Making Human Rights Institutions More Effective

Bahrain’s recent step toward establishing a Commission of Prisoners and Detainees was welcomed by most human rights organizations, as was the case when the Government established the National Institution for Human Rights, the Office of Ombudsmen in the Ministry of Interior and the Investigation Unit affiliated to the Public Prosecutor that is mandated to look into torture claims.

This step confirms the seriousness of the Government‘s response to the requirements of human rights protection. However, this step should be followed by further steps most important of which should be the demonstration of activeness and efficiency towards achieving the required goals. Setting up the organization is not the end goal but rather the mean to ensure the protection and consolidation of Human Rights. The Commission should exert all efforts in order to achieve such a goal.

Although, international human rights organizations appreciate the establishment of such institutions, their main concern remain seeing action on the ground rather than good intentions. These institutions will lose the trust of both the local and international human rights communities if they fail to achieve their purposes.

The assessment of the performance of these institutions is subject to certain measures that include:

1- Their achievements rather than their future projects, regulations, intentions or the promises given by their staff.

2- Their impact on people who benefit from their services, such as the detainees and their families. These institutions will only gain public legitimacy if they are seen to be defending the rights of victims and the needy, and only when the latter express satisfaction and show trust in them. These institutions should also persuade all sectors of the community to make good use of the services they provide and to take part in their programmes whatever the difficulties.

3- The competency of the individuals in charge of such institutions. The selection of such individuals should be based on criteria such as professionalism, independence, courage and trustworthiness . The absence of such distinguished individuals will make these organizations unable to carry out the missions in question or to gain the confidence and the belief of the public in the significance of the work they do.

4- Another factor in measuring their success is whether there exist a monitoring mechanism that would gauge the extent of the Government’s adherence to recommendations and proposals made by national institutions concerned with the protection of human rights.

If these institutions fail to achieve their objectives, they will lose their credibility and the recognition of the international human rights community and may be viewed as a mere tool in the Government’s public relations exercise.