Defective and Deficient: A Review of Bahrain’s National Human Rights Bodies

In the aftermath of the Bahraini uprising in 2011, the King of Bahrain ordered the establishment of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI). The BICI investigated and documented the violations committed by the Bahraini Public Security Forces during the uprising and made recommendations in this regard. The adoption of these recommendations by the Bahraini government resulted in the establishment of several national human rights bodies and amending the mandates of others, mainly, the Special Investigation Unit (SIU), the Prisoners and Detainees Rights Commission (PDRC), the Office of the Ombudsman at the Ministry of the Interior (MOI Ombudsman), and the National Institution for Human Rights (NIHR).

Although the establishment of these bodies was notable progress in addressing human rights violations and impunity, the overall human rights situation has not improved, especially with regard to torture and ill-treatment in detention centers. Human rights violations related to freedom of expression and assembly have increased in recent years, and harassment of activists and human rights defenders continues. Most importantly, the “culture of impunity” that these bodies were supposed to address is still pervasive. 

Hence, this report looks into the legal status, structure, formation mechanisms, and performance of these bodies to determine their shortcomings and to explain why they have not been able to achieve a noticeable improvement in the human rights scene in Bahrain. It examines the efficacy, independence, and transparency of the four mentioned institutions, focusing on their work over the last five years. It has mainly relied on statistics, information, and statements issued by these same institutions, besides extensive literature review. Their structure and functioning have been judged against agreed-upon international standards.

The report concludes that the independence of these bodies and their staff is the real problem. The lack of transparency in appointment mechanisms is shared between the four bodies, as none of them involves real and active participation by the civil society or even parliament, and if any, it is unclear. These bodies are formed by the government and report to it, which renders their ability to challenge the government security apparatuses unlikely. Moreover, none of them adopted clear follow-up procedures, whether for complaints or implementing their recommendations by concerned governmental bodies, negatively impacting their effectiveness.  

By closely examining these bodies’ formation, structure, and performance, it can be concluded that they have not been designed to genuinely guarantee effectiveness and independence in addressing human rights violations and end impunity, as three out of four of them are associated with the MOI. 

To read the full report, click Defective and Deficient: A Review of Bahrain’s National Human Rights Bodies.