President. – The next item is the debate on human rights violations in Bahrain.
Carl Schlyter, author. – (SV) Madam President, here we are once again facing a country in which the people are forced to defend their human rights. They want to speak out, they want to express their views and they want to influence the people who hold power there. They are doing this peacefully, and then they are crushed with the use of violence. We have seen far too much of that this year.
This time, it is Bahrain’s problems that are drawing our attention. Bahrain has taken certain measures, however. We see that it has introduced human rights instruments and also carried out investigations. However, we are calling for full and independent investigations and the complete release of all of the imprisoned activists. People must not be imprisoned for expressing their views. That is completely unreasonable. I do not know how many times we need to demand this of other countries.
There are also other things in the resolution that I welcome, however, namely the fact that the United States has abandoned its arms exports. I think it is extremely important that we follow the arms export rules to the letter. I really do call on the Commission to ensure that this happens. We cannot earn money from regimes violating human rights and using our weapons to crush peaceful people – or of course using our weapons to start wars.
I therefore call on the Commission to carry out a complete review. In this regard, I am also thinking of Saudi Arabia and many other countries in this region. Thus, I call on the Commission to take control of arms exports – that is what we can do here – and then to increase protection of human rights in Bahrain and ensure that we now have a reconciliation process in the country and that the wishes of the people can be safeguarded in a lasting way. Then Bahrain will have a chance to develop in the right direction and to not allow the Arab Spring to turn into winter.
Véronique De Keyser, author. – (FR) Madam President, even though everyone seems to think that we are doing nothing this Thursday afternoon, I do not believe, in any case, that the people of Bahrain would agree. Over the last few hours, with regard to Bahrain, we have heard nothing but speeches from the Bahraini Embassy and from all the friends who are familiar with it and who would have been in Bahrain saying, ‘Yes, this is not how it should be done. You do not realise there is a process of change taking place, you are going to have a counterproductive effect’.
Now, very clearly, what are we seeking with this resolution? We are seeking respect for the human rights of the activists and all those who protested peacefully for a little more democracy in Bahrain. We are aware that since last year, since the tragic events of last year, there have been changes.
There have been changes and I will very quickly give you two examples. The fact that the Independent Commission of Inquiry, which was set up by the King, arrived at conclusions, albeit terrible conclusions, speaking of torture – ‘they were tortured to death’, and so on. – of things that happened, and the fact that this commission brought them to light, is positive. I hope that those responsible will be punished; this will be another issue and we will pay close attention to this.
Second example: I had a call from the Bahrain Institute of Technology (BIT) yesterday and a tripartite committee created by BIT several months ago between employers and workers’ representatives in Bahrain reached positive conclusions yesterday with pre-signatures from the government. All of these are positive signs.
Perhaps the resolution does not talk about this enough, perhaps we are too negative, but nonetheless we are not going to buy a pig in a poke. In my view, I say that we must trust the forces seeking to reform democracy and bring democracy to Bahrain, but we will remain vigilant while encouraging the most progressive forces.
Charles Tannock, author. − Madam President, last month marked the anniversary of the peaceful popular movement calling for respect for fundamental human rights and democratic reforms in Bahrain. There was evidence of disproportionate use of force by the security forces to crack down on protestors, and then came the controversial arrival of Gulf Cooperation Council troops. However, the government, led by the King, has listened to the international community and engaged in meaningful dialogue with the protestors and their groupings, and also with the Shia majority parties, and has established an independent commission of inquiry, as well as proposing constitutional amendments to address all these concerns.
The setting up of a Ministry for Human Rights and Social Development is also a step in the right direction to make sure that basic civil rights are being restored; that Ministry will uphold the highest international human rights standards.
The ECR Group calls upon the Bahraini authorities to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, but also to allow entry into Bahrain for foreign journalists and international human rights organisations so that the criminal investigations which are now under way, and indeed are already taking place, can be observed by outsiders, and that the implementation of the announced reforms, which I welcome, will be monitored by independent observers.
Cristian Dan Preda, author. – (RO) Madam President, I wish to begin by welcoming the debate which we are having today on the situation in Bahrain because this country, as many are saying, features among the forgotten Arab Springs. For well over a year, the demonstrations have been continuing in succession and the repression is also continuing, with almost total indifference being shown by the international community. Some commentators have talked, on this point, about the revolution which we do not want to see.
