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