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Jean Todt

Chair, Federation Internationale de l'Automobile

Martin Whitmarsh

Chair, Formula One Teams Association


Dear Mr. Todt and Mr. Whitmarsh,

Human Rights Watch is writing to you in advance of the FIA Council meeting scheduled for June 3, 2011 in Barcelona. We understand that one of the items on that meeting's agenda will be whether to re-schedule in 2011 the Formula One event in Bahrain. Bahraini authorities cancelled that event, originally scheduled for March 2011, due to widespread pro-democracy and anti-government street protests and subsequent security operations.

We believe your decision should be informed by, among other things, the severe human rights crisis in Bahrain today, one that has worsened considerably since the cancellation decision in February.  We seriously question whether a successful Formula One event can be staged in an environment characterized by an unrelenting official campaign of punitive retribution against many who participated in or otherwise supported the pro-democracy protests, which authorities from the prime minister on down have retrospectively characterized, with zero evidence, as a treasonous coup inspired by Iran.

The government's violent suppression of all protests in mid-March, in which some two dozen persons were killed, mostly protesters or bystanders at the hands of security forces, has featured large-scale arbitrary arrests, protracted incommunicado detention, and credible allegations of torture or ill-treatment of persons in custody. Sadly, inasmuch as these serious violations pre-date the current crisis, if on a less egregious scale, there is little reason to hope that that the ending of martial law on June 1 will in and of itself result in any improvement in the human rights situation.

Bahrain authorities have addressed this crisis by "killing the messenger" rather than halting these serious abuses. In recent weeks Bahraini journalists, including some working for international media such as France 24, have been detained and severely beaten. The government earlier this month compelled Reuters to remove its correspondent, who had been reporting from Manama since 2008. Since April 20 the government has prevented Human Rights Watch from working in the country, banning one researcher, turning a consultant away at the airport, and declining to provide visas requested by other researchers.

Recent weeks have seen continuing dismissals of nearly 1600 employees, in apparent violation of Bahraini labor law and on the basis of their participation in or support for largely peaceful street protests. According to a May 23 Financial Times report, about a quarter of the staff of the government-owned Bahrain International Circuit, the host of the Formula One event, were arrested, including two senior staff, and most have been dismissed or suspended, reportedly because they cheered when the race was cancelled in February.

We urge you to inquire with relevant Bahraini authorities about the fate and well-being of these employees and staff, and to consider the appropriateness of holding a Formula One event this year in Bahrain in light of these dismissals.

In addition to bringing your attention to these specific issues, we would also like to highlight the context in which these arrests and dismissals have taken place.

  • Since mid-March, authorities have arrested more than a thousand persons. We believe that more than 600 are currently in detention. The vast majority were pulled out of their homes at night by masked armed men, both uniformed and plainclothes, and transferred to unknown locations. Others were pulled out of cars at checkpoints, and in many cases beaten. These arrests are continuing, albeit at a reduced pace. In many cases the charges involve taking part in "illegal protests" and possessing anti-government literature.
  • Those detained include teachers, doctors and other medical professionals, at least one defense lawyer, several elected members of parliament, trade union leaders, and leaders of legally recognized political opposition societies. Most have had no contact with lawyers and at most a very brief phone call of about a minute with families.
  • These detainees' whereabouts and well-being, weeks and in some cases months later, remain unknown. The government has provided no information about the total number of persons arrested, detainee whereabouts, or in most cases the reasons for arrest. They have so far denied visits to detention facilities by independent international human rights and humanitarian monitoring organizations, , as well as UN human rights officials.
  • The widespread use of incommunicado detention raises serious concern about torture or ill-treatment in detention. Human Rights Watch has documented systematic use of torture and ill-treatment by Bahraini security officials since 2007, and is looking into allegations of abuse of those detained since mid-March. In April 2011 four persons died in custody, some apparently as a result of torture and others from medical neglect. Another detainee appeared at a special military court hearing having undergone surgery for facial fractures and head injuries, apparently the result of severe beatings he sustained after authorities detained him on April 9. Several other defendants in the courtroom showed signs of possible abuse or ill-treatment.
  • Since the outbreak of anti-government protests in mid-February, Human Rights Watch has documented restrictions on the provision of offsite emergency care, the siege of hospitals and medical centers by security and military forces, the targeting of persons with protest-related injuries, and the targeting and detention of doctors and medical staff.
  • Approximately 30 persons were killed since February 14 as a result of protest-related violence, most of them demonstrators or bystanders at the hands of security forces. Hundreds of others have been injured. Yet the government of Bahrain has launched no independent, transparent, and impartial investigations into the circumstances of what in many cases appear to be unlawful killings.

Given these facts, we urge the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile, its individual member organizations, and the members of the Formula One Teams Association to take into account the terrible human rights conditions prevailing in Bahrain today. We also recommend that you consult the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, issued this week, which inter alia urge enterprises to address adverse human rights impacts with which they are involved, avoid contributing to adverse human rights impacts, and carry out appropriate human rights due diligence.

Thank you in advance for your attention to this important matter.


Tom Porteous

Deputy Program Director

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