Through today’s debate, the European Parliament is highlighting that it can see the revolution and the human rights violations, and it condemns these violations. First and foremost, it condemns the excessive violence used by the security forces against ordinary citizens. It condemns the unfair trials which have assumed a key role in repressing the democratic protests. It condemns the restrictions which the Bahraini authorities are imposing on NGOs. It is time for the promises made by the Bahraini authorities on human rights to be followed up by concrete actions, with priority being given to the implementation of the recommendations made by the Independent Commission of Inquiry.
Marie-Christine Vergiat, author. – (FR) Madam President, there are some countries that attract less media attention, and therefore have less of an impact on public opinion, than others, and this is the case of Bahrain. However, in the wake of the Tunisian revolution, the Bahraini people have also risen up. Yet, there too, the revolution has come up against bloodthirsty repression and this repression has taken place with the support of the Saudi Arabian army, which we would have liked to see condemned more strongly and not just denounced by the European Parliament.
I do not share the optimism of some of my fellow Members. Behind the promises, there is still repression. It was still there on 14 February during the mass protest commemorating the first anniversary of the popular uprising. Journalists, human rights defenders, trade unionists and many others are still being brought before tribunals, even doctors who dared to treat protesters, even innocent citizens who dared to speak to journalists. Thousands of people were dismissed from their jobs for having participated in the protests and have still not been reinstated. Hundreds of students still cannot resume their studies and, as far as I know, the Bahraini Government is still calling for the visit from the UN Special Rapporteur to be postponed.
It has to be said that the Bahraini Government feels strongly supported by the presence of the 5th United States fleet and its arms agreements with certain European countries, including the United Kingdom. Some European States are even guaranteeing training for riot police within this government; as a French citizen, this brings back bad memories for me. We can take comfort in the fact that the United States have suspended their arms exports and we could charge the British Government to do the same. Yes, it is time to put pressure on the European enterprises that dismissed workers and have still not reinstated them. In my view, this resolution falls far short of what the Bahraini people should expect from the European Union. The European Union that continues to proclaim that it defends human rights and democracy and does very little to apply itself.
Marietje Schaake, author. − Madam President, the sponsoring of the Word Economic Forum in Davos this year by the Government of Bahrain shows its ambition to belong and to be taken seriously by the international and business communities.
Bahrain’s authorities can only be credible if they respect its citizens’ human rights, period. In a country that heavily restricts freedom of speech and of the Internet and has people fired for expressing their political opinions, business development is impossible. When tens of thousands of peaceful protestors are met with violence and doctors face political trials, investment is unattractive. Where tensions between Shia and Sunnis are growing and citizens face military trials, there is a risk of a proxy conflict involving Saudi Arabia and Iran.
EU-based companies in Bahrain should take back fired employees, and we should freeze the export of weapons and technology from the EU that is used to repress people. Bahrain’s authorities should put themselves on the right side of history and show their unconditional commitment to respecting human rights and make reforms.
The release of political prisoners, especially of Abdulhadi Alkhawaja and Mahdi Abu Deeb, are of particular urgency to this House.
Monica Luisa Macovei, on behalf of the PPE Group. – Madam President, the situation in Bahrain worsened following the violent suppression of the peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations. Despite the recommendations of the Bahrain independent commission of inquiry and the government’s promises to pursue those recommendations, the violence continued. Thirty-five people died up to the end of martial law in June 2011, and this figure has risen to over 60, with an avalanche of deaths related to the violence since December 2011.
The Bahraini authorities must stop the violent suppression of peaceful protests. It is reported that political and human rights activists, journalists and medical personnel are being unfairly tried in military and civilian courts. Such prosecutions must be stopped immediately, and those officials who fail to implement the fair trial rules must be held accountable. We also condemn the continued repressive measures in the area of Internet censorship, as over one thousand websites remain blocked in Bahrain.
This Parliament must take a stronger stance and the EU must increase pressure on the Bahraini Government to honour its promises of democratic reforms and investigate human rights violations.
