Cooperation with the OHCHR is
the way out of ‘Geneva Crisis’

In a joint statement adopted by Switzerland in June 2012, 27 countries expressed their concern regarding human rights in Bahrain. Both the US and the UK refused to sign it due to their different approach, mechanism and point of view on how to improve the situation , according to the British Foreign Ministry and the US representative in Geneva. The statement called for the respect of the freedom of assembly, expression and association and for the implementation of Bassiouni’s recommendations. The statement also called on Bahrain to benefit from international expertise and to especially cooperate with the Human Rights Council. It also recommended that Bahrain invites both the Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Rapporteur concerned with freedom of associations and assembly.

On September 2012, Bahraini Foreign Minister headed his country’s delegation and attended the Human Rights Council meetings. He delivered a speech which was well received internationally. In that speech he confirmed Bahrain’s acceptance of all HRC recommendations, admitted the occurrence of violations and pledged to revitalise the national dialogue. He also extended an invitation to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit Bahrain, pledged to invite the Special Rapporteur on Torture to visit Bahrain, and promised technical cooperation with OHCHR as well as pledging to consider the matter of Bahrain’s joining of the OPCAT.

On December 2012, a delegation from the OHCHR visited Bahrain in order to promote further mutual cooperation. Bahrain offered financial support to OHCHR activities. On February 2013, the national dialogue began between the political parties and May 2013 was set for the visit of the Special Repertoire on Torture.

Once again on February 2013, Switzerland presented a statement to the HRC in Geneva signed by 44 countries including this time the UK, America, France and Germany. That statement acknowledged achievements made by the Bahraini Government, but however, it expressed concerns over many issues connected to the human rights situation. It also called once more for the implementation of Bassiouni’s recommendations. The Human Rights Minister then criticised the statement and said that it has no positive outcome and that its timing was wrong and would have a negative effect on the relationship between Switzerland and Bahrain.

In September, 2013, and for the third time Switzerland presented another statement signed by 47 countries in which it welcomed what has been achieved so far in Bahrain but also expressed continued concerns over its human rights record particularly in view of some recent developments. This prompted Navi Pillay to refer to Bahrain in her opening address before the Human Rights Council’s twenty fourth regular session by saying ‘I regret to report that the human rights situation in Bahrain remains an issue of serious concern: the deep polarization of society and the harsh clampdown on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters continue to make a durable solution more difficult to secure. I reiterate my call on Bahrain to fully comply with its international human rights commitments, including respect for the rights to freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. The cancellation of the scheduled visit of the Special Rapporteur on Torture is regrettable, and important recommendations made by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry have still not been implemented. I also wish to express my disappointment that the cooperation with the Government of Bahrain, which started fruitfully with the deployment of an OHCHR team in December 2012, has not developed further and an OHCHR follow-up mission has been stalled since then’.

It is possible to identify four basic reasons for this increased international pressure on Bahrain:

  • The failure to adhere to its commitment to cooperate with the OHCHR.
  • The indefinite postponement of the Special Rapporteur on Torture’s visit to Bahrain scheduled for May 2013 for the second time (the first time was in February 2012).
  • The failure to take serious steps regarding the ratification of the Optional Protocol on the Convention against Torture.
  • The failure to address issues of concerns raised in previous Geneva statements, and the emergence of new causes for concern.

The reaction of the Government:

Ambassador Dr. Yusuf Abdul- Karim Bucheery gave an official reply on behalf of the Kingdom of Bahrain whereby he expressed displeasure upon hearing the High Commissioner’s comments that included, according to him, negative references to Bahrain without seeking to obtain information from credible sources, thus ignoring the realities of the Human Rights situation in Bahrain, which, as he put it, exerted extensive efforts to implement the majority of Bassiouni’s recommendations. He asserted that these efforts should be encouraged rather than undermined by such inaccurate remarks.

Dr. Butchery affirmed Bahrain’s keenness on cooperation with the OHCHR and the Human Rights Council as well as the various UN mechanisms which he considered as partners in the quest of protecting Human Rights. He also confirmed Bahrain’s readiness to cooperate and interact with any credible and impartial organisation or institution stressing that objective reporting should be conducted in a professional manner away from deception and confusion.

