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
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.