Lidia Joanna Geringer de Oedenberg, on behalf of the S&D Group. – (PL) Madam President, inspired by last year’s successful protests in Egypt and Tunisia, the people of Bahrain also took to the streets en masse, starting a wave of anti-government protests, demanding the introduction of a constitutional monarchy and an end to discrimination against Shiites. Following a brutal attack by the police and security forces on the demonstrators on 17 February, 60 people were killed and over 3 000 arrested. The Bahraini authorities are continuing their repression against society, censoring the media, restricting Internet access and also placing restrictions on the universal right of assembly and association and even on free movement of citizens and humanitarian aid.
In the light of the continuing repression, we demand an immediate cessation of acts of violence and call on the Bahraini authorities to restore fundamental freedoms and civil liberties. Only a constructive dialogue with society can help to produce a solution that will make it possible to end the state of emergency in the country.
Kristiina Ojuland, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Madam President, Bahrain has already gone through a significant change. Although through the blood of many innocent citizens, the country has now turned to reform itself. The reforms cannot succeed, however, when people responsible for the torturing and killing of Bahraini civilians are not brought to justice.
I encourage the Bahraini Government to drop the charges against peaceful protesters and medical personnel who helped the injured, release the detained and start independent investigations into the grave acts of violence against peaceful pro-democracy protesters.
The Bahraini Government has made many mistakes and has lost international credibility and respect. They should not forget the lesson and I hope that the way forward to democracy will be paved with sophisticated reforms.
Michał Tomasz Kamiński, on behalf of the ECR Group. – (PL) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, it is my sincere belief that there is no area of civilisation, no nation and no religion that is not destined to live, to a greater or lesser degree, in freedom and democracy. For this reason it was with great joy and, to be honest, considerable emotion, that I observed events in the Arab world in the spring of last year. Echoes of that spring, of that air of freedom, also reached Bahrain. I do not deny that the king of Bahrain and his regime made certain concessions, are trying at least to give the impression that they understood the situation, that they must respond to their nation’s expectations, but this is nowhere near enough. I would like to make it absolutely clear that what is happening in Bahrain is just not enough. Independent observers and independent journalists are still not allowed into the country, which contradicts the stated good intentions of the King of Bahrain. I would also like to say that one cannot speak of freedom or justice if those who only a year ago were torturing and killing innocent people, who were only asking for greater freedom, are not brought to justice.
Jaroslav Paška, on behalf of the EFD Group. - (SK) Madam Presdient, during the Arab Spring last year, a wave of civil unrest also swept through the moderate Islamic regime in Bahrain, during which 35 people lost their lives and hundreds were imprisoned. At the request of the international community, the Sultan of Bahrain established an independent investigative committee which, among other things, stated that during the suppression of the unrest, five people were tortured while in prison, and that unreasonable force was used against peaceful demonstrators and political activists. Many people were condemned and imprisoned in trials that did not comply with international standards or even with Bahraini criminal law. In accordance with the recommendations of the commission, a special investigating unit was set up, the aim of which is to determine responsibility for the death and torture of civilians and the unlawful actions of the courts.
However, these efforts must go further. In addition to the continuing investigation, it is necessary to restore the social consensus, improve the protection of human rights and strive for constructive dialogue. In my opinion, it is our duty to remind the Sultan of Bahrain of this.
Franz Obermayr (NI). – (DE) Madam President, the unfortunate fact is that the Arab Spring has become an Arab Winter. At present, the international press mainly reports on the tragic events in Syria, or perhaps Libya, however the massacres of the Coptic Christians in Egypt and, of course, the incidents in Bahrain seem to have been forgotten.
In Bahrain alone, more than 45 people have lost their lives in the outbreak of Shiite protests against the Sunni royal family. As recently as Saturday, the police once again used tear-gas against peaceful demonstrators. It is not just the security forces in Bahrain that are heaping blame on themselves, however. Saudi Arabian troops are also supporting the regime with Western weapons, meaning that the US is also indirectly involved in the conflict.
This enables them to ensure that the forces for the status quo are at present stronger than those for change. Conservative fundamentalist forces are thus being consolidated here, and the negative impact on the reform process in Bahrain means that hope is dwindling that the democratisation process will also be set in train in the other five Gulf States.
