Bahrain & the International Human Rights Organizations:
Dialogue & Problems
On the eve of the start of its reform project in
2000, Bahrain has opened the door to all international human rights
organizations. This attitude was adopted under Bahrain’s belief
in the need to cooperate with them, as well as its confidence that
it is proceeding in the right direction, as far as human rights
are concerned. This openness was also intended to inform the international
human rights public opinion on the developments of the situation
and the government’s efforts, so that the outcome is refle?ted in
the form of balanced and neutral reporting in the reports issued
by these organizations.
At that time, all major international human rights
organizations, such as Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International,
the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Human Rights
First (HRF), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the Organization of
defenders of human rights activists, and others, had visited Bahrain
in frequent delegations. Many of them even held events in Bahrain
and launched their reports from there.
Moreover, during that period, officials in Bahrain
used to meet with human rights delegations, conduct dialogue with
them, allow them to visit prisons, attend trial hearings and even
attend parliamentary and other sessions.
However, after the experience of several years, Bahrain did not
feel any difference between cooperation and non-cooperation with
these international organizations. Bahrain even felt that it was
targeted through the reports and statements of these organizations
and that its efforts had little or no effect in changing the attitudes
of those organizations. But those human rights organizations, justify
their actions by saying that Bahrain had the political will for
reform; with opportunities for progress, whic? is why pressure was
applied to accelerate Bahrain’s progress in terms of human rights.
Thus, those organizations were greatly disappointed when the government
changed its treatment and reduced the level of relations. Nevertheless,
international human rights organizations did not stop monitoring
of the human rights situation in Bahrain, and continued to issue
relevant reports and statements as well as mobilizing international
public opinion in Geneva, Brussels, London, Washington and Paris,
On the other hand, western countries also continued to urge Bahrain
with regard to the need for openness and cooperation with the international
human rights organizations, by allowing them to conduct field visits.
The need for human rights organizations visits to Bahrain
This necessity stems from the following:
First: The relationship with international
human rights organizations is seen as an indicator of the commitment
of any country to the principles of human rights. In all cases,
the worldview is that: ‘No state can respect human rights, while
being hostile to international human rights organizations, by preventing
their visits and ceasing cooperation with them’.
Thus, it is essential that Bahrain reflects an image of a state
that is open to international human rights organizations, in order
to avoid international pressures, which accuse it of isolationism
and lack of transparency.
Accordingly, no state can hope to ease the international pressure,
except through interaction and openness with all international human
rights organizations, especially those major organizations that
influence the policies of states.
Second: Today, Bahrain is in a much
better position than it was during the past years. The development
of the human rights situation and the efforts made by the government
are clear to see for those close enough. But information on such
developments needs to be conveyed to those who are distant. Such
information cannot be of advantage as long as relations are severed
with international organizations. In other words, Bahrain now has
points of strength and it has to be open to others, to explain to
them what it has achieved on the ground, so that hopefully the official
views will be taken into account in their reports and statements.
This is achieved by clarifying the official position, and giving
answers to the issues of concern raised.
The fundamental problem in Bahrain is not in the absence of human
rights achievements by the government-as several achievements do
exist- but rather lies in the poor presentation and marketing of
those achievements at the international level. Therefore, it is
necessary to convince international human rights organizations of
those achievements, by opening doors, allowing their visits, providing
them with information etc.
Third: The Continuing dispute with
international human rights organizations, will not lead to any change
or reduction in their activity. If anything it will aggravate such
activity. In fact, the bulk of the activity of these organizations,
as we have seen during the last period, will rely heavily on the
information coming from one side, which is the opposition. However,
openness to international human rights organizations will, on the
one hand, ease the tension in the relations with the organizations
and, on the?other hand, when given the opportunity, these organisations
will find themselves obliged to refer to information received from
the government, as well as the developments and achievements made.
Moreover, these organisations are bound to be influenced by and
responsive to the government’s answers regarding alleged concerns
raised by those organizations. In the end, the outcome of openness
is much better than that of the boycott which will render those
organizations confined to single-source information.
Even from the government’s perspective, it has to choose what
it considers ‘lesser of the two evils’ regarding the relationship
with the international human rights organizations and allowing their
visits to Bahrain. In any case, those organizations will continue
to write and publish statements and reports, which will at least
be less acrimonious or less damaging if those organizations are
allowed to visit Bahrain.
