BAHRAIN has become “a unique” force in the Gulf as it continues to introduce a series of socio-economic reforms, according to a new report.
The Human Rights and Democracy Report for 2016, issued by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), said enforcing national programmes designed to safeguard the rights of Bahraini citizens and adopting government accountability made the country the “most progressive” in the region.
“There was a mixed picture on human rights in Bahrain in 2016,” stated the report.
“Compared with the region, Bahrain remains progressive in women’s rights, political representation, labour rights, religious tolerance and institutional accountability.”
Despite listing Bahrain among the Human Rights Priority Countries (HRPCs), the report highlights British engagement with the Bahraini government to improve its rights record.
Countries are designated as HRPCs based on three criteria: human rights situation in the country; the country’s human rights trajectory; and the UK’s ability to influence change.
It details the government’s decision to set up independent human rights and oversight institutions such as the Ombudsman Office, the Prisoners’ and Detainees’ Rights Commission (PDRC), and the Special Investigations Unit (SIU).
“(These) work to safeguard human rights and provide independent oversight of police behaviour and detention standards,” added the report.
“These were the first of their kind in the region and remain unique in the Gulf.”
The FCO confirmed that the UK would continue to work with the Bahrain government this year to support “the Bahraini-led reform agenda”.
“We welcome the government of Bahrain’s commitment to continue, into 2017 and beyond, with implementing its own series of socio-economic reform programmes which are designed to improve opportunities for all Bahrainis and which include developing new ways that all citizens can hold government institutions to account.”
In the report’s foreword, Foreign Office Minister for the Commonwealth and the United Nations Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon also spoke of the UK government’s assistance to Bahrain as part of a prison reforms programme.
“In Bahrain, the Interior Ministry is committed to address concerns about prison conditions at Jaw Rehabilitation and Reformation Centre, following an inspection report by the Prisoners and Detainees Rights Commission – a body established and supported through UK technical assistance,” he said.
The report also highlighted statements made by Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on January 15 following the execution of three men convicted of carrying out an improvised explosive device (IED) targeting policemen in Bahrain.
It also voiced concern over government decisions taken last year including the dissolution of Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, the arrest of opposition activist Nabeel Rajab and the revocation of citizenship of opposition spiritual leader Shaikh Isa Qassim.
“The UK government has discussed its human rights concerns with the government of Bahrain both in public and in private,” added the report.
“In 2016, the UK continued to work with the government of Bahrain to encourage the development of effective and accountable institutions, strengthening the rule of law and justice reform.
“To give one example of progress: In May 2016, the PDRC released a report on its independent inspection of Jaw Rehabilitation and Reformation Centre and highlighted a number of key concerns in respect to prison conditions, which the Ministry of Interior has committed to implementing.”
The document also lauded the role of the National Assembly – adding that 15 per cent of parliamentarians were women.
“Women in Bahrain are also present at all levels in business and government, including ministerial, judicial and ambassadorial positions,” it added.
The FCO report highlighted a number of issues including an increasing trend in modern slavery linked to the human trafficking of girls to work overseas as domestic servants in Gulf households.