The demands of the Bahrainis for social justice, reforms and a constitutional monarchy should therefore be taken seriously by the EU and we should not apply double standards, particularly in relation to events in the Arab world.
Seán Kelly (PPE). - Madam President, Bahrain is not the worst country in the world, nor is it the poorest, nor is it the most undemocratic, nor is it the most backward. Nevertheless, the issues we are discussing here today are of the gravest import and we would hope that as a result of our resolution pressure might be brought to bear on the Bahraini authorities so they make the necessary reforms.
The establishment of the Bahraini Independent Commission of Inquiry is welcome but, unless it is seen to have implementation measures which will bring concrete results, it will not be of any value, especially in bringing people who have been guilty of human rights violations to justice. Also Bahrain needs to establish the right for peaceful protests. Those who have been arrested for engaging in peaceful protests must be freed; in particular those who have lost their jobs because of being involved in peaceful protests must have their jobs given back.
Finally, the First World itself must desist from selling military equipment to Bahrain until these measures are implemented.
– (GA) If this is done, we will have made progress. Thank you.
Sari Essayah (PPE). – (FI) Madam President, the security situation in Bahrain is still very precarious, with more and more clashes between security forces and demonstrators constantly being reported around the anniversary of the popular uprising on 14 February.
The report by an independent commisssion that was published in November says that there has been continuous unreasonable use of force and widespread torture on the part of the authorities, with those who participated in the uprising the victims. According to the report, Bahrain’s Sunni-led Government has not embarked on any of the recommended measures. For example, members of the government found guilty of abuses have not been brought to justice. The report also says that political prisoners have been systematically tortured, and the High Representative in her statement has appealed for an end to the violence, as has UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The international community cannot stand by and watch while the brutality that is taking place in that country continues.
Ana Gomes (S&D). – (PT) Madam President, this resolution is appropriate and balanced, acknowledging some positive steps that have been taken, in particular with regard to the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which recognised that excessive force had been used and that there had been torture and unfair trials in response to the protests of last year. However, this resolution also acknowledges the shortcomings and slow implementation of the reforms and the redress of injustices, particularly in relation to the failure to release political prisoners.
Last week, I met a group of women in Brussels; delegates from Bahrain, of all faiths, who came to say that there had been political and religious manipulation of the demonstrations by obscurantist forces. If that is the case, why is Bahrain continuing to prevent journalists and human rights organisations from entering the country? Why has the UN special rapporteur on torture, who wanted to visit Bahrain, been prevented from doing so? Why has Bahrain still not extended an invitation for the Special Procedures Branch of the UN Human Rights Council to visit and ascertain what has happened?
Through the High Representative, the EU must demand that Bahrain does, in fact, carry out the necessary reforms and rectify the abuses that have been committed. As several fellow Members have said, it is also imperative that she demand that the Member States ensure complete compliance with the criteria for the common position on arms exports, so that they are not complicit with the internal repression in Bahrain.
Norica Nicolai (ALDE). – (RO) Madam President, I believe that Bahrain is a typical example of what it means to take a few steps forward with impetus from the international community and many steps back, because we cannot interpret in any other way the results of the Independent Commission of Inquiry, which presented last year its report which was given a positive assessment. However, this commission of inquiry makes it clear that international standards on human rights have not been complied with during trial proceedings. Following this commission of inquiry, the King appointed another commission to submit a plan for implementing the reforms. This plan is due to be presented on 20 March.
It might have been interesting to wait and see whether there is actually any political will in Bahrain. In my view, however, there is the will to continue the repression and curbing of fundamental rights and freedoms. This is why I welcome this resolution, and I believe that only pressure from us can make them take serious, firm steps, based on the reforms.
Eija-Riitta Korhola (PPE). - (FI) Madam President, in October we adopted a position on the situation in Bahrain, highlighting the arrests and imprisonment of doctors and nurses treating those injured in the demonstrations.
On 14 February, the anniversary of the popular uprising, new incidents of violence erupted when Bahraini security forces suppressed peaceful demonstrations with the use of force, and several activists were hurt. It is a positive step that the United States has interrupted the export to Bahrain of weapons and other equipment used for the violent oppression of its citizens. The recommendations of the Independent Commission of Inquiry have also been taken seriously.
