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
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 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.