H.M. the King: No Red Lines for the NIHR

Hasan Moosa Shafaie

Hasan Moosa Shafaei

Success of the National Institution for Human Rights (NIHR) is dependant on Government cooperation and on its confidence in the NIHR to monitor the Government performance in relation to human rights enshrined in the National Charter, the Constitution and the international treaties signed by Bahrain. The NIHR cannot become a propaganda tool or serve propaganda objectives if it fails in carrying out its duties, and the mere establishment of the Institution does not mean a lot. For example, there are similar institutions in the region which are not respected locally or internationally, and have failed to achieve their intended purpose, let alone to benefit citizens or defend their rights.

These national human rights institutions can sometimes become a source of negative propaganda against the governments that established them, especially if they fail to achieve anything or if they become a cover for governments’ mistakes. On the other hand, when they succeed, they can become the best promotion for any regime, even if this regime does not truly believe in human rights principles.

The cooperation of Bahraini Government apparatus with the NIHR is crucial for its success. If the purpose of the establishment of such an institution is to promote and protect human rights, and accepting that the democratic changes in Bahrain and human rights protection compliment each other, then the chances for the success of the NIHR are very high. This is true because the head of the State, the King, has strong desire for the NIHR to be successful. On 7 June 2010, the King spoke with the members of the NIHR (I was one of them) for two hours in a private meeting. He was frank, enthusiastic and very hopeful regarding the NIHR and the performance of its members. This gave me the impression that the NIHR can really succeed, although no one can be certain of this due to the fact that Government apparatus themselves may fail to implement the Royal will in addition to some shortcomings from the Institution itself and its members, which could limit their success.

During this meeting the King clearly stated his position and visions, for example:

No Red Lines and the Solutions are Bahraini

The King told the members of the NIHR that they are free to discuss all human rights related issues. He explicitly said that ‘there are no red lines or veto on any subject related to human rights’, adding that there are many problems, and all should cooperate to solve them in a professional and scientific manner. He stressed that ‘there is no need to pretend that we do not have any problems as this is not only unreasonable, but also difficult to believe’. The King also suggested that the members, when questioned, should outline achievements and also admit any problems and propose solutions.

The NIHR faces two kinds of issues: the first regarding ‘current allegations of torture, excessive use of force in combating violence and riots, and restrictions on freedom of expression’. Second: the legacy of the past, including discrimination and the victims of torture file.

The King discussed the subject of pre-reform victims of torture, and stressed the importance of finding a solution to it. He also pointed to the Government’s past attempts (the establishment of a Committee of Ombudsman in the Royal Court and other channels established by the Ministry of Social Development). However, the whole subject – as the King put it - was politicised, and because of this victims’ rights were lost. The King also pointed to the fact that the NIHR can play a crucial role in the closure of such files. He requested the members to present a scientific and reasonable solution to this problem, pledging that the Government would adopt it.

The King also stressed the importance of building a unique Bahraini experience, which benefits from other experiences on human rights, yet should not restrict itself to follow them blindly. This experience should take into consideration the uniqueness of Bahraini society, its religion and values, within the context of international human rights standards, Sharia law, Bahraini laws and constitutional institutions. The King also said in this regard that Bahrain has many competent individuals and ‘we do not need to import experiences from abroad’. He pointed to the fact that the members of the NIHR are capable with other competent Bahrainis to create Bahrain’s own special experience; what is important in his view is for them to have confidence in themselves and their abilities. He added: ‘you have all my support and cooperation’, and continued by saying that ‘we as officials carry the duty of serving the people because as the saying goes (the real master of the people is their servant)’.

The King is the Guarantor of the NIHR

According to Article 4 of the Royal Decree No. 46 of 2009 that established the NIHR, the King and the constitutional institutions have the right to refer issues to the NIHR for study and comment. Article 14 states that the NIHR must present its annual report to the King, stating its proposals and recommendations, highlighting obstacles and offering solutions. Based on the constitutional authority of the King, his support represents a guarantee for the success of the NIHR. During his first meeting with the members and leaders of the NIHR, the King did not see himself as a problem-solver without the cooperation of citizens and officials. He repeatedly stressed that he needs their help in promoting democracy, the rule of law and human rights. He also demanded that the NIHR should help in achieving this, adding that ‘no one can carry the burden of reform and improving the situation alone’.

Moreover, the King announced openly and humbly that he guarantees that the NIHR’s projects be executed successfully. He said that ‘the NIHR is able to present practical and professional projects derived from the ethics, national sprit, and traditions of the Bahraini society’. He also added: ‘I will guarantee the implementations and success of such projects, and will solve the problems that are facing us with regards to human rights’. The King reassured the members of the importance of continuing the democratic experience, which as he put it ‘guarantees social and political stability’. He also saw the necessity of adding maturity and success to the democratic experience, and pointed to the importance of adhering to the principles which protect citizens’ rights and their basic freedoms, stated in the National Charter and the Constitution. The King also stressed the importance of extending freedom of expression, as well as expanding the freedom of the press. He said that he is against the imprisonment of any journalist for their opinion, and talked about the rule and integrity of the law, saying all citizens are equal before the law. The King pointed proudly to the fact that Bahrain guarantees freedom of religion and worship and this makes it special in the Gulf. He explained the benefits of diversity in cultures, sects and religions and said that Bahrain is the only Gulf State that has a Council for both Shia and Sunni scholars.

The King has guaranteed positive responses to any practical and professional projects by the NIHR, and expressed his willingness to remove bureaucratic obstacles. In response to all this, one cannot but be optimistic and hope that the national human rights project will be successful.

Violence, Law and Human Rights

Violence is always a source of concern for any human rights defender, and the continuation of street violence in Bahrain represents a violation of citizens’ rights and an insult to their freedoms. The current violence is a result of the incitement of teenagers and youths in order to achieve political goals, and it is in this context that debate arose regarding allegations of Government violations. The continuation of rioting, despite the existence of a political process, is something unnatural. Some expected the patience of the Government to run thin, leading it to confront the rioters and hold them responsible in accordance with the law. The opinion of the King regarding this issue, which he conveyed to the members of NIHR, is totally different. Although he stressed that the Government is able to solve the street violence by force, he affirmed that the ‘Government will not use force to impose law and order, rather it will use reason, compassion and will attempt to increase the awareness of citizens’. He continued by saying that a delegation from the villages, where violence takes place, visited him and demanded the Government to use force in order to put an end to the situation, but he kept advising officials that this is not the right way to solve the problem.

The king stressed the equal treatment of all citizens, saying that ‘all areas in Bahrain are equal to us. We do not differentiate or discriminate between them and we do not favour a segment of the citizens over others’. He added that the principle of equality represents one of the most important foundations of the political reform project. This project has come to give all citizens their rights whether they are rich or poor, male or female, children or adults, living in Refaa or Carazcan, or any other village or city in Bahrain.

In summary, the NIHR has a huge chance to succeed, particularly because Bahrain is experiencing a new democratic experience, which provides a protective shield for human rights. Secondly, the political leadership understands the importance of human rights in political development. It insists – as is clear from the King’s meeting with the members of the NIHR- on making human rights projects successful. Thirdly, Government apparatus will find themselves obliged to cooperate with the NIHR and its projects. However, all this is not sufficient if the NIHR does not invest in them, turn them into plans and projects and push for their implementation. There are many opportunities to develop human rights and democracy in Bahrain and the success of the NIHR is one of them.