However, the harsh sentences handed out to human rights activists with no proper justification and heavy censorship on the Internet speak of opposition to reform. The protests have continued to be put down, as usual, by means of force. The King of Bahrain and the authorities have given repeated assurances of their commitment to improving human rights and cooperation with international organisations. It is high time we saw more obvious examples of this.
Mitro Repo (S&D). - (FI) Madam President, the Bahraini people are calling for democratic reforms and a respect for fundamental human rights. The demands for improved living conditions and a respect for rights are not extravagant, and they do not in any way pose a threat to the Bahraini Government.
Instead of listening to the justified demands of the people, however, government security forces have continued to use heavy-handed tactics against demonstrators. There is no justification whatsoever for using use tear gas and stun grenades against unarmed demonstrators. Bahrain must end this brutal treatment of demonstrators. No one involved in peaceful demonstrations should be imprisoned for expressing their opinion.
The Bahraini administration should instead show more support for civil activism and civil society. If it wishes to avoid demonstrations, Bahrain needs greater democracy, more dialogue with civil society and robust measures to create jobs, especially for the young.
Bernd Posselt (PPE). – (DE) Madam President, I have known Bahrain for more than 30 years and would simply like to say that this country was previously on a good path and can also return to a good path. This is despite its exposed position in relation to Iran, something that should not be forgotten. Naturally there are attacks from the ruling family, from the security service and from the Saudis, who are behind these developments and who would seek to incorporate Bahrain into their own country. This is something else we must not forget. On the other hand, we have systematic Shiite agitation controlled by Iran and by extremist leaders inside the country itself.
Both of these factors are extremely dangerous, and our task is not to take sides here, but rather to act as intermediaries and to help ensure that a fully functioning constitutional monarchy is created there with a reasonable balance between Shiites and Sunnis, as otherwise we can expect a terrible blood-bath. It has already been said that the so-called Arab Spring is more a step in the direction of extremism in most countries at the moment and that the justified criticism of the attacks in Bahrain may be abused by extremists.
Alexandra Thein (ALDE). – (DE) Madam President, I welcome the fact that Parliament has taken up the issue of human rights violations in Bahrain. According to the list kept by the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, the number of fatalities since 14 February 2011 is much higher than indicated in the resolution. The number quoted there is 63. The debate is made all the more important by the fact that a large number of Member States were very quiet and indecisive about the events in Bahrain, when they actually should have made their voices heard. If one compares the way the Member States reacted to the very first killings in Syria, then it is apparent that the response was quite different. In the final analysis, this is what leads me to hope that the standards applied in the European Parliament at least will be the same, whatever country is under consideration. We cannot use a different yardstick here simply because Bahrain is the location of a US naval base rather than a Russian one, because it receives supplies of US weapons rather than Russian ones and because our trade relations with the country are better than with Syria. The same standards need to apply in Bahrain and in all the countries of the Arab world when it comes to compliance with human rights.
(End of catch-the-eye procedure)
Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the Commission. − Madam President, the EU is paying great attention to the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Bahrain, especially since the major resurgence of unrest in that country, which started in February last year. In recent months we have unfortunately witnessed arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment and sometimes even torture of detainees, trials carried out without the appropriate guarantees, and restrictions of fundamental freedoms.
Respect for human rights standards still needs to be improved and the national reconciliation process still has to be put on a more solid footing. The EU’s response to this worrying situation has been consistent. High Representative Catherine Ashton issued last year no less than eight statements on Bahrain calling for dialogue, respect for human rights and avoidance of violence. She raised this matter several times with the Bahraini Foreign Minister and she met with the King himself in April last year. The Foreign Affairs Council reiterated the same messages in its conclusions in March, April and May. The EEAS and the EU delegation in Riyadh, which is accredited to Bahrain, are engaged in regular visits and dialogue with the Bahraini authorities.
The EU welcomes the decision taken by the King in June 2011 to set up an independent commission of inquiry to shed full light on the human rights violations during the unrest. The Bahraini Government is now implementing the recommendations contained in the report that the Commission published in November. The EU has expressed its willingness to provide concrete support to the Bahraini Government in this challenging task, through the provision of assistance and expertise.
