A few weeks ago I had a post about the shadow report being sent to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. At the time I only had a GDN article to rely on, but I did eventually manage to get a copy of the full report (I asked nicely). I've been asked not to publish the report in its entirety as they want it to be officially unveiled at the Committee session in Geneva next month. But I thought I'd give you my reaction to it.
Although the introduction gives an overview of many types of discriminatory practices in Bahrain (including discrimination against women and expats), the bulk of the report is concerned with the specific issue of discrimination against the Shia by the government and the royal family. Among the points discussed in the report are:
- the discrimination against the Shia in high-ranking public offices (in which there is an over-representation of Al Khalifa members), and in certain ministries altogether
- the extrajudicial naturalization of foreign tribal Sunnis
- the denial of permits for Shia places of worship
- that Shia beliefs are not included in government school Islam classes
- that Shias are denied housing permits for Riffa
- that the the UN Convention on the Elimination Racial Discriminationant (that Bahrain has ratified) can not be invoked in the courts
- that the government has not started any public information campaigns about ending racial discrimination, as required by the Convention
As I said in my earlier post, I strongly agree that these government practices must be brought to an end now, and there is a need to speak in an honest and open manner about it. Unlike most other forms of discrimination here, the government's discrimination against the Shia is institutionalized. For generations, it has been government policy to deny jobs to Shias in the ministries of defence and interior, but somehow it's no biggy.
I am disappointed however that the report does not discuss at length the discrimination against migrant workers here. This is obviously a very serious problem for large section of the resident population. It is extremely worrying that there have been calls from the public to get rid of all migrant workers from Manama, or threats to burn down a labour camp in Sitra. The report should have taken note of this distressing recent trend among the public, and the need for measures to counter it.
Regarding the presentation of the report, I have two suggestions on how it could be improved. First, I think it needs more footnotes than there are in the current version. There are many assertions made in the report that you or I, living in Bahrain, know about first hand, but that a UN representative in Geneva would need detailed evidence about.
Also most of the research carried out by the BCHR for this report was of a statistical nature: i.e. 'The Ministry of Interior contains X% Sunni employees and X% Shia employees.' In my opinion, the arguments could have been greatly strengthened by provding some case studies of specifical individuals, places, and events that are testament to racial discrimination here. It could have included some quotes by some Bahrainis about their lives, or they could have written about the ridiculous disparity between certain Shia and Sunni areas (maybe even including some photos). In general, I felt the report does not contain enough names, places and dates.
But I should let you know that I received the report over two weeks ago, so they have probably made changes to it since. In any case, I commend the BCHR for raising these important, but rarely discussed issues. And I hope the government takes the report seriously when it is presented.