GENEVA: Bahrain has dropped more than 1,000 cases against medical professionals for their alleged role in the unrest last year and a further 142 officials are currently being investigated for committing human rights violations during that period. Minister of State for Human Rights Dr Salah Ali highlighted this during his first speech yesterday to UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) president Laura Dupuy Lasserre.
Bahrain was the first country to undergo the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process during the 13th session of the UNHRC in Geneva yesterday.
Leading the government delegation, Dr Ali's speech focused on achievements made by Bahrain in different areas namely security, labour, women's empowerment and education.
"Procedures have been adopted pertaining to cases versus medical cadres and more than 1,185 out of 1,416 cases have been dropped," the minister said.
Delegates from Costa Rica, Denmark and the UK selected by the council questioned the Bahrain delegation.
Reflecting the serious intention of the government to take action against those officials who committed human rights abuses, Dr Ali said: "A number of officials who committed violations during the period of unrest have been referred to the Public Prosecution, 142 are currently being investigated which culminated in 10 judiciary summons so far."
He told delegates that a national report was drafted and compiled in association with all relevant bodies including local non-government organisations (NGOs).
Since the beginning of 2012, the government granted 565 NGOs a total amount of $4 million (BD1.5m), Dr Ali said.
Local NGOs taking part in the UPR process were from the Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society, Bahrain Transparency Society and the defunct Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.
The Bahrain report that was discussed in the UNHRC yesterday stated that the unrest last year started with social and economic demands and later evolved into acts of rioting.
It states the opposition changed their demands in addition to conditions for entering a dialogue with the government, ultimately ending the dialogue initiative.
"Because of the serious crimes and illegal protests, which were destabilising the country's security, it became necessary to declare a state of national safety under Royal Decree No 18 of 2011," the Bahrain government report stated.
The minister said incidents in Bahrain resulted in numerous repercussions.
Members of the Bahrain government delegation included Human Rights and Social Development Ministry Under-Secretary Saeed Al Faihani and Khalid Ishaq, Information Affairs Authority Press and publication director Nawaf Al Ma'awda, Shura Council member Dalal Al Zayed and representatives from health, education and other ministries.
Mr Al Faihani, responding to a question raised by a delegate, said seven human rights conventions had been ratified and Bahrain was currently reviewing the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
Mr Ma'awda said they established a higher media council to ensure that sectarianism or inciting violence does not affect the content in newspapers, websites and other media outlets.
On the labour sector in Bahrain, Dr Ali said the new labour law which is anticipated to be issued shortly has allocated a special chapter for domestic workers.
He said the new labour law for the private sector was drafted in consultation with the government, employers and employees and was also endorsed by the International Labour Organisation and Arab Labour Organisation.
Revealing further details of the new labour law, Dr Ali said it granted equal rights for men and women in all fields, specified a maximum limit for daily working hours and mandatory overtime and rights to stage a labour strike.
He said the Labour Ministry was tasked with conducting regular inspections at labour camps and worksites to ensure safety of foreign workers is not compromised. "Establishments which violate or fail to comply with the law are referred to the Public Prosecution in addition to a special office which receives labour complaints and investigates."
The Bahrain delegation was questioned by Uruguay and Chile representatives on its stance of not lifting reservations regarding the ratifications of Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
The minister cleared this in his speech as he stated that the Supreme Council for Women conducted a study regarding lifting the reservations or re-drafting the Convention "within limits that are appropriate with national legislation and laws in order to preserve the sovereignty of the state".
The minister said they wanted to introduce a family law for the Shia community.
"This law is an urgent and significant need demanded by the community in view of the accomplishment in part one of the Family Law (for Sunnis) in terms of its positive practical results embodied in numerous verdicts handed down by Sharia courts in Bahrain," he said.
Dr Ali spoke about restructuring the Interior Ministry with new departments specialising in human rights as part of an overall strategy to develop the security apparatus.
A human rights curriculum was introduced in schools to educate students, but police officers attended training courses and workshops abroad.
Delegates from Denmark, France, Switzerland and the US called for the release of opposition activist Abdulhadi Al Khawaja.
Dr Ali said that charges related to freedom of expression and opinion were dropped and court verdicts were currently being revised by the fully-independent judicial authority.
He said that on the judiciary front a special investigation unit in the Public Prosecution was created in compliance with the Istanbul Protocol to investigate and consider reports and complaints against alleged torture, harsh and inhumane treatment.
It is supported by highly qualified expert investigators and forensic evidence and criminology experts.
"Bahrain does not presumptuously pretend to be perfect or that its profile is devoid of some obstacles which may obstruct the implementing of recommendations and undertakings," he added.
The UPR is conducted every four years and is the main mechanism to review the rights records of 192 countries that make up the UN.
It provides an opportunity for each state to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situation and to fulfil their human rights obligations.