Freedom of Association Report on Bahrain, Kuwait and Yemen

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The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Arab Institute for Human Rights (AIHR) are jointly publishing a legal study that covers the right to freedom of association in three Arab Gulf countries, Bahrain, Kuwait and Yemen. This report examines three specific categories of associations - independent human rights organizations, workers’ trade unions (excluding professional and employers unions), and political parties. It analyses the compatibility of national laws and practice with international human rights and labour standards and assesses current trends and policies.

The three states have also recently started processes of legislative reform: "We hope that those reforms will be step towards a greater respect of the right to freedom of association, and will create an environment more conducive for civil societies to participate effectively in democratic transformation", said Souhayr Belhassen, President of FIDH.

As shown in the study, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Yemen share common characteristics in terms of freedom of association. The respective governments’ policies are largely restrictive rather than liberal, and are nationalistic rather than universal. These policies reflect a severely controlling environment, including the prohibition of the establishment of an association without governmental approval, the open interference in their internal management, and conditions that may lead to arbitrary dissolution. Therefore, the ability of associations to be formed and function freely is seriously impaired.

Regarding the right to establish associations, the three governments were encouraged to remove from their legislation vague provisions allowing for discretionary interpretation and broad restrictions undermining the right to freedom of association; adopt a policy of "declaration" or "notification" rather than an a priori authorization; encourage the formation of human rights NGOs and more generally, not to restrict the establishment of associations because of the presence of another association with similar objectives; allow the creation of more than one trade union per establishment and enact more liberal laws pertaining to political parties

FIDH and AIHR also recommend the three countries to amend their legislation to guarantee the right to freedom of association to nationals and non-nationals residing and working in the country without any discrimination; to ensure that the right of organizations, federations and confederations to affiliate with international entities is not subjected to prior administrative authorization and to ensure that dissolution of associations strictly depends on the Judiciary, with guarantees of a fair and due process.

FIDH and AIHR have recently been informed in Manama, where they were handing out this report to the authorities and actors of the civil society, that the Kingdom of Bahrain has taken steps in that direction, by preparing a new draft Law on Associations, taking into account the above mentioned recommendations as well as the Kingdom’s international obligations.

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