UK Foreign Office:
Our Goal is Justice & Building
Effective Human Rights Institutions
The Government of Bahrain has gone to great lengths to create
several institutions pertaining to the justice system and human
rights. Foremost among these institutions are the bodies concerned
with monitoring, investigation and grievances, which include: The
Office of the Ombudsman, the National Institution for Human Rights
(NIHR), Special Investigations Unit (SIU) and the Prisoners’ and
Detainees’ Rights Commission (PDRC).
Like any fledgling institution, these bodies need time to establish
themselves and gain the necessary experience to perform their roles
and achieve their objectives.
Several years have elapsed since the establishment of these institutions,
during which efforts have been exerted to activate them through
training. This was supported by obtaining foreign expertise and
enacting relevant legislation.
Now, we think, it is time for the harvest.
The community is expecting these institutions to have a real
and effective role.
International human rights organizations, and even countries
contributing to the training, also expect these Bahraini institutions
to exercise their role in full. They are hoping and counting on
Bahraini institutions to bring about real change in the entire human
It has been observed that these institutions with varying degrees
of effectiveness, have begun to address the issues classified as
human rights issues. They are increasing their activity from year
to year and issuing reports on their activities, including the size
of issues dealt with and other information.
NIHR, has documented its activities in its last two annual reports.
In the report issued in 2015, NIHR said that it has documented about
88 human rights complaints and achieved positive results in 36 complaints
through follow up and other actions.
The Office of the Ombudsman issued its report last June, stating
that the number of complaints it has dealt with increased by 375%,
which indicates growing public interaction with its activity. This
compels the Ombudsman Office to build on this trust; to strengthen
communication with the public, and to achieve positive results in
the course of justice.
When the Jau prison events occurred in March 2015, the Ombudsman
Office received 196 complaints from the families of prisoners. It
is a positive indicator, that citizens submit their complaints to
these institutions which in turn welcome their complaints and follow
them with investigations and taking appropriate actions.
The Special Investigation Unit (SIU), concerned with examining
complaints related to allegations of torture and ill – treatment,
has charged 70 police officers with torture and/or assault. In some
cases, the SIU has appealed lenient sentences given to police officers
In sum, realising the big hopes of developing these human rights
institutions, requires the following:
1/ Greater transparency in their reports, activities and relationships
2/ These institutions need to exert more effort to gain the trust
of citizens, especially the families of prisoners and detainees.
This is the way to develop an interactive relationship that leads
to realising justice and entrenching its tenets.
3/ to continue training their members and allowing them to gain
experience, through relations with relevant international organizations.
4/ Maintaining credibility by stressing independence.
Since these institutions represent the key foundation to be relied
upon in the future development of the human rights situation in
Bahrain, the British Government’s technical assistance package has
focused on aiding these institutions, providing them with expertise
and following their progress as much as possible. The British philosophy
in this regard is that human rights cannot be protected without
professional and effective institutions, equipped with competence,
expertise and experience.
This British interest is confirmed by the fact that the periodic
human rights reports issued by the British Foreign Office (to monitor
developments in human rights situations in UK’s priority countries)
focus heavily on these emerging Bahraini human rights institutions.
The British FCO Report, which was issued on 21 April, stated
that Bahrain has seen progress on human rights, although challenges
remain. The report noted that the Government of Bahrain continues
to implement its human rights and reform agenda, while pursuing
its socio-economic reform programs to promote and contribute to
greater social inclusivity and cohesion across all communities.
As for the technical assistance to Bahraini institutions, the
Report pointed out that the support which began in 2012 is aimed
at building effective and accountable institutions, strengthening
the rule of law and justice reform, in line with the recommendations
of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) and the
UN’s Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
Although the British Foreign Office Report expressed continued
concerns regarding freedom of speech and expression and peaceful
assembly, as well as concerns about the deprivation of nationality
and death sentences; nonetheless the British compass remains strongly
focused on human rights institutions and means of ensuring their
On this aspect, the British FCO report differs in its
approach from the US State Department report which was released
around the same period. The latter was more comprehensive, and
avoided to a large extent, expressing opinions or judgment;
restricting itself to the role of the narrator or conveyor of
the positions and views of international human rights
organizations on the various aspects of human rights in Bahrain,
as well as conveying the corresponding responses or explanations
issued by the competent Bahraini authorities.
The bottom line is that emphasis on the role of human rights
and supervisory institutions is not just a necessity to achieve
Justice, but also an invaluable tool without which none of the human
rights conditions can be improved. More important still, is that
the government investment which went into the establishment of these
institutions should be coupled with granting them the necessary
capacities, resources and trust to become a cornerstone in building
human rights in Bahrain.