Bahrain Monitor - A Monthly Newsletter on the Human Rights Situation in Bahrain
Hasan Moosa Shafaie

Defaming Members of the National Institution for Human Rights by the BCHR’s Position

Hasan Moosa Shafaei

The establishment of the National Institution for Human Rights (NIHR) came after extensive demands by all sectors of Bahraini civil society and international organizations. As soon as the Royal Decree that established the NIHR was announced on 10 November 2009 and published in the Official Gazette, Bahraini civil society cautiously welcomed the step. However, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) remained silent on the issue although it was the first to call for the establishment of such an Institution, emphasizing that the failure to do so constituted a set back for human rights in the country. The officials of the Centre did not reject the Decree as it agrees with the Paris Principles, but they also did not want to praise any positive step undertaken by the Government. It seems that praising the Government is forbidden or is considered a big crime in the eyes of the Centre. It later became clear that keeping silence was merely tactical in order to await the opportunity to attack the NIHR and defame its members.

When the names of the members of the NIHR were announced on 25April 2010, the reaction was as I had predicted in my December article, entitled ‘Challenges Facing the National Institution for Human Rights’ in which I stated that ‘civil society organizations doubt the role of national human rights institutions because they are set up and funded by governments. Hence trust is not given to them easily because of the fact that they are newly established governmental entities. This attitude towards national human rights institutions will only change if these institutions do not attempt to conceal Government violations and prove they are serious, honest, impartial, and independent’. The article continued by saying that ‘although they initially welcomed the establishment of NIHR, civil society organizations also expressed their concern that it might become part of the Government’s propaganda’.

However, the amount of negative reactions when the names of the members were published was truly unexpected. This meant that the fierce attack against the NIHR was not based on criticism of its work or an assessment of its activities and performance- as these have not even begun yet. Rather the issue is very much related to the names of its members and administration.

It is possible that there are in fact different opinions in assessing the members of the Institution, their competency and history. However, the systematic defamation campaign against the newly established institution and its figures is far from being explained as a mere difference in opinions when assessing the members of the NIHR.

The judgments which were passed against the President of the Institution and his two deputies are generally politically motivated. The BCHR did not hesitate to describe them as regime ‘loyalists’; an expression which is a slightly watered down version of ‘Government agents’. This expression has come to include any one who is found to hold a different opinion, as is the case of the former President of the Transparency Society Dr. Jasim Al- Ajami. According to the statement by the Centre, his crime was: ‘his hasty position when declaring the credibility of the 2006 elections’. The Transparency Society then issued a report on the afore mentioned election with the participation of the Bahrain Human Rights Society, which was also seen by the opposition as serving the interest of the Government and concealing its breaches. No one doubted the integrity and credibility of the 2006 elections and most of the public participated in it. Only an extremist minority represented by the BCHR, Haq Movement and the Freemen of Bahrain Movement rejected these elections. Is standing by the credibility of the elections constitutes a crime and a proof of being a Government agent? Does using such personal insults and inappropriate language represent a true human rights discourse? And must human rights activists embrace the position of the political opposition, and describe any Government action as lacking credibility and positive results?!

The defamation campaign is equal to a trial of the NIHR, its President and members. Some of these members were previously part of the opposition, and until the day of their appointment, were very active in the human rights field, such as the former Deputy of the Secretary General of the Bahrain Human Rights Society and the current President of the NIHR Salman Kamaldeen; the current Secretary General of the Bahrain Human Rights Society Dr. Abdualla Al Dirazi; and the first-ever President of the Bahrain Trade Unions Abdulgafar Abdulhussain.

This campaign reveals a tendency towards politically motivated extremism, where those behind it are unable to differentiate between various colours, even between black and white. They sentenced the new human rights establishment to death and were unable to see anything positive that might come out of it, unlike their counterparts in international human rights organizations. For example, Amnesty International stated that ‘the appointment of activists with significant experience to lead the recently established NIHR is a welcomed step’. Amnesty also added that it ‘believes that the appointment of activists with a distinguished record in the human rights field should support the efforts of protecting and promoting human rights in Bahrain as long as the authorities allow them to work without any obstacles’. It continued by saying: ‘Amnesty International welcomes the establishment of the Institution especially that the rules defined by the Royal Decree No 46 coincide generally with Paris Principles’.

You might need to compare Amnesty’s statement with the language of the BCHR in its statement issued on 29 April 2010 which stated that ‘the aim of the establishment of the so-called NIHR is to gain the regime publicity and to contain the work of independent human rights defenders’. The BCHR also described the NIHR as a ‘Governmental committee that follows the will of those who formed it, and most - if not all - its appointed members are loyal to the regime. Hence, this is not an independent national committee and the Paris Principles do not apply to it. Therefore, our demands will continue, in order to establish a genuine independent committee for human rights’. The Centre also attempted to incite civil society organizations in order to create schisms, and encouraged them to remove their presidents who are members in the NIHR. The BCHR stated in a statement that ‘any appointed member in NIHR must not have a leading role in any NGO. Otherwise, this organization will lose its impartiality and independence. Such an organization will not have the credibility to conduct any supervisory role on the Government, and on this institution that the regime has established for its own propaganda and to serve its political objectives, and not for the genuine promotion of human rights’.

