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 rights organisations.

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.