The Bahrain National Institute for Human Rights (NIHR) failed to attain accreditation under the Paris Principles, instead earning a “B” status. The Global Alliance of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights’ (GANHRI) Sub-Committee on Accreditation (SCA) recently released its report detailing the reasoning for the status. While the SCA welcomed the efforts of the Bahraini government to establish the NIHR, it did not believe the institution was fully compliant with the Paris Principles.
Under the Principles relating to the Status of National Institutions (Paris Principles), a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) must meet six main criteria in order to receive accreditation with the International Coordinating Committee (ICC): it must maintain a broad mandate with the competence to protect and promote human rights; it must demonstrate operational autonomy; it must maintain statutory or constitutional independence from the government; it must be composed in accordance with standards of pluralism; it must possess adequate resources with which to function; and it must possess adequate powers with which to investigate relevant issues of concern.
By receiving a “B” status, Bahrain’s NIHR only obtains observer status. Bahrain’s NIHR can only participate as an observer “in the international and regional work and meetings of the national human rights institutions.” According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner, the NIHR cannot vote or hold office with the Bureau of the ICC or any of its sub-committees. Further, it cannot attain an NHRI badge, nor can its members take the floor under any agenda items or submit documentation to the UN Human Rights Council. If the Bahraini NIHR was to earn “A” status, it would become a full voting member, as well as obtain all of the previous privileges.
The SCA noted six areas in which the NIHR could improve to better embody the Paris Principles in law and in practice, as well as attain “A” status in future reviews. Among them are: establishing a clear and transparent appointment process for members; ensuring members of the Council of Commissioners are not affiliated with the government; including full-time members; supporting all complaints and human rights defenders fully; monitoring places of deprivation of liberty; and, cooperating with other human rights bodies.
Firstly, the SCA raised concern over the NIHR’s member selection and appointment process. While Bahrain’s NIHR does have a selection process enshrined in law, the SCA believes it is not sufficiently broad or transparent. The members of the Council of Commissioners are currently appointed by Royal Decree in consultation with “relevant” civil society organizations. The SCA’s report stated, “a process that promotes merit-based selection and ensures pluralism is necessary to ensure the independence of, and public confidence in, the senior leadership of an NHRI.”
The SCA’s second and third recommendations for Bahrain’s NIHR both raise concerns over the actual and perceived conflicts of interest of the Council’s membership. The report notes that the Paris Principles require that an NHRI be independent from the government in its “structure, composition, decision-making and method of operation.” The Bahraini NIHR does not adhere to these principles. Four members of the Council are current Members of Parliament, and two others, including the Chairperson, are members of the Shura Council, the parliamentary upper house to which all members are directly appointed by the King. With six members of the Council directly participating in the government while participating in its decision-making processes, it is impossible for the NIHR to be independent. The SCA recommends that government-affiliated individuals should not be members of the NIHR nor participate in decision-making, but they can be useful in consultative roles. The SCA also raised issue that all members of the Council currently serve in a part-time capacity, and there are no formally full-time members. As all members hold other positions outside of their roles on the Council, this introduces both a perceived and a real conflict of interest for the NIHR as a whole.
The report also expressed the SCA’s concern over the practical application of the NIHR’s mandate to promote human rights. The SCA references the complaints it received stating that the NIHR is unwilling to support and protect human rights defenders. In response, the NIHR needs to interpret its mandate in a “broad and purposeful manner” to protect the human rights of all Bahraini citizens, regardless of their political stances or activism. In an attempt to ensure this, the SCA also recommended that the Bahraini NIHR formalize its working relationships with civil society organizations and NGOs, as the law currently does not stipulate this. By promoting its relationships with non-governmental bodies, the NIHR can ensure that the human rights of a wider breadth of individuals will be protected in the country. Until the NIHR formalizes relationships and promotes the human rights of all without bias, the SCA will continue to assess the body as not adhering to the Paris Principles.
While the NIHR conducts field visits to places where it is suspected human rights violations occur, such as detention centers and correctional institutions, the SCA’s report encouraged the NIHR to carry out these visits spontaneously, instead of the scheduled visits it currently conducts, in order to ensure the institutions’ ongoing compliance with lawful human rights practices. The SCA also noted the NIHR’s lack of transparency with regard to these visits. The NIHR must release its reports regarding these visits, especially those to detention facilities. The SCA specifically calls on Bahrain’s NIHR to publicly release its report on its August 2013 visit to Drydock Detention Centre. Until its field visits are spontaneous and adequately and transparently documented, the NIHR will continue to fall short of SCA standards for an “A” accreditation status.
While Bahrain established an NIHR, its commitment to protecting and promoting human rights is not complete, as shown by the SCA recommending a “B” accreditation status. In order for the Bahraini NIHR to become a fully independent and effective institution, it must implement the SCA’s recommendations. The body, and its members, should not maintain conflicts of interests, and the appointment process should be clear and transparent. Ensuring independence will aid in creating an atmosphere in which every violation of human rights is worth investigating, especially those occurring in locations highly susceptible to deprivation of liberty, such as detention centers. If protecting human rights is to be a main concern of the Government of Bahrain, it must institute reforms within the NIHR. The international community must also encourage Bahrain to address and remedy the issues the SCA documented. Until the NIHR is independent, it will not be effective. And, until it is effective, the human rights of those within Bahrain remain further under threat.