Towards Activating Human Rights Institutions in Bahrain

The creation of Human Rights Institutions is not particularly difficult. What is difficult is to be able to give these institutions essence and meaning to enable them to fulfil their aims and duties, and to persuade the public and the world at large to acknowledge their effectiveness.

Either as a result of international pressure or as a ploy to fool domestic public opinion, some countries went along with the idea of creating their own Human Rights’ institutions to avoid further pressure. They were not genuinely seeking to improve their human rights situation through the establishment of effective institutions, as they continued to pursue the same repressive policies, but this time under the guise of adhering to human rights requirements. However, in the final analysis, ineffective human rights institutions could represent a burden on any country on the moral, political or security level, and would have a negative impact on the said country’s image and standing in the world.

Major International Human Rights’ entities look positively towards any steps taken by any country towards the institutionalisation of its human rights activities. They monitor the performance of the newly founded institutions to see how effectively they can protect human rights from abuse.

The International Human Rights Community sets certain strict standards, according to which, countries are evaluated and judged, and help is offered if deemed necessary. Failure to get the required response from both the State and its institutions will inevitably attracts international criticism, pressure and calls for action.

Activating Bahrain’s Human Rights Institutions

During the last period Bahrain took substantial steps towards meeting its international human rights obligations and commitments. Accordingly four relevant institutions have been established :

1. The Special Investigation Unit in the public prosecution office Feb 2012:

This unit specialises in investigating, in accordance with international standards, allegations of torture, murder and mistreatment allegedly committed by government officials. The unit was created in response to Bassiouni’s recommendation that stipulated the creation of an independent and neutral mechanism under which government officials could be held accountable. Generally those officials are being accused of negligence, murder, torture or mistreatment of civilians.

2. Ministry of Interior’s Ombudsman: July 2013:

An Institution established to investigate complaints or allegations presented by the public against members of security forces. Its duty is to take appropriate action if these allegations proved to be right.

3. Commission for the rights of prisoners and detainees: April 2010:

This commission specializes in monitoring prisons and centres to ensure the safety of detainees and make sure that they are not subjected to torture and /or degrading treatment.

4. The National Institution for Human Rights April 2010:

Its main aim is to consolidate and protect human rights in conformity with (Paris Principles). As such, its role includes, beside receiving and investigating grievances, the submission of recommendations aiming at the insurance of the compatibility of all legislations with the internationally adopted standards; in addition to the promotion of a human rights culture through conferences, seminars, workshops, publications, training and capacity building .  

These four institutions represent the basic foundation for the infra structure of human rights in Bahrain. They are meant to address the main causes of International concern regarding the human rights situation there. They also represent the practical response to Bahrain’s commitments towards the implementation of both Bassiouni’s and the Human Rights Council’s periodic review mechanism’s recommendations.

Nevertheless these basic foundations remained hollow since they came to life. The main reason behind their shortcomings is attributed not to the absence of political resolve, but rather to the political crisis and sharp social divisions that hindered the natural progression of these institutions. In addition, these institutions have been constantly exposed to political polarization and manipulation to serve the interests of this or that political party.

Now that we anticipate a political solution and national reconciliation through dialogue, the decision makers attention should focus on bringing about radical changes to the performance of these national institutions to enable them to serve the post-reconciliation era and contribute to social stability, as well as to lift the standard of their professionalism to the level that would then help Bahrain to regain its credibility and the confidence of the International Community.

What needs to be done to activate the National Human Rights Institutions?

1 Comprehensive revision of the guidelines and rules governing these institutions to make sure that all of them comply with International Standards and relevant International Human Rights instruments i.e. Paris principles and Istanbul Protocol in the cases of the National Institution for Human Rights and the Special Investigation Unit respectively.

2 Adopting a strict criteria regarding the recruitments and appointments within these institutions, replacing those who are not up to standard or lack integrity, neutrality or independence, and providing training whenever appropriate.

3 Keeping the aforementioned institutions independent and far from political polarization. Practical steps should be taken to secure this independence and impose it at all times. Human Rights institutions cannot be independent unless they fulfil the followings:

a. Being transparent. The special investigation unit is required to reveal to the public the results of its findings including all information, documents, statements and evidence. This would reassure the ordinary citizen and consolidate his faith in the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. The same applies also to the ombudsman office.

b. These institutions should be pro-interactive with local and international media and Human Rights entities. As such it would be more open and in tune with all aspects of public concern.

4 It is not possible to activate national human rights institutions without having substantial co-operation with International Non Governmental Organizations e.g. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Federation for Human Rights, in addition to the High Commission for Human rights and other international mechanisms responsible for human rights. These organizations could provide the much needed expertise and training. We need therefore to treat these institutions and organizations as sources of help rather than a focus of suspicion and hostility.