Universal Periodic Review


First session meeting highlights

7 April 2008 (morning)
For use of information media; not an official record

The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process was launched this morning with the review of the human rights obligations of Bahrain, under this new mechanism of the Council.Opening the meeting, DORU ROMULUS COSTEA (Romania), President of the Human Rights Council, said today was an “historic day” which came at the end of a long journey initiated two years ago following the adoption of resolution 60/251 in which the Human Rights Council decided to undertake the Universal Periodic Review, adding that a standard had been set by today’s exercise. The majority of the 36 speakers who took the floor during the interactive discussion echoed the President’s remarks that the Council had embarked on an historic process while many applauded Bahrain for being the first State to come under this Review.

Presenting the national report of Bahrain was NIZAR AL-BAHARNA, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Bahrain, noting that the UPR was the indeed the first human rights innovation of this millennium, said Bahrain had a deep commitment to human rights and was at the forefront of United Nations reform efforts that led to the creation of the Human Rights Council and its Universal Periodic Review. Among the many steps taken by the State in this regard, were those achieved through the adoption of the National Human Rights Charter and through the reform process initiated in 2001 to enhance human rights for those in the country. In particular, the State had taken measures to uphold the respect for different religions; guaranteed public assembly per national legislation; enhanced cooperation between government bodies and civil society and human rights defenders; implemented efforts to protect the society against terrorism; assured freedom of the press per the Constitution; and had taken steps to ensure the equality between men and women. Moreover, the State was currently debating a new draft law on the provision of nationality; and had recently signed the International Criminal Court Rome Statute.

Bahrain considered life, liberty and personal security to be the basic rights of everyone, the Minister added. Having just ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Bahrain welcomed the dialogue about ways to provide effective remedies in cases of denials or violations of human rights. Given the low level of awareness about the Human Rights Council and the UPR process the State had developed a media and communications strategy to raise public awareness and encourage participation in all aspects of Bahrain’s UPR process. The State had also formulated and adopted a Draft Action Plan on Implementing Bahrain’s voluntary pledges to the Human Rights Council, its voluntary commitments contained in the national report and the outcomes from the UPR. Specifically, the State had begun the process of establishing a National Human Rights institution, which was expected to be operational this year. Campaigns against human trafficking and on the empowerment of women were also underway and a draft law on enhanced cooperation between the Government and NGOs would be fast-tracked for implementation. Workshops had also been held to increase public awareness on human rights in general. Several efforts had also been taken with regard to the freedom of the press and expression and with regard to the improvement of prison conditions in the country.

Issues raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and Observers participating in the interactive discussion related to the steps taken and planned to improve conditions for foreign workers in Bahrain; the State’s labor polices; freedom of expression and the press; gender balance, in particular the role of the Supreme Council of Women and efforts to improve the status of women in society; the rights of migrant workers and, in particular, the Convention on Migrant Workers; cooperation between the Government and civil society; unemployment and the high cost of living; primary and secondary education; the rights of foreign female and domestic workers; the independence of the judiciary; and the reform measures being undertaken to eliminate forced marriages.

Other issues raised during the three-hour dialogue concerned the State’s intention to sign and ratify the Convention on Forced Disappearances; State policies to protect human rights defenders; the intention of the State to extend a standing invitation to Special Procedures; the plans of the State to lift its reservation to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women; measures to ensure that current laws were not restrictive on freedom of expression; measures the State foresaw on ensuring the full equality of women in the Court with regard to domestic matters; the provision of clean water, health services and adequate housing; the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child; and steps taken by the State under review to ensure that the State’s counter-terrorism law was in compliance of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were India, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Cuba, Slovenia, China, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Bangladesh, France, the Russian Federation, the Netherlands, Egypt, Canada, the United Kingdom, Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Djibouti and Jordan.

Observer States participating in the discussion were Palestine, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Algeria, Libya, Sweden, the Sudan, Mauritania, Morocco, Kuwait, Oman, the United States, Lebanon and Yemen.

The 27-person delegation of Bahrain consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Supreme Council for Women, the Shura Council, the Council of Representatives, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of the Interior, the Legal Affairs Service, the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Social Development, the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs and the Ministry of Education.

The three Council members serving as the rapporteurs, or troika, for the review of Bahrain are Slovenia, the United Kingdom and Sri Lanka.

In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on Bahrain can be found by clicking here.

The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Bahrain on Wednesday, 9 April.

When the UPR Working Group continues its work this afternoon at 3 p.m. it will review the human rights situation in Ecuador.

 Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx.

To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp