these problems will slowly come under control.

Whatever the proposed solutions; however, citizens must buy into them for them to have a chance of success. Unfortunately with the prevalent feeling of disenfranchisement that a lot of our fellow citizens feel, this new utopia will not materialise even with the promise of them ultimately being better off. Just like most people, they are concerned with the here and now, rather than accede to medium or longer term panaceas to these problems.

Without a real intrinsic structural and courageous change, the situation might spin completely out of control and the Gulf Arab will be completely marginalised. As Al-Jamri suggests, it is not too far fetched to have India exerting its major power in our countries by proxy. It will apply inordinate political and cultural influence by virtue of the millions of its citizens gaining citizenships, or even just continuing to live and work in our countries without any measure of control and without investing in the local population’s education and rehabilitation. Al-Jamri suggests that India’s political influence might well develop into making our countries a part of a “Commonwealth of India” soon, as its former citizens will gain positions of responsibility in both private and public sectors, even rising to ministerial positions within the Cabinet.

The situation is quite serious. Since 2005, Bahrain’s population has increased from 720k to over 1 million (if the CIO’s figures are to be believed). Foreigners have risen from 38% to 49% of the population. With the limited resources that Bahrain has, and more importantly, with the haphazard and unstudied policies we seem to be adopting, Bahrain most definitely will be at the forefront of Dr. Majid Al-Alawi’s tsunami.

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Is this the 90s all over again?

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“Bahrain’s response to allegations of torture against dissidents will show whether it really respects basic human rights,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Bahrain should launch an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into allegations of grave abuses in detention centers.”

Bahrain should investigate allegations that judicial interrogators tortured and in one case sexually assaulted opposition political activists detained after violent protests last month, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch also called on the Bahraini government to allow an independent physician to examine detainees who allege abuse and to discipline or prosecute security officials responsible for abusing detainees.

The abuse allegations center on several opposition political activists who were among dozens arrested following confrontations between protesters and security forces in and around the capital Manama in December 2007. The protests, which began on December 17 to mark abuses by security forces during political unrest in the 1990s, grew after the death of one demonstrator following a clash with security forces. In one subsequent incident, according to authorities, protestors set fire to a police vehicle. Several detainees face a range of charges including illegal possession of weapons allegedly stolen from the vehicle.
HRW – Bahrain: Investigate Alleged Torture of Activists – hat tip: Jaddwilliam

Please God don’t let the 90s happen all over again. We’re through with those troubles in which some paid for with their very lives. They did so in order for Bahrain to arrive at some semblance of democracy and social justice. Yes, I recognise that we are far away from those ideals, but steps have been taken in that direction.

Unfortunately it seems that those steps have faltered. It is time to re-energise the march to a better Bahrain; much as our crown prince has been working toward.

The thing is, it is relatively easy to fix this particular situation: have a clear and decisive political will; ensure a transparent and thorough investigation of the situation ensues; publish the findings however unsavoury and punish transgressors – if warranted – to make them a clear example on how that sort of behaviour is unwelcome in this country.

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Malkiya Restored

Malkiya saga - riot police protecting the wrong side!

It took two years of continuous struggle and hard work and only a few seconds for the Malkiya beachfront situation to be resolved. The king – yes, himself – intervened and ordered the illegal fish-traps removed. The traps of course were installed to prevent people from “trespassing” in the sea in front of a hardly used estate, and were erected in the first place to compensate for the huge loss of face suffered by the owner of said estate – Shaikh Khalid bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa, the king’s cousin – when he was ordered two years ago to remove a separation wall he again illegally built.

The papers have branded the removal of the fish traps a win for Bahrain. I don’t. I regard it more as the full highlighting of the complete disregard that some hold the laws, and an affirmation that laws in this country are applied selectively; more-over, the state itself provides the resources for some people to continue to trample all over these laws.

Why else are there riot police stations within the contravening estate hurling abuse at people and officials without and preventing an official work party from removing the traps? Are those “peace keepers” beholden to the transgressor in any way? Are they in his employ, or are they – as they should – in the employ of the Kingdom of Bahrain sworn to serve its people and protect it from harm?

Malkiya fish traps story in pictures

Why is it that after a week of the responsible authority issuing its order to remove the traps from the area their order goes unheeded and it takes the king to intervene in such a trivial matter?

They say that justice should not only be applied, but seen to be applied. Both situations – as evidenced by this debacle – are very far removed from our shores.

I wonder what trick would be employed next to prevent people from “trespassing” on what should be public property, my guess is that it won’t be too long for the press and people to be made busy once again with another brouhaha that would divert the country’s attention from more pressing issues.

UPDATE 070822: Municipal Councillor Yousif Al-Boori is a liar. Neither Shaikh Abdulla bin Hamad communicated with him in regards to the Malkiya fish traps, nor did the King intervene and Shaikh Khalid bin Mohammed, the fish traps owner, was the epitome of cooperation in getting them removed and did not hinder their removal. All this morning’s papers are saying so!

إلى ذلك، نفت الهيئة العامة لحماية الثروة البحرية والبيئة والحياة الفطرية تصريحات البوري الذي ادعى فيها أن رئيس الهيئة سمو الشيخ عبدالله بن حمد آل خليفة قام بالاتصال به شخصياً، موضّحةً أن مدير مكتب رئيس الهيئة هو الذي اتصل، مبلّغاً اهتمام سموه بإزالة جميع الحظور «المخالفة» بالمملكة بحسب البرنامج المتفق عليه.
الوسط – ٢٢ أغسطس ٢٠٠٧

So there!

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Free Bashar!

Some very sad news from Kuwait, a neighbouring country which we in Bahrain – and I suspect the whole Gulf – regarded until now as the beacon of democracy with the longest serving parliament in the region. A country where we celebrated their new Press and Publications Law which we again held in high regard and wished that we in Bahrain could just approach the freedoms it contains, a country who we fought for each in his and her own capacity when it was overrun by that criminal Saddam and opened our houses and hearts to our Kuwaiti brothers and sisters, a country which we deeply share our destiny and culture with much more than any other Gulf country. It is therefore very sad to hear of the news that their security forces have not only detained online publishers, but also tortured them simply for having an online presence and are being held to account for an anonymous comment left on their publication they had nothing to do with, and for daring to take pictures of the apprehension.

This is much more than a black day for the freedom of speech in the Gulf as that restriction has come from the doyen of free speech in this area, one that we have held in very high regard, until now.

I ask the Kuwaiti security forces to immediately and unconditionally release our friend Bashar Al-Sayegh and offer reparations to our friend Jassim Al-Qamis.

Shame on you Kuwait.

Free Bashar Al-Sayegh - Kuwait blogger abducted by the secret police in Kuwait

Bashar and Jassim, you have my full support and I know that this incident will never diminish your patriotism and love for your country.

إنشاءالله تعدي بخير

references English: SBGSavior MachineThe KuwaitiQ8 SWSShurooqForzaQ8 • The Stallion
Arabic: Al-AanAl-JareedaAl-OmmahSahat Al-SafatMa6googelkootKuwait Unpluggedbel Kuwaiti Alfasih

Bashar Al-Sayegh released by the State Security police in Kuwait

update [email protected]: Bashar has been released on his own recognizance by the State Security police. Welcome back Bashar! More on Al-Aan (arabic) and the various websites above.

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