Bahrain’s withdrawal is one more nail in the coffin of its commitment to protecting human rights. A country that arbitrarily detains prisoners of conscience, prohibits political societies, and represses independent media has no business serving in a body responsible for promoting universal respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
This is especially true when Bahrain regularly denys U.N. special rapporteurs access into the country and retaliates against human rights defenders for communicating with the U.N. themselves. The U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, for example, has requested an official visit to Bahrain over three times in the last decade: in 2011, 2013, and 2017.
Moreover, Bahrain’s authorities restrict dozens of human rights defenders’ freedom of movement leading up to the U.N. Human Rights Council sessions. In August 2016, BCHR President Nedal Al Salman was stopped en route to Geneva to participate in the U.N. Human Rights Council and informed at the airport of her travel ban; she was restricted again from traveling in March and June 2017, when the U.N. Human Rights Council was held.
The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and several U.N. human rights experts have issued findings that Bahrain has violated its human rights obligations under international law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (which Bahrain has acceded to), in its long-term detention of human rights defenders like Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Naji Fateel, and Sheikh Ali Salman. Yet, instead of cooperating with the U.N. and releasing prisoners of conscience, Bahrain continues to insist that it legally prosecutes those who commit crimes in accordance with its anti-terrorism laws.
Bahrain’s withdrawal demonstrates once again that it is unable to commit itself to upholding human rights, in Bahrain or elsewhere.