The Future Mission of Bahrain Human Rights NGOs

Towards a Strategic Shift in the Human Rights Field

There are two main tasks that face human rights organizations in Bahrain which represent the scope of their work. The first is to follow up the details of daily events, monitor violations, issue statements and resolve situations as needed. The second is related to create a radical change in the public attitudes and the society’s culture and, most importantly, in the policies of the State. This can be achieved by working towards the adoption of binding human rights legislations, the harmonization of legis?ations with the international conventions, strengthening the relationship between the State and international human rights organizations, encouraging the ratification of relevant international human rights conventions and bringing about a major change in the culture of the society in favour of human rights. The outcome of all the above will improve the performance of the Government in the human rights field based on the implementation of its adopted legislations or signed conventions, in other words, thro?gh conviction and legal obligation and not necessarily by resorting to the media or local and international pressure.

Both of these tasks are needed, the first represents the organizations’ daily work, and the second is the long term strategy. The daily field work pushes towards strategic change, and this, in turn, minimizes drastically daily violations which usually result from the existence of weak establishments, the lack of expertise and training, the absence of binding legislations and the fact that the human rights culture is not deeply rooted- and neither is the adherence to its standards.

This imposes on Bahrain’s human rights organizations not only to occupy themselves with the daily field work- due to its importance – but also to focus more on thinking strategically regarding the way in which the state’s apparatus can be changed to work according to human rights mechanisms and adhere to their standards. As for being totally engaged in following up daily individual cases without noting the prospects for the future, this can result in losing an important opportunity for making the required ?hift at the national level. Thus, a balance between the two is needed so that human rights activists do not spend their lives pursuing endless breaches, and this requires that human rights organizations have a clear strategic plan or contribute to existing plans on the ground. Right now we have before us the plan of the Government which was presented to the UN Human Rights Council as part of the Universal Periodic Review mechanism in which the Government committed itself to undertake major steps over four ?ears. These commitments were recognized by local human rights organizations, members of the Human Rights Council and the High Commissioner for human rights. A year has passed since the making of these commitments, and we fear that this opportunity will be lost by the end of the four years and that the Government alone will not be able to fulfill its commitments without the support and the active participation of Bahrain’s human rights societies - who were requested by the Human Rights Council to become an?essential part in the implementation process.

Let us have a look once again at the commitments made by the Government and think how the situation would be if they were indeed to be implemented.

1- The Government is committed to ratify international human rights agreements and the harmonization of national legislations with them. Such as, the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and various articles from the Convention Against Torture and the Convention on the Elimination of ?ll Forms of Racial Discrimination.

2- The Government has pledged to apply the obligations of various human rights conventions that have been ratified by Bahrain. This task will be assigned to the proposed National Human Rights Commission, which the Government has also pledged to establish. The implementation of the Government’s commitments will be through the development of certain activities, strengthening capabilities, increasing training programs for police, law enforcement officials and employees of different embassies.

3- Following up the campaign against human trafficking.

4- The Government has pledged to follow up the draft law for civil societies until its adoption by the legislative authority, and to monitor its implementation through official bodies and local civil society institutions.

5- Adopting a human rights approach in the development process.

6- Organizing workshops and seminars on human rights issues in order to increase public awareness.

7- Publish an annual assessment report to measure the progress on the ground and the application of the above-mentioned commitments.

It is clear that the Government has committed itself to many issues, to the extent that the Secretary General of Bahrain Human Rights Society, Dr. Abdullah Al- Drazi, was quoted to say that the commitments made have ‘raised the bar beyond Bahrain’s capability to fulfill the above-mentioned obligations. And that Bahrain is still not ready for these self-imposed commitments’. What can be understood is that the Government is, to an extent, serious about cooperating with the Human Rights Council and that it wa?ts to change the human rights situation in Bahrain. The amount of commitments put forward by the Government came as a surprise to some human rights activists. This then implies that local organizations should actively participate as major partners in the human rights process in order to successfully carry out the Government’s commitments at the national and international levels.

So far, the Government has formed a national committee which includes representatives of civil society institutions in order to discuss and put forward a plan for implementing these commitments. In the Government’s annual report, which was presented to the Human Rights Council in June 2009, some accomplishments were pointed out such as the organization of several workshops for training, increasing the competence and capabilities of official employees, the establishment of a data base on human rights, the d?scussion of forming national human rights institutions according to Paris Principles, the development of the work system through abolishing the ‘sponsor’ system and the ratification of the Sunni section of family law. In addition to this, there are, at the moment, some international human rights conventions which are being studied and others which have already been passed to the House of Representatives for adoption such as Convention against Corruption.

Despite all of this, it must be admitted that everything that has been achieved so far is inadequate after one whole year and raises doubts concerning the Government’s ability to fulfill the commitments mentioned earlier. However, three years still remain before us in which the competent authorities and relevant parties can accelerate the process. This also requires effective participation of human rights organizations in the implementation plan; and also if these organizations prioritize this work and con?ider it as being strategic and worth all efforts to enable it to succeed.