Does this kind of language constitute an appropriate human rights discourse? Does it serve human rights in Bahrain or aim at destroying it?

The National Democratic Action Society (Waad) organized a seminar on the NIHR, in which the President of the Institution Salman Kamaldeen and Dr. Abdulla Al Dirazi participated. These two were once colleagues in the political struggle with the leaders of Waad, but despite this and as a result of the poisonous atmosphere created by the BCHR, the seminar seemed like a trial for both of them for accepting the membership and the presidency of NIHR. The Secretary General of Waad Ibrahim Shareef even described the acceptance of presidency and membership in the NIHR by Kamaldeen and Dirazi as an ‘individual decision’ which ‘does not support national action and will result in doubting our credibility as well as demolishing the basis on which we have built our partnership with the others’.

Such attitudes from a political society do not reflect maturity, and resemble the position of Al Wefaq Society, which regarded the NIHR as representing an ‘absolute Government opinion and there is no place in it for the disregarded human rights of Bahraini citizens’. The Society pre-judged the Institution and stated that the Institution will ‘promote and market the project and the programmes of the Government’! Such a political position reveals a lack of trust in the Government’s projects even if they are extremely positive, and highlights the extent of shortcomings and the lack of political and human rights maturity in our civil institutions.

It is too early to judge the independence and success of the NIHR, as this will depend on the efforts of its President, its members and on the cooperation of civil society and Government institutions. We will wait until the Institution begins its activity and will then discover to what extent it has succeeded and achieved its purposes, which are mentioned in the Royal Decree. We believe that the position of some civil society institutions and political societies in Bahrain - despite their previous and expected negative position - will eventually change, if the Institution proves its competency and seriousness. It is thus most likely that extremists in Bahrain represented by BCHR and its allies will firmly hold onto their current position despite all developments. This is because they are opposition parties who want to change the whole existent political situation. Hence, the activity of the Institution and not only its members will be under the close scrutiny of local and international institutions. The main challenge for the NIHR is to prove itself through creating a positive and cooperative atmosphere with all civil society institutions, political parties and Government institutions, and gain their support in order to achieve the required goals.

The establishment of the National Institution for Human Rights (NIHR) came after extensive demands by all sectors of Bahraini civil society and international organizations. As soon as the Royal Decree that established the NIHR was announced on 10 November 2009 and published in the Official Gazette, Bahraini civil society cautiously welcomed the step. However, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) remained silent on the issue although it was the first to call for the establishment of such an Institution, emphasizing that the failure to do so constituted a set back for human rights in the country. The officials of the Centre did not reject the Decree as it agrees with the Paris Principles, but they also did not want to praise any positive step undertaken by the Government. It seems that praising the Government is forbidden or is considered a big crime in the eyes of the Centre. It later became clear that keeping silence was merely tactical in order to await the opportunity to attack the NIHR and defame its members.

When the names of the members of the NIHR were announced on 25April 2010, the reaction was as I had predicted in my December article, entitled ‘Challenges Facing the National Institution for Human Rights’ in which I stated that ‘civil society organizations doubt the role of national human rights institutions because they are set up and funded by governments. Hence trust is not given to them easily because of the fact that they are newly established governmental entities. This attitude towards national human rights institutions will only change if these institutions do not attempt to conceal Government violations and prove they are serious, honest, impartial, and independent’. The article continued by saying that ‘although they initially welcomed the establishment of NIHR, civil society organizations also expressed their concern that it might become part of the Government’s propaganda’.

However, the amount of negative reactions when the names of the members were published was truly unexpected. This meant that the fierce attack against the NIHR was not based on criticism of its work or an assessment of its activities and performance- as these have not even begun yet. Rather the issue is very much related to the names of its members and administration.

It is possible that there are in fact different opinions in assessing the members of the Institution, their competency and history. However, the systematic defamation campaign against the newly established institution and its figures is far from being explained as a mere difference in opinions when assessing the members of the NIHR.

