The High Coordinating Committee
for Human Rights in Bahrain (HCC)

With the continuing ascendancy of the Human rights and its widespread impact on the international relations arena, it has become necessary for states to exert greater efforts to improve their human rights affairs, in accordance with the principles and criteria agreed upon by the international community, and later included in agreements, treaties and protocols that are binding to all parties signatories to them.

By virtue of their memberships in international conventions, treaties and protocols, states automatically become subject to the international mechanisms designed to ensure their fulfilment of their obligations. This compels the states concerned to establish national mechanisms, capable of cooperating and interacting with international human rights mechanisms, as well as meeting their respective state’s obligations in connection with the submission of periodic reports and follow up the implementation of all the recommendations issued by international human rights mechanisms.

It is obvious that each state has the right to choose the national mechanism it deems convenient for interacting and dealing with the various human rights mechanisms and bodies established under UN treaties.

According to UN literature, there are four types of national mechanisms: The first, ad hoc, is created for a limited purpose, such as the preparation of a report or for follow-up and is then disbanded. The second, ministerial, is based in a particular ministry, which is often the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Ministry of Human Rights; the third is the Joint mechanism (or Inter-ministerial mechanism) between a number of the state’s ministries and departments and the fourth is the ‘institutionally and administratively separate mechanism’.

The Kingdom of Bahrain has initially adopted the ‘joint mechanism’, before creating the Ministry of Human Rights in 2011 and consequently adopting a national ‘ministerial mechanism’. However, in August 2012 Bahrain opted to go back to the ‘joint mechanism’ and its Prime Minister issued a decision to establish the High Coordinating Committee (HCC) for Human Rights, which was later restructured in May 2014, to include representatives of relevant ministries and government departments.

There is no doubt that the national mechanism’s functions primarily require a high degree of coordination with the relevant state ministries and entities, such as the statistics department, the legislature (parliament), the judiciary, and others. The national mechanism is also required to discharge its functions in consultation with the national human rights bodies and civil society institutions.

It is also clear that the national mechanism acquires its effectiveness based on the extent of the powers granted to it, and the degree of high level official recognition of the importance of its role. Added to that, national mechanism staff needs to have the necessary competences and expertise which could be accumulated through continuity.

Effectiveness of the National Mechanism

According to international experts, there are four key capacities that a national mechanism should have, if it is to become effective:

1- Engagement: This is the capacity to engage and liaise with international, regional and national human rights bodies, in terms of the ability to maintain interactive dialogues or to organize and facilitate the preparation of reports to international and regional human rights mechanisms, and to respond to communications and follow-up questions and recommendations/decisions that may be received later from such mechanisms;

2- Coordination Capacity: refers to its capacity and authority to organize and coordinate information gathering and data collection from government organs, ministries, institutions and other entities, for the purpose of reporting and following up the progress of implementation of recommendations. Of course, this coordination process gains greater momentum when it receives ministerial support, whether it comes through the executive committee of the mechanism, or through the direct involvement of the ministers or undersecretaries (e.g. in the mechanism’s meetings);

3- Consultation Capacity: refers to its capacity to foster and lead consultations with the country’s national human rights organisations and civil society institutions, in a manner that provides an opportunity to openly discuss draft reports required by international and regional human rights bodies (such as the Universal Periodic Review reports), and in a manner that allows for the involvement of those rights holders that are most affected, including disadvantaged groups, which will assist the government in preparing strong, accurate and comprehensive reports. This, in turn, will greatly enhance the state’s transparency and accountability;

4- Information management: This refers to the capacity to track the issuance of recommendations and decisions by the international and regional human rights mechanisms; to systematically sort and tabulate these recommendations and decisions in a user-friendly format; to identify responsible government ministries and/or agencies for their implementation and to develop follow-up plans, including timelines, with the relevant ministries and/or agencies to implement these recommendations and to provide the necessary information required for preparing the requested periodic reports.

Bahrain has chosen a national mechanism based on the joint coordination system between the ministries and government departments under the name: High Coordinating Committee for Human Rights (HCC). This requires the presence of the representatives of these ministries at the same table, which facilitates the process of dialogue and exchange of views to reach a common vision and specific decisions on the issues at hand.

However, the success and effectiveness of the HCC remains dependent on the availability of indispensable elements:

• HCC’s members should be equipped with complete know-how on the rules of work in the international human rights field; and to be cognizant, at least generally, with the nature of human rights discourse, as well as being able to identify the key human rights players in the international scene, including organizations, states and UN institutions and specialized agencies. They should also be cognizant of local human rights entities from among the civil society institutions.

Members should also have a general knowledge of international human rights law and the impacts of human rights on international relations; and should acquaint themselves, as much as possible, with the international conventions, treaties and protocols, as well as the mechanisms and international bodies overseeing their implementation and compliance status. Moreover, members should be familiar with the provisions of these conventions, treaties and mechanisms and their significance to Bahrain, as well as Bahrain’s obligations towards them and the potential negative effects in case of failure or laxity in fulfilling those obligations.

• There is a crucial need to accumulate experience and expertise, and this requires an element of continuity; in the sense that the Committee’s member representing the ministry or department, should be stable and not be substituted by another person except under force majeure.

• A committee member should be vested with sufficient powers from the ministry or agency he represents in decision-making, without needing to refer back to it for every single detail. Since this Committee has been described as a ‘high’ committee in the decree which created it, international authorities expect it to have a representation at the level of ministers, undersecretaries or directors , who have the powers to take final decisions, concerning the aspects relevant to their ministries or departments, with respect to the implementation of the specific commitments imposed by the requirements to respond to the recommendations of international or regional human rights mechanisms.

• It would be commendable if each member of the HCC could establish a special human rights unit within the ministry or department he represents, to primarily undertake the completion of reporting the aspects related to the ministry, in the context of preparing the periodic review reports required by international human rights mechanisms; as well as undertaking the task of implementing the resulting recommendations. These specialized human rights units within the ministries and departments could become a source of human rights enlightenment among the staff of the ministry or department concerned, in a manner that allows the human rights culture and literature, to gradually seep into the veins of the State’s apparatus.