It will be very important to implement these recommendations fully and rapidly. It also remains essential that a serious dialogue be opened between the authorities and the opposition. The opposition groups have to play their part in making this possible, because in the absence of such a dialogue genuine and lasting national reconciliation will not take place.
Finally, it is our hope that the sentences given by the so-called ‘national safety courts’, notably to the group of some 20 medical staff and to several human rights defenders, will be revoked. All those individuals must be given a fresh trial before civilian courts with all the guarantees arising from Bahrain’s domestic legislation and from the relevant international conventions.
Ana Gomes (S&D). - Madam President, before passing to the vote, I would just like to give Parliament the information that news agencies are reporting an attack by Ethiopia inside Eritrea, in which a number of people have been killed and two German citizens kidnapped.
These are two countries who fought a bloody war in the nineties. I believe the EU has a tremendous responsibility, because it has not only been giving massive support in aid to one of these countries, Ethiopia, but actually not doing what it should in terms of demanding that both countries respect the arbitration decision on the border issued a couple of years ago, which is something that favours Ethiopia.
I would like to ask, through you, that when Baroness Ashton comes to Parliament next week, to the meeting of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, she will be prepared to give us information on what is happening between these two countries.
Bernd Posselt (PPE). – (DE) Madam President, I have just learned that the Conference of Presidents has decided by a majority, contrary to the wishes of our group, to drop the urgent matters from the agenda for the next part-session, which, because of the Orthodox Easter celebrations, begins on Tuesday and runs until Friday. I do not believe this is right, because a lot of important issues are sure to arise in the four weeks leading up to the April part-session. I wish to protest against this decision, which breaches our own rules, and would ask my colleagues from the other groups to have a word with their group chairs, so that this misguided decision can be revised by April.
President. – Mr Posselt, measures were taken, as before, when the meeting began on Tuesday but only the Conference of Presidents, and possibly the president of this group, may return this matter to the table. We shall therefore pass on your request.
In accordance with Rule 122 of the Rules of Procedure, I have received six motions for resolutions(1).
The debate is closed.
Written statements (Rule 149)
Tokia Saïfi (PPE), in writing. – (FR) Bahrain will end up as the poor relation of the Arab Spring. Just one year ago, when the opposition tried to rise up against the monarchy, the neighbouring states offered their support to the government and repressed the protests, which led to the deaths of dozens of people. Political and social reforms have been promised but, for the time being, no significant progress has been observed. In order to stop the law enforcement authorities and the population from coming to blows again, we must urgently speed up the process of democratisation in the country. Above all else, the political stage must gradually start to open up to the different movements and a multi-party system must begin to take shape. In this regard, the release of political prisoners is a priority that we wanted to highlight in our urgent resolution. No progress will be made as long as the government refuses to shed light on the violence committed against civilians in 2011. Also, the European Parliament is inviting Bahrain to submit as quickly as possible to the United Nations Human Rights Council special procedures.
Tadeusz Zwiefka (PPE), in writing. – (PL) In 2011, Bahrain’s cities became the scene of regular battles between demonstrators and the police and army. The first such event took place on 17 February, when the forces of order attacked peaceful anti-government demonstrators. After this unjustified aggression by government forces, events took a serious turn for the worse for thousands of citizens of that country. The list of human rights violations by the authorities in Bahrain is a long one. There is a failure to respect the fundamental rights of the people involved, even indirectly, in last year’s events. The problems that have led to today’s discussion, are, firstly, groundless arrests of citizens, including children, and, secondly, the use of torture, poor treatment and abuse of detainees, including instances of people beaten to death. Another problem is that of unjust trials, in which the right to a defence is refused, including the right to a lawyer. These trials end with disproportionately severe sentences, the aim of which is to strike fear into potential critics of the monarchy. Repressive measures against lecturers, teachers and students are the order of the day, and people who took part in last year’s demonstrations are being fired from their jobs. It is important that Europe should speak with one voice and say that the events in Bahrain should be condemned. Political pressure should be exerted in respect of behaviour that undermines fundamental values. In this way we can give a clear signal that the same standards apply to everyone.