BAHRAIN has been urged by the United Nations to do more to combat racial discrimination in the country. The government's claim that there is no racial discrimination in the country is too good to be true, say UN watchdogs. Bahrain's laws do not do enough to combat racism, says the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
It has given the government a year to come up with a detailed report on action it has taken to combat the problem
This is in response to a report submitted by Bahrain to the committee on March 3 and 4, at its 66th meeting in Geneva.
Bahrain was obliged to present the report, having signed the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination in 1990.
The country's delegation was headed by Labour Minister Dr Majeed Al Alawi, who presented two periodic reports that were originally due on April 26, 2001 and 2003 respectively.
The CERD expressed its concern "over the representations made by the State party that there is no racial discrimination in Bahrain".
"The committee, considering that no country is free from racial discrimination, reminds the States party that it is required under the convention to take legislative, judicial, administrative and other measures to give effect to its provisions, even in the apparent absence of racial discrimination," it said in its report.
The UN organisation expressed its regret that Bahrain did not provide specific data on the ethnic composition of the population, which it said was necessary to assess the practical implementation of the convention.
It reiterated that population data, disaggregated by race, descent, ethnicity, language and religion, as well as their socio-economic status of each group, must be provided by the State party in its next periodic report.
Bahrain is scheduled to submit its eighth and ninth periodic reports on April 26, 2007, but was told by the committee to provide information within a year on the way it has followed up some of the recommendations.
The committee also noted that the laws and legislation adopted by Bahrain merely state the general principle of non-discrimination, "which is not a sufficient response to the requirements of the convention".
It recommended that Bahrain incorporate in its domestic law a definition of racial discrimination that includes the elements in the convention.
The CERD called on Bahrain to consider the establishment of a national institution for the promotion and protection of human rights.
It also expressed its concern over the lack of "integrationist multi-racial organisations and movements", in particular the closure of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.
The committee dedicated two of its recommendations and concerns to the situation of migrant workers in Bahrain.
It urged the country to take all necessary measures to extend full protection from racial discrimination to all migrant workers and remove obstacles that prevent the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights.
The CERD expressed its concern about allegations of substantial prejudice against women migrant domestic workers, particularly those coming from Asia.
"Especially as regards their working conditions and about the fact that these women do not benefit from the protection of the labour code," it said.
It requested Bahrain to take effective measures to prevent and redress the serious problems commonly faced by female domestic workers.
The problems highlighted by the committee included debt bondage, passport retention, illegal confinement, rape and physical assault.
Discrimination faced by some sections of society was also highlighted among the CERD's main concerns.
"The committee notes with concern the reported disparate treatment and discrimination faced by members of some groups who may be distinguishable by virtue of their tribal or national origin, descent, culture and language," it said.
"It is concerned especially about apparent disparate opportunities that are afforded to such groups."
The committee recommended that Bahrain must ensure that everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, enjoy the right to work, to health and social security, adequate housing and education in accordance with the convention.
On the acquisition of nationality, the CERD expressed its concern that a Bahraini woman is unable to transmit her nationally to her child when she is married to a foreign national.
It also criticised the fact that a foreign man is unable to acquire Bahraini nationality in the same manner as a foreign woman.
On Bahrain's commitment to international conventions, the committee "strongly" recommended that it ratify the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights as well as the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.
Finally, the CERD recommended that Bahrain continue consulting and consider expanding its dialogue with organisations of civil society, working in the area of combating racial discrimination in preparation of the next periodic report. A delegation from the new-dissolved Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) also attended the Geneva meeting and took part in discussions.
It submitted a shadow report to the committee that raised issues not covered in the government's report. Similar reports from Australia, France and Ireland were discussed during the session, which got underway on February 21.