Preparation of Technical Cooperation Programme Completed

Fenniche: Success requires Cooperation
and a Favourable Climate

In the framework of technical cooperation between the UN’s Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) and Bahrain, an OHCHR delegation visited Bahrain and held several consultative activities to identify priorities and challenges and present recommendations on the preparation of a capacity building program in Bahrain. The head of the visiting delegation, Mr. Frej Fenniche, executive director of the Middle East Department at the OHCHR, delivered the following address:

“Under the directions of Ms. Navi Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and in response to the request of the Bahraini government, the OHCHR’s team has worked, in the course of the two months, to develop a technical cooperation project. This has been done through bilateral and collective consultations with a large number of institutions, decision-makers, individuals concerned with human rights affairs and stakeholders at the level of the three authorities and the level of civil society with all i?s variations. All this should give strong support for the project upon implementation. It should also enable project outputs and outcomes to have a positive impact with respect to the protection of human rights, cessation of abuses and holding perpetrators accountable as well as strengthening institutions operating in the field of human rights to exercise their functions in full.

It is our belief that this program, if implemented under favourable conditions, will lead to the establishment and strengthening of the national system for the protection of human rights, that is dependent on independent national institutions led by individuals of recognized honesty and professional integrity; a fair and independent judiciary and a civil society freely and independently expressing its positions in a responsible manner and drawing the attention of the relevant authorities and public opinion?to any infringement or violation that may occur. Thus, the programme may become a supporting tool that compliments the efforts of the government as well as the efforts of the rest of the official national institutions, in order to strengthen the rule of law and institutions and support national unity, equality and the spirit of citizenship and loyalty to the homeland.

Mr. Frej Fenniche in Bahrain

This project is a purely national production brought about by the participation of various institutions, associations and entities in Bahrain, through consultations organized by the OHCHR with the full cooperation of the National Institution for Human Rights (NIHR) and the approval of the Bahraini government. The OHCHR had no role other than to facilitate dialogue and drive different, and sometimes contradictory, opinions towards a level of conciliation between all; and a conviction that national intere?ts come above those of individuals or groups and that human rights is the core ground for building the future of the people of Bahrain with all its groups, spectra, variations and affiliations.

The most important outcome of the presence of our delegation in Bahrain for a period of two months has been the rapprochement that occurred between the various parties and their engagement in discussions around the same table. Such discussions were held in the spirit of mutual respect and high national responsibility and respect for the rights to holding opposing views and to free expression. All this provides proof that male and female Bahrainis, regardless of the scope of their differences, firmly adhere?to the belief that appropriate solutions can be arrived at through dialogue.

An added value of this programme, has been its response to the aspirations of all those who are active or concerned with the issue of human rights. This programme is based on the political will expressed by His Majesty, the King, through the adoption of the recommendations of the BICI’s report and by issuing high royal decrees and orders towards their implementation. In that context, a number of institutions have been established, including the National Institution for Human Rights (NIHR) and the Commissio? for the Rights of Prisoners and Detainees , in addition to the adoption of a number of positive measures.

If “appropriate conditions” are made available for this project, it will serve to strengthen these institutions, as well as civil society organizations to make them more feasible and effective in protecting human rights, confronting abuses and particularly in bridging the huge gap between the stipulations and practice.

In this regard, we would like to recall what Ms. Navi Pillay has proposed to the Bahraini government on several occasions in respect of taking concrete steps and measures to create the appropriate conducive climate to enable this project to achieve its objectives.

Consultations have provided the opportunity to be acquainted with the human rights situation in Bahrain through the Bahrainis themselves. Consultations also allowed the expression of many concerns and legitimate demands, including the presence of a large number of prisoners detained for exercising their rights; mistreatment of detainees; the excessive use of force; the harsh sentences against many, including children under the age of 18 years; the issue of citizenship, freedom of the media and the independ?nce of civil associations such as the Bar Association and others.

