General Determinants to a Vision of Human Rights Reform in Bahrain

The government of Bahrain announced that it is currently working on a national plan for human rights, but it has excluded independent civil society organizations from participating in the formulation of that plan, limiting participation to government agencies. This constitutes a repetition of the previous governmental committee concerned with implementing BICI’srecommendations, which failed to implement those reforms.

It is necessary to set a vision for human rights and adopt a concept of comprehensive human rights reform within the framework of its working project and within a methodology as a prelude to radical and sustainable political reform in Bahrain. This working project must include a vision, objectives, mechanisms, and the means within the framework of a working program and a time plan for implementation and follow-up, as well as the need to harmonize the project with international determinants and standards in previous projects that have achieved success in human rights reform. Moreover, clarity is needed on how the project will achieve basic international human rights principles such as transitional justice, justice for victims, and reparations. Many countries have implemented transitional justice projects, such as Morocco, Guatemala, and South Africa, which were successful. Such actions are crucial to holding perpetrators of human rights violations accountable, psychologically rehabilitating victims, helping family members of the victims to re-integrate into society, and remediating the consequences of their persecution.

The Government of Bahrain must take concrete measures to build trust in the seriousness of their project. It should include releasing all prisoners of conscience, including opposition figures and leaders, and ending the harassment and prosecution of civilians for peacefully expression their opinions within the limits of freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Releasing prisoners of conscience would contribute to building trust, bridging rifts, and contributing to national reconciliation and national dialogue. It is paramount that the recommendations of the Independent Commission of Inquiry are implemented within a working program through independent bodies supervised by independent civil society institutions. The implementation of these recommendations should be facilitated via universal periodic reviews and the recommendations of international human rights bodies.

It is of tremendous importance that the government harmonize local legislation and administrative decisions with international conventions and treaties, and to ensure that administrative decisions conform to Bahrain’s constitution and human rights commitments, which transcend local laws. This would ensure that individual ministers and government departments would not have the authority to restrict the freedoms of citizens and deprive them of their rights. For example, the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs currently has discretionary authority to grant a license for new institutions to operate or to restrict the work of registered institutions as well as the ability to interfere with their work. The Minister of Interior also has discretionary authority and can deprive a citizen of their nationality by an administrative decision if they personally doubt the citizen’s loyalty. This is a human rights violation that strips the citizen of all his constitutional, natural, and human rights.

It is necessary to cooperate and coordinate with relevant internal and external human rights organizations and with all UN human rights bodies in preparing programs and plans for human rights reforms. There is no doubt that civil society institutions play a major role in monitoring and documenting human rights violations and monitoring the government’s compliance with international human rights obligations. These civil society institutions must have a direct connection with the community and possess the experience to develop action plans to solve human rights challenges.

We recommend restructuring the National Institution for Human Rights within the framework of the Paris Principles, as well as restructuring the official judicial and human rights regulatory institutions to align with international frameworks, charters, and treaties to ensure their independence in achieving justice and redressing victims. The separation of powers must also be ensured by enacting laws and regulations that guarantee the independence and transparency of the judiciary, and allowing United Nations special rapporteurs to enter the country and cooperate with the authority (which can be added to cooperation with United Nations human rights bodies), and involving civil society institutions and specialized individuals in developing national plans for human rights, supervising and following up on the implementation of UN and international recommendations, monitoring the Bahrain’s commitment to its human rights obligations, and ensuring the independence of lawyers by ensuring their protection under the Law and by allowing the bar association to operate independently, without any interference from the authorities (allowing lawyers to defend citizens without any retaliation). We also recommend allowing full access to information and data for all citizens and human rights bodies (this allows people to exercise their right to participate/verify decision-making), as the right to information is classified today as a human right and it is one of the inalienable rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the international transparency standards. Finally, we recommend that the security forces’ apparatus be reformed, and that full accountability is given to the perpetrators of serious human rights violations.

The Equity and Reconciliation Council and the State Council:

We propose the formation of an equity and reconciliation council, with the authorization and approval of the king or the government, staffed by competent members of civil society and members of the state who are independent of the security agencies, under the auspices and supervision of the United Nations, to help victims of human rights violations. That council must have more power than the members of the ruling family. And this council must have the authority to make recommendations to the king and the government, and to provide financial, psychological, medical, and social compensation to victims of human rights violations.

The council should be responsible for the implementation of the recommendations of the Bahrain Commission of Inquiry regarding the human rights violations that occurred in 2011. The council’s mandate should include the formation of a State Council, whose tasks would be to ensure the reform of the judiciary and the Supreme Judicial Council, and to make them independent. The members of the State Council are entrusted with establishing a mechanism for appointing judges

according to competence, independence, and impartiality. The State Council must form a Supreme Court separate from the Supreme Judicial Council and from the Ministry of Justice, to protect the constitution, and it will serve as a reference for both citizens and the government. The State Council would have the authority to raise recommendations to amend laws that are in violation of international law, act as the government’s advisor in preparing draft laws and administrative orders, and to respond to requests for advice raised by the government on legal issues. The Council would also conduct, at the request of the government or on its own initiative, studies on any administrative or public policy questions, and decide on the activities of the executive authority and state bodies by virtue of its legal and advisory authority. The period of membership of the State Council would be four years, by which the members are selected through legal and advisory competency appointments separate from state appointments.

Bahrain also needs a body that implements psychological rehabilitation programs before and after releasing all prisoners subjected to torture during arrest and while serving prison sentences and reintegrate them into society.