Following the BICI Report: Need to Restructure NIHR

Before discussing the future role of the National Institution of Human Rights (NIHR), we should draw the attention to the following two facts:

First, NIHR is currently unable to perform its role or achieve the objectives outlined by the Royal Decree issued on 10 November 2009. The nature of NIHR’s establishment, the background of its members and the challenges surrounding its establishment, made it very difficult for NIHR to develop as an effective organization, especially with the resignation of a number of its members.

Second, due to administrative and leadership incompetence and lack of motivation (factors which are mostly beyond the control of NIHR), its performance was below the expectations of the Bahraini Government and the public, as well as human rights organizations.

The question is what can Bahrain do to embark upon a genuine national institution established in accordance with the Paris Principles and also removed from the pressure of both the Executive Authority and the divided Bahraini street?

The answer in brief to this is the re-structuring of NIHR, which means making radical changes to its administration, staff members, responsibilities and mandate. This can only be achieved by reviewing the following:

1/ The independence of NIHR

If Bahrain really intends to build an effective and credible national human rights institution, it should strive to change perceptions of NIHR. No national institution can serve Bahrain if it is perceived as following Government instructions and if its members feel powerless and unable to take any real initiatives to deal with issues, especially in times of crisis.

Despite being established by the Government, NIHR is not an apparatus of the Government and only its complete independence can ensure that it remains so in the eyes of the public and human rights experts. The more independent NIHR is, the more reliable it will become in developing human rights and Bahraini human resources in this field. Those who wish to see NIHR as part of the Executive Authority are in fact wishing for its failure; such an institution should not exist in the first place because it is useless to the Government, society and human rights cause in Bahrain.

A strong and credible national institution is what Bahrain really needs in its political and human rights development, and an effective institution is one that is free from Government restrictions and the influence of political parties.

2/Administrative and executive re-structuring in accordance with the Paris Principles

A close reading of the Council of Ministers statement of 22 November 2011 suggests that the Government intends to re-structure NIHR. By presenting a bill to Parliament regarding NIHR, the Council of Ministers aims to grant NIHR legal, financial and administrative independence, which would guarantee its freedom, impartiality and independence in accordance with the Paris Principles. Moreover, NIHR will be given more power such as the right to be provided with any information or documents it requires, and the Government is obliged to cooperate with it. When Bahrain adheres to these standards and principles, it will then be ready for a credible human rights institution that benefits its present and future.

How can the Paris Principles be applied effectively to our current human right situation and to NIHR?

2/ To guarantee the independence of NIHR, there are two aspects that must be considered:

Executive independence is crucial so that NIHR can independently administer its own affairs far from the interference of any authority, government, individuals or institutions. A national institution will not be completely independent if there is no law that compels Government bodies to cooperate with it . This should be included in the establishing law of NIHR.

Administrative independence, especially regarding the procedures for appointing members. Problems of NIHR include the lack of coherence among its members, lack of competency and weakness in its leadership and other administrative aspects. The future NIHR should not only comply with the Paris Principles, but its members should also be given immunity with regards to their official activities.

Appointing NIHR’s new members is a crucial matter for its future success, and several issues should be taken into consideration such as competency, professionalism and qualifications. New members should represent a broad range of civil society organizations including unions, human rights organizations, organizations concerned with women and children, academics and journalists.

It is worth mentioning that a number of members of NIHR come from the public sector and have not left their first jobs. Generally the Paris Principles prefer the inclusion of MPs and government officials within the framework of the NIHR, but only in the capacity of Monitors and Advisors.

3/ Accountability and executing assigned missions

NIHR can play an important role in spreading human rights education, promoting the respect of human rights, especially in the executive apparatus, and monitoring adherence to legal and human rights rules, as well as defending and protecting human rights in Bahrain from violations.

It is possible to assess the success of NIHR through its achievements in this regard. When NIHR is finally independent and not subject to any official party except its direct responsibility before the King (as the case is now) and perhaps the Parliament in the future, accountability for its work should then be extended to the public. NIHR should prove to the public through its achievements that it is competent, credible and transparent. It can do so by revising its activities periodically and ensuring that they are in line with its objectives. It should also issue reports and publish them in the media so that the public can participate in assessing its activities, achievements and transparency.