Direct Dialogue as an Alternative

Forty-seven states have signed a joint statement on the human rights situation in Bahrain. The Forty-seven states have expressed their concern, welcomed some of what has been officially accomplished and demanded more from the Bahraini Government. This took place during the meetings of the 26th Session of the Human Rights Council, recently held in Geneva.

It is the fourth statement to be issued by the states. Its content does not differ from that of preceding statements, except that this time it was more welcoming, and perhaps expressed more recognition, of the efforts of the Bahraini government. Incidentally, it was noteworthy that Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a departure from previous practice, has omitted mentioning the Kingdom of Bahrain in her opening statement before the Human Rights Council. This denotes a certain significance which should be comprehended by the Bahraini government, namely that while appreciating the Government’s cooperation with it in technical aspects, the OHCHR awaits the initiation of actual steps in the recently developed cooperation programme.

For its part, the official delegation of Bahrain, as in previous times, has responded to the joint statement by saying that it listed a number of unfair and false allegations. The delegation expressed its regret for the issuance of the joint statement. It also expressed its deep concern for the repeated issuance of similar statements that serve no purpose other than undermine the Bahraini Government’s ongoing efforts to promote human rights. The delegation also urged the states signatory to the joint statement to verify the information before issuing statements based on non objective and inaccurate allegations.

However, human rights observers had rather expected the official response to adopt another approach. An approach that would reflect and show consideration for the observations and concerns expressed by the forty-seven states, acknowledge the existence of some shortcomings and present a vision for a solution. Such a vision may explain , for instance, that Bahrain’s problem does not lie in the absence of the political will to reform the human rights situation, but rather in the existence of objective problems which can be addressed through the continued application of the BICI’s (Bassiouni) recommendations and the UPR’s (Universal Periodic Review) recommendations, which were accepted by Bahrain, as well as through technical cooperation with the OHCHR, working with international organizations and benefitting from the experiences of friendly countries.

It is clear to international observers that the policy of wholesale denial and/or disregard of the states’ views does not help in making Bahrain’s official position more convincing. In fact such a policy may even lead to increased pressures on Bahrain, although signatory states note that the repetition of these statements is aimed at urging the authorities to exert reasonable efforts to solve the problems related to its human rights dossier, and that no defamation or embarrassment is intended.

We believe that Bahrain is required to engage in serious and transparent dialogue with the states signatories to the statement. Bahrain should invite the envoys of these countries to visit Bahrain and meet with officials and civil society organizations, in order to have a closer and clearer picture of the realities of the situation on the ground. It should be noted that the official response to the statement included a call for dialogue with those countries. Thus Bahrain has to follow this by drawing up a program in that respect.

As to the signatory states, if defamation and embarrassment is not their aim, they should cooperate with Bahrain and communicate diplomatically in direct dialogues, so as to give adequate opportunity for the official efforts to succeed in addressing their concerns. If that did not work, then other means could be adopted, such as releasing statements.