UK Foreign Office:

Our Goal is Justice & Building
Effective Human Rights Institutions

The Government of Bahrain has gone to great lengths to create several institutions pertaining to the justice system and human rights. Foremost among these institutions are the bodies concerned with monitoring, investigation and grievances, which include: The Office of the Ombudsman, the National Institution for Human Rights (NIHR), Special Investigations Unit (SIU) and the Prisoners’ and Detainees’ Rights Commission (PDRC).

Like any fledgling institution, these bodies need time to establish themselves and gain the necessary experience to perform their roles and achieve their objectives.

Several years have elapsed since the establishment of these institutions, during which efforts have been exerted to activate them through training. This was supported by obtaining foreign expertise and enacting relevant legislation.

Now, we think, it is time for the harvest.

The community is expecting these institutions to have a real and effective role.

International human rights organizations, and even countries contributing to the training, also expect these Bahraini institutions to exercise their role in full. They are hoping and counting on Bahraini institutions to bring about real change in the entire human rights path.

It has been observed that these institutions with varying degrees of effectiveness, have begun to address the issues classified as human rights issues. They are increasing their activity from year to year and issuing reports on their activities, including the size of issues dealt with and other information.

NIHR, has documented its activities in its last two annual reports. In the report issued in 2015, NIHR said that it has documented about 88 human rights complaints and achieved positive results in 36 complaints through follow up and other actions.

The Office of the Ombudsman issued its report last June, stating that the number of complaints it has dealt with increased by 375%, which indicates growing public interaction with its activity. This compels the Ombudsman Office to build on this trust; to strengthen communication with the public, and to achieve positive results in the course of justice.

When the Jau prison events occurred in March 2015, the Ombudsman Office received 196 complaints from the families of prisoners. It is a positive indicator, that citizens submit their complaints to these institutions which in turn welcome their complaints and follow them with investigations and taking appropriate actions.

The Special Investigation Unit (SIU), concerned with examining complaints related to allegations of torture and ill – treatment, has charged 70 police officers with torture and/or assault. In some cases, the SIU has appealed lenient sentences given to police officers found guilty.

In sum, realising the big hopes of developing these human rights institutions, requires the following:

1/ Greater transparency in their reports, activities and relationships with citizens.

2/ These institutions need to exert more effort to gain the trust of citizens, especially the families of prisoners and detainees. This is the way to develop an interactive relationship that leads to realising justice and entrenching its tenets.

3/ to continue training their members and allowing them to gain experience, through relations with relevant international organizations.

4/ Maintaining credibility by stressing independence.

Since these institutions represent the key foundation to be relied upon in the future development of the human rights situation in Bahrain, the British Government’s technical assistance package has focused on aiding these institutions, providing them with expertise and following their progress as much as possible. The British philosophy in this regard is that human rights cannot be protected without professional and effective institutions, equipped with competence, expertise and experience.

This British interest is confirmed by the fact that the periodic human rights reports issued by the British Foreign Office (to monitor developments in human rights situations in UK’s priority countries) focus heavily on these emerging Bahraini human rights institutions.

The British FCO Report, which was issued on 21 April, stated that Bahrain has seen progress on human rights, although challenges remain. The report noted that the Government of Bahrain continues to implement its human rights and reform agenda, while pursuing its socio-economic reform programs to promote and contribute to greater social inclusivity and cohesion across all communities.

As for the technical assistance to Bahraini institutions, the Report pointed out that the support which began in 2012 is aimed at building effective and accountable institutions, strengthening the rule of law and justice reform, in line with the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) and the UN’s Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Although the British Foreign Office Report expressed continued concerns regarding freedom of speech and expression and peaceful assembly, as well as concerns about the deprivation of nationality and death sentences; nonetheless the British compass remains strongly focused on human rights institutions and means of ensuring their success.

On this aspect, the British FCO report differs in its approach from the US State Department report which was released around the same period. The latter was more comprehensive, and avoided to a large extent, expressing opinions or judgment; restricting itself to the role of the narrator or conveyor of the positions and views of international human rights organizations on the various aspects of human rights in Bahrain, as well as conveying the corresponding responses or explanations issued by the competent Bahraini authorities.

The bottom line is that emphasis on the role of human rights and supervisory institutions is not just a necessity to achieve Justice, but also an invaluable tool without which none of the human rights conditions can be improved. More important still, is that the government investment which went into the establishment of these institutions should be coupled with granting them the necessary capacities, resources and trust to become a cornerstone in building human rights in Bahrain.