The judgments which were passed against the President of the Institution and his two deputies are generally politically motivated. The BCHR did not hesitate to describe them as regime ‘loyalists’; an expression which is a slightly watered down version of ‘Government agents’. This expression has come to include any one who is found to hold a different opinion, as is the case of the former President of the Transparency Society Dr. Jasim Al- Ajami. According to the statement by the Centre, his crime was: ‘his hasty position when declaring the credibility of the 2006 elections’. The Transparency Society then issued a report on the afore mentioned election with the participation of the Bahrain Human Rights Society, which was also seen by the opposition as serving the interest of the Government and concealing its breaches. No one doubted the integrity and credibility of the 2006 elections and most of the public participated in it. Only an extremist minority represented by the BCHR, Haq Movement and the Freemen of Bahrain Movement rejected these elections. Is standing by the credibility of the elections constitutes a crime and a proof of being a Government agent? Does using such personal insults and inappropriate language represent a true human rights discourse? And must human rights activists embrace the position of the political opposition, and describe any Government action as lacking credibility and positive results?!

The defamation campaign is equal to a trial of the NIHR, its President and members. Some of these members were previously part of the opposition, and until the day of their appointment, were very active in the human rights field, such as the former Deputy of the Secretary General of the Bahrain Human Rights Society and the current President of the NIHR Salman Kamaldeen; the current Secretary General of the Bahrain Human Rights Society Dr. Abdualla Al Dirazi; and the first-ever President of the Bahrain Trade Unions Abdulgafar Abdulhussain.

This campaign reveals a tendency towards politically motivated extremism, where those behind it are unable to differentiate between various colours, even between black and white. They sentenced the new human rights establishment to death and were unable to see anything positive that might come out of it, unlike their counterparts in international human rights organizations. For example, Amnesty International stated that ‘the appointment of activists with significant experience to lead the recently established NIHR is a welcomed step’. Amnesty also added that it ‘believes that the appointment of activists with a distinguished record in the human rights field should support the efforts of protecting and promoting human rights in Bahrain as long as the authorities allow them to work without any obstacles’. It continued by saying: ‘Amnesty International welcomes the establishment of the Institution especially that the rules defined by the Royal Decree No 46 coincide generally with Paris Principles’.

You might need to compare Amnesty’s statement with the language of the BCHR in its statement issued on 29 April 2010 which stated that ‘the aim of the establishment of the so-called NIHR is to gain the regime publicity and to contain the work of independent human rights defenders’. The BCHR also described the NIHR as a ‘Governmental committee that follows the will of those who formed it, and most - if not all - its appointed members are loyal to the regime. Hence, this is not an independent national committee and the Paris Principles do not apply to it. Therefore, our demands will continue, in order to establish a genuine independent committee for human rights’. The Centre also attempted to incite civil society organizations in order to create schisms, and encouraged them to remove their presidents who are members in the NIHR. The BCHR stated in a statement that ‘any appointed member in NIHR must not have a leading role in any NGO. Otherwise, this organization will lose its impartiality and independence. Such an organization will not have the credibility to conduct any supervisory role on the Government, and on this institution that the regime has established for its own propaganda and to serve its political objectives, and not for the genuine promotion of human rights’.

Does this kind of language constitute an appropriate human rights discourse? Does it serve human rights in Bahrain or aim at destroying it?

The National Democratic Action Society (Waad) organized a seminar on the NIHR, in which the President of the Institution Salman Kamaldeen and Dr. Abdulla Al Dirazi participated. These two were once colleagues in the political struggle with the leaders of Waad, but despite this and as a result of the poisonous atmosphere created by the BCHR, the seminar seemed like a trial for both of them for accepting the membership and the presidency of NIHR. The Secretary General of Waad Ibrahim Shareef even described the acceptance of presidency and membership in the NIHR by Kamaldeen and Dirazi as an ‘individual decision’ which ‘does not support national action and will result in doubting our credibility as well as demolishing the basis on which we have built our partnership with the others’.

Such attitudes from a political society do not reflect maturity, and resemble the position of Al Wefaq Society, which regarded the NIHR as representing an ‘absolute Government opinion and there is no place in it for the disregarded human rights of Bahraini citizens’. The Society pre-judged the Institution and stated that the Institution will ‘promote and market the project and the programmes of the Government’! Such a political position reveals a lack of trust in the Government’s projects even if they are extremely positive, and highlights the extent of shortcomings and the lack of political and human rights maturity in our civil institutions.

It is too early to judge the independence and success of the NIHR, as this will depend on the efforts of its President, its members and on the cooperation of civil society and Government institutions. We will wait until the Institution begins its activity and will then discover to what extent it has succeeded and achieved its purposes, which are mentioned in the Royal Decree. We believe that the position of some civil society institutions and political societies in Bahrain - despite their previous and expected negative position - will eventually change, if the Institution proves its competency and seriousness. It is thus most likely that extremists in Bahrain represented by BCHR and its allies will firmly hold onto their current position despite all developments. This is because they are opposition parties who want to change the whole existent political situation. Hence, the activity of the Institution and not only its members will be under the close scrutiny of local and international institutions. The main challenge for the NIHR is to prove itself through creating a positive and cooperative atmosphere with all civil society institutions, political parties and Government institutions, and gain their support in order to achieve the required goals.