International Human Rights Organizations:
between Bassiouni and Saleh’s Reports

Bassiouni’s report was very much concerned with the human rights aspects of the Bahraini crisis and holding those responsible for human rights violations accountable. It also provided an adequate description of the crisis, whilst presenting proposals and recommendations in order to find solutions through potential implementation.

It is unsurprising then, that local, international and regional bodies, as well as political societies and countries interested in the Bahrain, gave Bassiouni’s report a great deal of attention for a number of reasons. Some human rights organizations saw in it a confirmation of their statements and reports, whilst various political societies applauded its condemnation of the Bahraini Government, and used the report to support their positions and political demands. On the other hand, western countries expressed their hope that BICI’s report would constitute the first step towards addressing political and human rights issues in Bahrain. For these reasons, there was unprecedented international, political and media interest in the report which was regarded as a reference point for documenting violations and the recommendations it provided.

By comparison, the report of the National Commission in charge of implementing Bassiouni’s recommendations attracted less interest, despite being directly concerned with the steps that should be taken towards solving the current crisis. It isn’t at all rights that Bassiouni’s report to be given a great deal of attention only because it condemns the Government and documents violations. After all, the ultimate objective of the report, in addition to holding the Government responsible, is to find solutions to the problems in Bahrain. Bassiouni’s report provides guidelines towards such solutions, and local and international human rights organizations rightly gave it the attention it deserves. On the other hand, Saleh’s implementation report is concerned with directing Government actions on the ground, which means it evaluates legislations, amends laws, reforms Government institutions and puts into practice preventative measures to avoid human rights violations. In addition to addressing the violations which have occurred since February and March 2011, Saleh’s report also addresses the root causes of human rights violations in the country. According to human rights literature, it is necessary to identify the real causes of violations in a given country, as short term solutions are insufficient without structural reforms of government institutions, legislations and the practices of Government apparatus. For this reason, it was surprising that Saleh’s report was not given enough attention and evaluation by local and international human rights organizations.. It was expected that leading international human rights organisations would present objective criticism and evaluation of Saleh’s report, as well as following the implementation of Bassiouni’s recommendations and ensuring Government compliance.

We seek to draw attention to the strategic implications of the solutions provided by Saleh’s report. The political stagnation and security tensions do not serve the human rights cause in Bahrain. Hence, all parties should participate in finding a real solution to the problem and tackle the violations which took place, whilst laying the foundation for a new phase where such violations do not reoccur.

HRW Evaluation of Saleh’s Report

Human Rights Watch is the only international human rights organization to provide a partial evaluation of Saleh’s report, and what has been implemented from Bassiouni’s report. On 28 March 2012, HRW issued a report entitled ‘Bahrain: Vital Reform Commitments Unmet’. Regardless of the language used in this report, its concentration on Government shortcomings, and the gaps in the information provided, it does present a relatively useful and beneficial evaluation. HRW justified this by claiming that it did not have access to some information due to restrictions on its delegation’s visit to Bahrain.

HRW’s report presented the positive steps taken by the Government regarding some of Bassiouni’s recommendations, and the aspects which have not yet been implemented. HRW stated that ‘some of BICI’s most serious concerns, like accountability for crimes such as torture and relief for people wrongly imprisoned, were not adequately addressed’. But when referring to Saleh’s report, this statement appears to be inaccurate. Moreover, there are differences in defining what is important and what is the most important, and Saleh’s report does not claim that all BICI’s recommendations have been implemented. In fact, the report asserts that this needs time, and the Government (as represented by the King) also pointed to the importance of continuing the implementation process.

The following are some comments on HRW’s report:

1) HRW’s report concentrates on recommendation No.1761, regarding holding those responsible for breaches such as torture and killing accountable (including those in higher position). HRW added that it ‘knows of no efforts to hold accountable high-ranking officials’, despite the fact that investigations have covered many perpetrators.

2) HRW questioned whether the decision to assign investigations to the Public Prosecution Office would in fact meet recommendation No.1722 (a) which calls for investigating violations by an independent, impartial and effective authority, in accordance with Istanbul principles. Bassiouni had also recommended the establishment of another permanent body to examine all torture complaints (recommendation No. 1722(b)). It is worth noting that a bill was presented to Parliament relating to the establishment of a national human rights commission, in accordance with Paris principles, to investigate torture and ill treatment allegations.

With regard to the first body, the Government consulted five foreign experts, and saw that the Prosecutor General should undertake investigation. The latter also sent a letter to HRW saying that there is no law which prevents adopting measures against any official who is proven to be involved in the events, regardless of his position.

3) HRW’s report states that ‘other key BICI recommendations have not yet been implemented, such as carrying out a comprehensive review of court sentences imposed for speech crimes and to void convictions imposed after grossly unfair trials.’ This relates to recommendation No.1722 (f), and many detainees have been released as it is clear in the records of Saleh’s Commission and the letters of the Prosecutor General to HRW. However, HRW’s report connected the issue to the 21 detained political leaders, whose cases are still pending.

On 1 April 2012, The Ministry of Human Rights responded to HRW’s report, commenting that the implementation of the recommendations is continuing, and it has only been 130 days since the submission and publication of the BICI report. It is therefore very early to make a final assessment about what the organization claimed to be “unmet reform commitments”. The Ministry added that this indicates that HRW’s statement did not agree with the advice provided by independent legal experts on how to develop and assign the independent investigation mechanism recommended by BICI.

The Ministry’s statement added that until now, the Bahraini Government has relied on the advice provided by a number of legal experts who are pioneers in the world in this area, and has full confidence in the legal advice it has used. The list of legal experts includes: Daniel Bethlehem QC (renowned international lawyer who had previously worked as a key legal advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the United Kingdom), Jeffery Joel (a prominent lawyer in constitutional law in the United Kingdom), Sarah Cleveland (Professor of Human Rights, Columbia University,) and Adnan Amajan (Professor of international and EU law).

Ultimately, this partial evaluation of Saleh’s report by HRW is a much better effort than completely ignoring its importance, and not giving it the necessary attention it deserves.