On the postponement of the visit to Bahrain by the Special Rapporteur on Torture Bucheery said that the visit has not been cancelled, but rather postponed due to organisational reasons, adding that official Bahrain is looking forward to arranging a new convenient date for the visit. He expressed hope that the High Commissioner would refer, when commenting on Bahrain, to the escalating level of violence and vandalism and would offer clear condemnation to such terrorist acts.

Human Rights Council - Geneva

As for the ban on demonstrations in the Capital (Manama), Bucheery explained that banning demonstrations and assemblies or restricting their spaces is a decision based on valid legal grounds and does not constitute any restriction on the freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Imposing certain rules for the sake of national security and public order, he added, does not contravene with the freedom to exercise these rights, stressing that no human rights activist or defender has faced any harassment over their activities as long as they abide by the law.

Responding to the statement presented at the Human Rights Council by the 47 countries, Dr. Bucheery said that the statement, though complimented Bahrain on the constructive steps it has taken, failed to acknowledge many of the efforts Bahrain has exerted and has distorted the true image of the country .He described the statement as lacking in objectivity and impartiality as far as presenting the reality of the situation in Bahrain is concerned. On the issue of the stripping of the nationality from some citizens, Bucheery explained that the decision was taken for certain national security considerations. ON the National Dialogue, he reiterated Bahrain’s pledge to continue encouraging political reconciliation through the resumption of the National Dialogue sessions, and he appealed for Bahrain to be allowed the opportunity and the favourable atmosphere to carry on implementing Bassiouni’s recommendations and conclude the National Dialogue instead of sending the wrong signals and messages that could only drive thing to the opposite and negative direction.

The way out of the mistrust:

The International human rights community keeps receiving contradictory messages from Bahrain. As soon as officials on both sides begin building trust, new issues arise and cooperation is hindered. It is clear now that countries and international human rights organisations want assurances that:

1/ there is a seriousness in addressing issues of concern and that no new issues would suddenly emerge.

2/ their statements expressing concerns are receiving the appropriate attention from human rights officials in Bahrain, and not being ignored or unappreciated. Unfortunately, these statements, letters and reports are always being ignored.

3/ there is a transparency, seriousness and respect when dealing with human rights community, especially the OHCHR.

4/ human rights officials in Bahrain should understand the mechanisms at work in the Human Rights field and recognise the value of cooperation in that respect, as well as understand the abilities of NGOs in influencing political decisions.

5/ human rights officials in Bahrain should not provoke human rights organizations by fabricating news, misquoting their officials or incorrectly presenting their positions .

There are indications that many countries and human rights organizations are preparing to increase their pressure on Bahrain during the 25th forthcoming coming session in Geneva in March 2014. Contrary to the prevalent view held by the Bahraini Human Rights Ministry that the HC’s speech and the statement of the 47 countries and other statements have no legal consequences, the general mood in the corridors of the International Human Rights quarters is that there should be a call for the convening of a special session at the UNHRC to discuss the Human Rights situation in Bahrain , and to prepare a draft resolution that would openly condemn Bahrain and could include a decision to appoint a Special Rapporteur and conduct an international investigation over alleged violations .

A positive initiative is what the Human Rights Community, scheduled to convene in March 2014, would expect from Bahrain’s Human Rights Minister. Such positive initiative, which could water down some of the criticism Bahrain is facing may include the following:-

  • Bahrain should quickly take the initiative to improve its relations with the OHCHR, and reactivate its cooperation with it. It should renew its invitation to the High Commissioner Navi Pallay to visit Bahrain. The significance of such steps combined with the regaining of the Commissioner’s confidence is that they would give Bahrain’s efforts International credibility, bearing in mind that the OHCHR is able to assist Bahrain in finding solutions to its human rights problems.
  • Reaffirming Bahrain’s willingness to receive the Special Rapporteur on Torture.
  • Improving relations with international human rights organizations and allowing them to visit Bahrain. Failure in this respect would indicate that the human rights situation is not as it should be. No country that respects Human Rights would sustain tensed relations with international human rights organizations. Bahrain should choose either to cooperate with these organizations despite all the pressure or ignore them, which could prove to be a short lived option.
  • Improving the Government’s relations with Bahraini civil society organizations, which are perceived abroad as basic partners in any human rights efforts or programmes.