Positive Engagement is Bahrain’s Way Forward
In an article entitled ‘Bahrain deserves a chance to prove itself
on Human Rights’, published in The Irish Times, on October 17th,
2016, Professor Pauline McCabe, offered an objective assessment
of the efforts and progress made by the Ministry of interior’s Ombudsman
in Bahrain, despite being a relatively new institution, established
in compliance with the BICI recommendations.
Professor McCabe emphasized the importance of the policy of practical
engagement in helping countries like Bahrain overcome their shortcomings
as far as Human Rights are concerned; such as illustrated by the
UK-funded work undertaken by Northern Ireland Cooperation Overseas
(NI-CO) in the fields of training and capacity building for Bahrain’s
security forces and Ministry of Interior’s staff.
What lends credence and weight to Professor McCabe’s assessment
and opinion is the wealth of expertise she has accumulated over
the years in the fields of criminal justice development and prisons’
reforms. She has assumed the post of Northern Ireland’s Prisoner
Ombudsman for an initial period of three years in 2008, that was
subsequently extended for another two years. It came as no surprise
that, in recognition of her exemplary performance and remarkable
achievements, she was included in H.M. the Queen’s ?honours list
of the New Year 2014, and awarded an OBE.
Furthermore, the work Professor McCabe undertook in Bahrain as
an independent criminal justice expert in some projects allowed
her a unique opportunity to follow up and engage in the day to day
running of things, with respect to Bahrain’s efforts to develop
the Office of the Ombudsman.
Ms McCabe’s first-hand view of the difficulties and challenges
imposed by precarious security and political uncertainties both
domestically and on the regional level, as well as her close-range
acquaintance of the desire to develop the human rights situation
has urged her to continue working towards overcoming the obstacles.
It is hoped that the honest assessment published by Professor
McCabe would help persuade major players in the international human
rights arena that Bahrain does not lack the political will to effect
change. They should view the establishment of human rights institutions
such as the Ministry of Interior’s Ombudsman Office, Special Investigation
Unit (SIU), Prisoners’ & Detainees’ Rights Commission (PDRC), in
addition to the restructuring and strengthening of the National
Institute for Human Rights (NIHR), a? a clear indication in that
respect. Needless to say, for these institutions to bear fruit,
there is no substitute for the positive engagement and cooperation
with the international human rights community, so as to benefit
from them, to gain experience and to acquire rationalization and
guidance capabilities which are all available in these institutions,
especially UN’s human rights mechanisms and key international human
We do understand and recognise the issues of concern that these
international entities raise every now and then. We also share their
eagerness for the newly formed national human rights protection
mechanisms, to make major tangible achievements and to show more
transparency and keenness to publish comprehensive data of the fruits
of their labour.
Such transparency is not only necessary to assert their efficiency,
but most importantly to gain the trust of the Bahraini community
at large, particularly the aggrieved and their families.
A wider interaction between the nascent institutions and international
human rights organisations in the form of joint projects, programs
and workshops represents the right approach in the pursuit of consolidating
the local human rights infrastructure. Allowing international experts
and observers to assess and advice on the performance of the Ombudsman
Office could benefit the latter and greatly contribute to responding
to the queries of the international community and easing its concerns.
By the same token, we expect from the international human rights
entities to demonstrate a more flexible and sensitive attitude towards
Bahrain’s human rights dossier. They need to adopt a more objective
and realistic approach in their reporting and public statements;
an approach that does not fail to recognise and acknowledge any
progress. This would go a long way in bridging the trust gap by
reassuring Bahraini authorities of the good intentions of these
organisations, and demonstrate that they are motivated by the desire
to defend and promote human rights, not by political agendas.
The Bahraini authorities for their part still feel that international
human rights organisations do not appreciate the efforts the newly
established national human rights mechanisms exert, in the face
of clear challenges.
Finally, it is needless to reiterate, that since both the national
and international mechanisms share the target of serving the human
rights cause in Bahrain, there is no alternative but to work diligently
and cooperate to dispel the lingering distrust, if any.