“Ongoing violations and constant impunity”: such was the cry adopted as a slogan this year by the Third International Conference on Human Rights in Bahrain. This was a cry addressed to the international community, following three years of unending suffering for the people of Bahrain. Tomorrow [Feb. 14], Bahrainis are commemorating the anniversary of the start of their uprising with protests that will fill the streets of Bahrain. These protests were called for two weeks ago by opposition political organizations. The conference began its activities yesterday [Feb. 12] at the Coral Beach Hotel in Beirut, in the presence of political and human rights dignitaries, with a short film that recounted the story of the “Bahraini revolution” from Feb. 14, 2011, until today. The film illustrated the peaceful nature of the movement, despite the continued repression exercised by the government.
The first speaker was conference Chairman Youssef Rabih, who's also the head of the Bahrain Forum for Human Rights and who substantiated the continued violation of Bahraini human rights and the arbitrary arrests of activists. He criticized the government for its violation of the Convention Against Torture, to which it was one of the first signatories.
In an interview with As-Safir concerning the practical measures that the conference will adopt to limit such transgressions, Rabih said: “The Bahraini rights dossier will be the subject of added focus at this stage. The Bahraini government was forced to acquiesce and allow a visit by the United Nations assessment team to Bahrain.” He also indicated that “the presence of the assessment team will mean better monitoring of and more pressure on the Bahraini regime in the coming phase.”
He added, “The open dialogue in Bahrain today is the culmination of international pressure exercised on the Bahraini government, which must be held accountable for its crimes against humanity.”
Concerning the Bahraini crown prince’s call for holding negotiations, Rabih asserted to As-Safir: “Inside the Bahraini regime, there exist competing factions. It would seem that the crown prince received support from non-Arab countries to open up to the opposition; this, in addition to him receiving a prerequisite Saudi green light. In this coming phase, Bahrainis must continue [their movement], and so they shall.”
At the conference, several Bahraini, Arab and foreign jurists took to the podium in succession. Most prominent among them was the principal partner in the conference, lawyer Mohamed al-Tajer, the head of the Bahraini Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. Tajer expressed surprise at the manner by which the international community was dealing with the Bahraini [opposition] movement, and that international parties were turning a blind eye to the violations against prisoners of conscience, children and women.
Tajer spoke with As-Safir about the practical measures that will be undertaken by people concerned with the Bahraini situation, to mark the third anniversary of the movement. He said, “Preparations are ongoing and varied, to combat the government’s abuses. In addition to this conference, we have colleagues in Britain, Washington and Geneva who are attending symposia, presenting papers and cooperating with international organizations and lawyers sympathetic to the Bahraini cause. This is to put pressure aimed at holding accountable those responsible for these crimes and violations.”
Tajer reiterated the demand for an international controller from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to deal with the Bahraini issue. “We demand that this controller be given the widest authority, not only to offer technical aid — as the government desires — but to combat the violations, submit reports about them and put a stop to them.” He also demanded that “a special session be held by the Human Rights Council, to condemn the Bahraini government, as was the case in other countries.”
During the conference, a speech was given on behalf of the high commissioner of the United Nations, as well as Amnesty International. Noteworthy was the presence of two prominent foreign personalities interested in the Bahraini cause, namely British lawyer Pete Weatherby, and American lawyer Abby Jules. The latter strongly criticized the political arrests carried out by the regime, and affirmed that she would be presenting this issue before the American court of public opinion, as well as Congress.
At the end of the conference, the “always present absentee” lawyer and human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, whose brainchild the event was, was presented with a shield of honor that a representative accepted — and a video clip dedicated to him was shown.
It's worth mentioning that the conference continues today, from 9:30 a.m. until 5 p.m., where several issues will be addressed. In addition, there will be interactive sessions with several activists, followed by a final statement and recommendations.
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