Bahrain: Steps towards Promoting Transitional Justice

Lawyer: Samer Moussa

Samer Moussa

Coordinator of the Legal Aid Program in the
Addamir Association for Human Rights- Gaza

The Implementation of the principle of transitional justice will to some extent guarantee justice especially during the period of democratic transition. Resorting to reconciliation methods could prove to be more beneficial than filing lawsuits as it promotes a culture of accountability. It also paves the way for national reconciliation and accepting compromises which protects the rights of victims and prevents them from taking revenge or resorting to international courts or regional polarizations.

The principle of national reconciliation in the context of the implementation of transitional justice has different meanings. According to some, it relates to the efforts of politicians to start a new page or amnesty. However, according to human rights defenders this kind of reconciliation is rarely accepted as it is argued that real reconciliation should be connected to accountability, justice, admitting mistakes and guaranteeing that violations will not be repeated.

More often , reconciliation is presented as a final and achievable goal without much concern to the process it needs. Hence focusing too much on reconciliation in this way could lead to failure and disappointment.

Implementing transitional justice has many advantages such as providing a comprehensive approach in dealing with violations as well as balance and assimilation. For transitional justice does not concentrate on the protection of civil peace at the expense of the victim’s right for justice. It is possible to measure the legitimacy of the mechanism of transitional justice through the level of victim complaints, support, participation and benefits.

Despite the fact that some believe that currently Bahrain in not ready for implementing transitional justice, I do believe that most Bahraini people are able to implement it and overcome the past ordeal. This is because what unites them is much stronger than the reasons for their disunity. Perhaps most Bahrainis have realised now more than any time before the importance of co-existence based on a new political and social contract which is founded on reason, forgiveness, democracy and human rights.

Hasan Moosa Shafaie has stressed that the principle of transitional justice has different meanings according to different parties, and that its philosophy is based on the idea that in order to follow the path of democracy, any country would need to leave its past mistakes behind. This involves insuring that past mistakes are not repeated and holding to account those responsible for violations. According to Shafaie, the effects of the past are still continuing and a consensual solution has not been reached yet; despite the fact that the Government has presented some solutions to victims. However, these issues were used as a tool for political pressure and condemnation as opposed to a step towards a real settlement.

The Government should be creative, take initiatives, understand the current political circumstances and realise that there are two sides to transitional justice. Both the Government and the opposition made mistakes and for this reason, national reconciliation, forgiveness and admitting mistakes are all essential.

During any transition or political conflict, societies become torn between a legacy of human rights violations and the desire for promoting justice, peace and reconciliation. Transitional justice is hence the only solution. This involves striving for a comprehensive justice during the period of political transition. For the concept of transitional justice consists of two parts: achieving justice and then moving on into the future with a new positive attitude and respect for human rights principles.

Transitional justice in Bahrain can be achieved through:

The rule of law, which includes: reforming the Judiciary, constitution and election laws, promoting the separation of authorities, public political participation, respecting the freedom of the press and implementing the system of the Constitutional Court.

National reconciliation, this is a part of a transitional justice program and a basic effort to promote civil peace and national trust between the old adversaries while achieving justice, accountability and fairness to the victims.

Restructuring security bodies, this includes, training the police force according to a new strategy which protects human rights and introducing standards for administrative and legal accountability for various security apparatus.

Continuing political development and civil awareness, through the introduction of policies that aim to build a civil and democratic vibrant society.

Reforming the media and education system:- This is in order to build a national culture which promotes unity and avoids social divisions.

It is difficult to specify all the steps needed for transitional justice, but I do believe that the most important steps are to actually implement Bassiouni’s recommendations and to benefit from other Arab experiences. The implementation should also be accompanied by good intentions in order to create a society in which human rights are respected.

In light of all the current changes and challenges in Bahrain, the plan to achieve transitional justice in Bahrain should be based on five aspects:

* Achieving fair trials which prosecute the perpetrators of violations whether they were directly or indirectly involved, as was stated in Bassiouni’s recommendations.

* Searching for the truth which covered many pages in Bassiouni’s report that detailed the daily events that took place in February and March 2011.

* Compensating the victims through the fund established by Royal Decree number 30 for the year 2011.

Institutional and legal reform, dismissing those responsible for violations from public positions and training civil servant to respect and implement the principles of human rights.

* Avoiding future violations and promoting social initiatives by reviving the collective memory of the society.

To ensure that human rights violations will not take place again. The procedures taken by the Bahraini

The implementation of the recommendations, such reinstating workers, releasing prisoners of conscience and prosecuting torture perpetrators and those involved in the killing of citizens will lay the foundation for a new political, legal and legislative phase.

There are also several recommendations regarding transitional justice:

Firstly, promoting access to transitional justice in order to build a state in which human rights and freedoms are respected. The concerned parties should work towards promoting the independence of Judiciary, encouraging the separation of authorities and reconstructing the political system on democratic grounds which guarantee the participation of all citizens and promote accountability and oversight. Secondly, the past and present events as well as the violations that took place necessitate an immediate solution and strategy? decision which moves the country towards the next phase in order to lay the foundation for a new period of human rights respect.

Thirdly, the National Institution for Human Rights should be developed in order to combat all forms of discrimination and marginalization through the use new programs and plans and to fulfil Bassiouni’s recommendation. This is in addition to promoting the values of citizenship as a framework to rights and obligations, presenting proposals on political assimilation, participating in decision making through national and constitutional institutions and transforming social and economic rights to realities on the ground.

Fourthly, supporting the human rights activities of Bahraini civil societies and spreading the foundations of transitional justice which takes into consideration Bahraini society and represents a new social and political will.