What the NIHR Can Do in its First Year?

No one doubts the significant tasks entrusted to the National Institution for Human Rights (NIHR), and the aspirations of the regional and international human rights organizations, as well as the hopes of the Bahraini citizen in this institution. Therefore, the NIHR need to engage as quickly as possible in a well established work and according to a clear approach and plan. The objectives of the NIHR, as mentioned in the Royal Decree that had established it, can not be achieved until a strategic plan and clear, realistic and achievable objectives are in place.

In an interview with the newspaper al-Ayyam daily newspaper on 23 June 2010, the President of the NIHR, Mr. Salman Kamal al-Din confirmed the need to develop a national plan for human rights from which to draw the future features for the NIHR. Kamal al-Din laid the foundation for the priorities of the next phase for the NIHR comprising spreading and publicizing a human rights culture as the primary guarantor to enable citizens to acquire and defend their rights as well as recognizing their duties.

Given the need to inform the public in Bahrain and involve it in the future work of the NIHR, and in commitment to the principle of transparency as far as possible, we have seen in the BHRM to think loudly about the development of initial national strategy for human rights that enables the NIHR to work around it for the upcoming year. What we are proposing here is simply a brainstorm to build upon and stir discussion around it because of the need for the plan and the need for the views of opinion makers and human rights community with a view to initiate public debate with them about the plan.

The BHRM proposes to focus on four key directions during the first year of the work of the NIHR, namely: protection and promotion of human rights in Bahrain; dissemination and promotion of human rights education; harmonization of all strategies related to human rights; establishment and completion of the internal structure of the NIHR.

Firstly: Protection and Promotion of Human Rights in Bahrain

In this area the NIHR should develop an action plan to improve the human rights situation. The plan should include the following topics:

- Handling outstanding legal issues which have been a cause of the tensions, such as: victims of torture file.

- Reviewing articles of the Constitution and laws with a view to harmonize them with international human rights conventions ratified by the Kingdom of Bahrain.

- Adopting measures to protect the right of personal security and protection from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment as well as dealing with all the files relating to torture allegations.

- Making sure that the mechanisms of arrest and detention in Bahrain compatible with the international human rights standards so as to prevent arbitrary arrest and detention.

- Providing recommendations on practical steps to address the issue of societal violence against women.

- Providing practical recommendations for the protection of labour to ensure the application of the principle: the right to work in appropriate circumstances, adequate remuneration, as well as equality and non-discrimination, social security, and protect working women from economic exploitation.

- Providing appropriate treatment through the development of feasible measures for further improvement of the rights and welfare of workers, and help trade unions in achieving their objectives.

- Protecting freedom of opinion and expression, and to recommend measures for the protection and promotion of this right in particular with regard to the profession of journalism, media and ensure the personal security of employees.

- Protecting the right of peaceful assembly and peaceful demonstrations.

Secondly: Dissemination and Promotion of a Human Rights Culture

The BHRM fully agrees with the President of the NIHR that to promote human rights awareness among the various segments of society, is one of the most important guarantees that contribute to the reduction of human rights violations. In this context, there are some objectives that lead to achieve the overarching goal, including:

- The need to focus on the right of political participation in the management of public affairs and participation in the elections. The evolution of human rights on the ground depends mostly on what is available from the political freedoms provided by the political system, and exercised by the public. Therefore, the vitality of the political process and protection of human rights are linked, and that any setback to one of them is likely to cause a setback in the other.

- Incorporate human rights concepts and principles in the various educational curricula including university.

- Cooperate with the media and raise its efficiency in the area of human rights knowledge in order to be able to contribute in spreading a human rights culture.

- Reach out to youth and women’s organizations and strengthen their capacity to defend women’s rights in particular, as well as disseminating and publicizing a human rights culture.

- Provide human rights awareness programs and training to the legislative institutions, and law enforcement agencies including the police, prosecutors and regular forces.

Thirdly: Harmonization of all Strategies related to Human Rights in a Unified Strategy

The BHRM values all the efforts made by various official and private bodies to develop strategies to protect and promote human rights in various areas in Bahrain. In the view of the BHRM it is time to gather the plans and different pieces of legislation adopted by the societies and institutions in one national strategy. This means to compile laws, legislation, plans and programs and then revise them as appropriate. Each society or institution will then be entrusted to contribute in the implementation of part of that national strategy. This approach is supposed to serve the following objectives:

- Unifying forces, human rights societies and institutions around agreed visions and common goals.

- Rationalization and better use of resources in order to avoid dealing with the same subject from multiple views.

- Remove the state of confusion caused by the multiplicity of similar activities by different actors.

- To facilitate the monitoring and follow-up and evaluation of the work and activities of human rights.

- Optimum use of the potential of human rights societies and institutions, each according to their potential human and financial resources.

Fourthly: Internal Structure of the NIHR

Although this topic should be discussed within the internal framework of the NIHR, but it is important to enlighten the public about the internal issues of the NIHR. This is also important for openness and transparency in the work of the NIHR for more trust between the NIHR and the public. For these reasons we are encouraged to deal with the topic publicly.

The NIHR must start by establishing an administrative structure commensurate with the importance of the role assigned to it. The first step begins according to the Royal Decree to create a (Secretariat) to deal with the daily work of the NIHR, including the recruitment of staff members according to specific job descriptions and rewarding wages, as the case with other national institutions in Arab and foreign countries. There is no doubt that a lot of talented and experienced Bahrainis are eligible to take up administrative positions in the NIHR. The NIHR should also determine the rules of procedure governing the work of its various committees, functions of its members, and how to manage meetings.

If the NIHR is able to focus on these four key directions in its first year, it will make great strides in establishing itself as a professional institution. And then the second year will be vital for the NIHR to develop a national strategy for four or five years following the completion of internal structure.

These are broad lines of a general and on-going plan, which can be carried over for next year because the objectives cannot always be fully completed. The NIHR can benefit from the civil society institutions in proposing and shaping the strategic plan. What the NIHR needs in its first year is to start quietly, with determination and clear objectives in order to avoid any unexpected problems.