Fourth: It is possible to establish
a new relationship with international human rights organizations
in accordance with a well-defined mechanism between the two sides.
When visits of delegations of these organizations take place, it
is necessary to search for the best framework for a fruitful relationship
with them. Some officials often think that it is detrimental to
establish relationships with international human rights organizations,
or to allow them to visit Bahrain. Those officials believe that
this will le?d to the issuing of negative reports or to the politicization
of visits by the activists. However, these officials need to look
at the other side of the coin, to see the benefits of visits.
The benefits here have two aspects:
• First: The amount of damage warded
off from Bahrain by the visits: The international community will
view these visits positively; and reports are likely to be less
severe and the government will be able to explain its achievements
in detail and on the ground. It will be able to prove that it is
making efforts to address human rights problems. It will also be
able to prove that the causes of concern are overstated, and that
one-sided information is not accurate, and perhaps mostly incorrect.
• Secondly: The aspect that is mostly
overlooked relates to the possible benefits that could be gained
from international human rights organizations. These organizations
possess a lot of expertise, relationships, experiences and information.
Instead of thinking about how to ward off what is believed to be
a harm coming from them, it is necessary to think about how to benefit
from these organisations to improve the human rights situation.
For instance: What if the itinerary of the visit to Bahrain by these
organizati?ns, included the allocation of time to promoting the
human rights culture through workshops, in which the Bahraini civil
society, parliament, relevant official bodies, as well as the media
and the press could participate?
In sum, it is necessary to reconsider things in favour of the
establishment of a balanced relationship with international human
rights organizations, especially the major ones, such as Human Rights
Watch, Amnesty International and the International Federation for
Human Rights (FIDH), among others.
Alleged International issues of Concern
The dispute between Bahrain and international human rights organizations
revolves around two main issues:
The first issue can be entitled as ‘concerns’ about human rights
in Bahrain. The dispute here, relates to the size of these concerns,
and perhaps whether some of them actually exist at all.
The second issue relates to the ways of expressing these concerns.
The government believes that international human rights organizations
overstate these concerns and use exaggerated phrases and vocabulary.
Moreover, the government is of the view that these organisations
use confrontational and defamatory language.
The mere existence of human rights issues causing concern among
the international human rights community, is not new, nor is it
restricted to a particular state. In most, if not all, countries
world-wide, issues of concern do occur, and are classified as human
rights violations, according to international standards.
Hence, it is necessary from the outset to acknowledge the legitimacy
of such concerns in the event of occurrence of violation issues
in Bahrain. Secondly, we have to acknowledge that sources of concern
are a common factor between states and international human rights
organizations, and will always be the subject of debate and dialogue,
and may be controversy, between the two sides.
This is why it is advisable for officials in Bahrain to turn
their attention to such concerns and to think about addressing them
through dialogue with these international human rights entities.
Such a dialogue represents the appropriate channel to enable both
parties to find a common ground for mutual understanding, which
would reflect positively on Bahrain and the seriousness of its efforts
to improve and promote the human rights situation, and restore the
The following are the key international human rights issue of
concern, as expressed by all human rights statements and reports
(texts mostly from Amnesty International reports):
First: (The exposure of those regarded by the international
community as political dissidents or human rights activists, to
severe repression, which includes arrest, trial, imprisonment, and
may reach the extent of the deprivation of citizenship in some cases)
Relevant official Bahraini bodies are supposed to present evidence
of their commitment to due legal process. This should include the
specifying of the legal articles upon which accusations are made,
providing the evidence used against defendants and demonstrating
the application of the criteria and elements of a fair trial for
them. This also includes demonstrating the compatibility of the
local laws and legislations applied in this regard with the international
standards that are binding on Bahrain, whic? are included in international
agreements ratified by Bahrain.
Second: (The imposition of restrictions on freedoms
of expression, association, peaceful assembly and demonstrations,
in addition to the use of excessive force against protests).
Again the competent authorities should provide evidence of Bahrain’s
commitment to allowing freedoms, and explain the compelling circumstances
that require the adoption of exceptional measures.
Third: (The subjection of many detainees to torture
and other forms of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment).
It is the duty of the Prisoners and Detainees Rights Commission
(PDRC), the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the Ombudsman’s Office
in addition to the National Institute for Human Rights (NIHR) to
inform on their investigations on this matter, presenting evidence
of the existence or non-existence of abuses, as well as indicating
the procedures and measures taken or being taken to prevent violations.