Other problems have also been expressed, such as violence and assaults on public property and on law enforcement officials and the presence of rhetoric that encourage violence and the incitement to hatred, discrimination or exclusion. These are all major challenges that ought to be faced. Perhaps the most serious of these challenges is the resort to violence and acts of terrorism, as we have seen recently. We believe that this project, under the right circumstances, would be able to address the issues of the spread of violence, counter-violence and acts of terrorism. It will also make it possible, via legal means and under full respect of human rights, to protect young people from slipping into the spiral of violence,. In this regard, the United Nations condemns all forms of violence and terrorism, regardless of their source or justification; and c?lls for the protection of children who should not be involved in political conflicts.

A key point of this process, in which we may engage with Bahrain, is that the programme itself is based on the gradual build-up of achievements and the continuous follow-up of results on the ground.

We have had available to us the opportunity to raise all these issues and challenges with all the officials in the state, and at high levels. We talked openly and transparently, and informed the State’s officials of Ms. Navi Pillay’s concerns over the human rights situation in Bahrain and of the need to take urgent measures to address them.

We believe that the natural place for a child is family and school , not a prison; the natural place for a doctor is a hospital or clinic, not a prison; the natural place for a journalist and blogger is a newspaper, not a prison and that the natural place for human rights activists and leaders of opinion is the community and public space, not a prison.

In this regard, we believe that the proposed project requires the provision of a climate conducive to its success; otherwise all our efforts will be lost in vain. We believe that it is possible to create such a climate.

● We encourage the authorities to take concrete measures, and deliver a positive message to everyone, particularly inside Bahrain, that there exists a real political will to overcome this critical stage and prepare for a new dawn where all Bahrainis can enjoy security, justice, equality and freedom.

● We call on all institutions, official and unofficial, and political associations, to publicly express their rejection of violence and adherence to human rights as a common reference.

● We call on the press, media institutions and bloggers to adhere to a positive discourse that keeps away from violence, hatred, discrimination and exclusion.

● We call on the clerics of various denominations to welcome this program and focus, in their sermons, on tolerance and mutual respect, and to refrain from using divisive phrases such as (us and them) or (you and us).

We shall present this proposed project to government agencies so as to discuss the priorities, as well as the implementation mechanisms and conditions. In addition to the appropriate and conducive climate, this program requires the government’s willingness to fully cooperate with the OHCHR. As for the implementation mechanisms and conditions, the OHCHR will have the last word, in the context of an agreement with the Bahraini government.

After more than two months of residence in Bahrain in which we have shared with you, the people of Bahrain, your concerns, pains, hopes and wishes, we have come to discover the kind nature of the Bahraini people with all their spectra and ethnic, religious, political and cultural diversity, a diversity that enriches the community and is envied by many. After this period, and on behalf of my colleagues and in the name of the High Commissioner, I would like to extend our deepest thanks to the Bahraini govern?ent, especially the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for extending the invitation and for cooperating with us. I would also like to thank the National Institution for Human Rights (NIHR) for its cooperation and facilitation of our work throughout our stay, and we congratulate the NIHR and congratulate Bahrain and the House of Representatives on the recently endorsed NIHR law. I further extend thanks and sincere greetings to human rights activists and representatives of civil society, including associations, jo?rnalists, lawyers and activists in the women’s movement. I would like to emphasize the UN’s and the High Commission’s principled stance on the importance of the role played by civil society in building a democratic society and protecting human rights. I would also like to emphasize that the United Nation’s partnership with civil society is a partnership of principle.

I extend a special greeting to Georgia and Mazen, of the OHCHR team, for their high level of professionalism and their keenness to arrive at concrete results in this project, in spite of the difficulties they had faced. I congratulate both of them on this achievement.

I conclude by saying that overcoming the current crisis is possible; and that the success of a serious and responsible national dialogue is possible, as has been confirmed by this modest experience and all those outcomes we have agreed upon. We encourage all parties to take that decisive step in the direction of the other, now and not tomorrow”.