13 April 2017 – Sudan’s president and International Criminal Court (ICC) fugitive Omar Al-Bashir is today in Bahrain meeting with the island’s King Hamad. Bahrain is also hosting President Duterte of Phillipines, a man accused of major human rights violations in his war on drugs.
The controversial visits takes place a day before the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix race weekend. Rights groups including the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy and Article 19 have called for the suspension of the race, in light of the F1 management’s failing human rights policy. Today, one F1 sponsor addressed by the NGO, Heineken, responded to the NGOs, stating they will communicate their concerns with Formula One. Formula One has not yet responded.
The length of Omar Al-Bashir and Duterte’s visits is not yet known, however if they are in Bahrain for the weekend, they may attend the Formula One Grand Prix, Bahrain’s biggest annual sporting event.
The NGOs’ letter, addressed to Formula 1’s administration, states: “human rights violations have been a common occurrence during Formula 1 Grand Prix races in Bahrain. The death of Ali Abdulghani last year never elicited a credible independent investigation, and the Government of Bahrain’s record has only regressed further in the year since the last race. Formula 1 will become complicit in these human rights violations if it does not cancel its upcoming races in Bahrain.”
Omar Al-Bashir is an ICC fugitive, wanted since 2009 on charges of committing genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was hosted in Jordan, an ICC member country, at the start of April for the Arab League. However, he was not arrested, despite calls from Human Rights Watch.
Unlike Jordan, Bahrain is not a member of the ICC.
Al-Bashir is joined in Bahrain today by president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, whose brutal war on drugs has been condemned internationally. The UN identified a rise of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines since his 2016 election. Duterte dismissed criticism, calling UN human rights experts “very stupid”.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy, Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy: “Bahrain is rolling out the red carpet for a war criminal and a president who by his own words has no respect for human rights. This is a gathering of dictators and authoritarians. It throws a spotlight on the true colours of the Bahraini regime, which tries to whitewash abuses using the Grand Prix.”
BIRD has documented a steep rise in human rights abuses in the past year. Three torture victims were executed in January. Police shot 18-year-old Mustafa Hamdan in the back of the head in January; he died of his wounds in March. Increasing numbers are on death row. Political opposition societies are being dissolved, while activists are variably subject to arrest, indefinite detention, interrogations and harassment. Torture continues to be employed.
In a press conference last week, Brian Dooley of Human Rights First raised the human rights abuses surrounding the Bahrain Grand Prix. He said, “the human rights abuses are part of the sports story. Isn’t it part of your story that because of the Bahrain Grand Prix abuses happen?” Zainab Al-Khawaja, an activist repeatedly arrested for criticising the Bahraini government, told journalists: “The worst cruelty is indifference. When the F1 races in Bahrain, it shows the world does not care about the arrests and torture”.