Fourth (Not putting an end to the culture of impunity
that allows many perpetrators to avoid facing justice and escape
bearing the responsibility for their actions).
It is the duty of the public prosecutor and the SIU, to submit
the outcome of their efforts in prosecuting the perpetrators of
violations, in a manner that illustrates Bahrain’s seriousness in
dealing with this matter. They need to show that legal action has
been taken against those who committed violations. Thus, it could
be proven that there is no ‘culture of impunity ‘in Bahrain.
Fifth: (Guaranteeing freedom of expression, ensuring
that official media agencies are independent, impartial and balanced
and ensuring that they accommodate all, without excluding or antagonizing
The responsibility for elucidation of this matter lies with the
Ministry of Information. This is achieved by demonstrating that
official media are independent, impartial and balanced with regard
to the participation of all the segments of the society and the
varying opinions. The Ministry should indicate the steps taken in
this regard, whether in terms of legislation or the rationalization
of the practice.
Sixth: (Poor cooperation with the Office of the
High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and faltering in the
arrangements to conclude technical cooperation between the two sides),
as well as (poor cooperation with the mechanisms of the Human Rights
Council procedures - particularly those related to the UN Special
Rapporteur on Torture, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to
freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and the UN Special
Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders- as well as
any other special procedures requiring visits to Bahrain). Added
to that is (Bahrain’s adoption of the boycott policy, and putting
obstacles in the path of international human rights organizations
that wish to visit Bahrain to assess the human rights situation).
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs- which is also responsible for
the human rights dossier at the national and international level
– exerts intensive efforts towards addressing international concerns
regarding cooperation with the OHCHR, and openness to international
human rights organizations (e.g. Amnesty’s recent visit). What is
required from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is to review the efforts
made, the plans laid out, and the progress made on the level of
cooperation with the international human righ?s community with all
its components. It also needs to justify the failure to allow the
visits of the special rapporteurs, and to move ahead towards concluding
the technical cooperation agreement.
Seventh: (Deficiency and tardiness in Bahrain’s fulfilment of
all of Bassiouni’s Report recommendations which Bahrain has pledged
to implement, as well as those recommendations it endorsed within
the framework of the universal international review of its human
The committee responsible for monitoring the implementation of
the recommendations, together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
are both required to submit a comprehensive statement supported
by documents and evidence concerning those recommendations that
have been implemented in Bassiouni’s report as well as those in
OHCHR’s Universal Periodic Review. This statement should also clearly
identify the recommendations that have not been implemented, together
with the reasons for this and the anticipated im?lementation period
in the future.
On the methodology of Dialogue with Human Rights Organizations
To pave the way for a good, sustainable and positive relationship
between Bahrain and international human rights organizations, and
to eliminate the causes of tension, the following is proposed:
1 / Both the international human rights side and the official
Bahraini side are required to abandon the confrontational attitude,
in language and actions. Both sides must adopt a policy that accomodates
the other. They should not allow the domination of the emotion charged
language, use of rough phrases, the hurling of unsubstantiated accusations.
The purpose is not to score points over the other to the extent
of alienating each other, but rather to search for a common ground
on which to cooperate.
2 / To put matters in perspective and to treat problems according
to their true size, the content of human rights reports should not
be underestimated, nor should the policy towards them be based on
total denial . On the other hand, human rights organizations, should
not believe that what they publish is one hundred percent true.
Any observer of the Bahraini domestic situation, realizes that there
are many gaps in the reports issued about Bahrain, which include
exaggerations, and sometimes incorrect inform?tion. It is important
to refrain from the belief in the infallibility of human rights
organisations, but it is also essential to recognize the existence
of violations and abuses. It is necessary that both the international
human rights advocate and the official party agree to address those
issues that are real and true, within the boundaries of the actual
size of the problem.
3 / Both sides are required to appreciate each other’s efforts
in improving the human rights situation, each in its own way. International
human rights organizations reveal errors and abuses, which is a
key element in human rights work; but these organizations also need
to appreciate the government efforts to correct the situation. Both
sides need to realize that they need each other’s cooperation and
that the human rights situation cannot be developed without joint
efforts. Certainly, both the official pa?ty and the international
human rights side have contributions that could benefit each other’s