Bahraini activists and lawmakers welcomed Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa's recent announcement regarding the formation of a high co-ordinating commission for human rights.
The new body will be responsible for ensuring that local laws are consistent with international human rights conventions, formulating annual plans for human rights training and reviewing requests made by international human rights organisations that wish to send representatives to Bahrain. The commission formation was announced officially on August 14th.
"The formation of the High Co-ordinating Commission for Human Rights falls under the reform programme created by the political leadership and the government to ensure adherence to international commitments regarding human rights and to safeguard [these rights] for every citizen and expatriate living in the kingdom," said Jamal Fakhro, first deputy chairman for Bahrain's Shura Council.
Bahrain's commitment to human rights reached a peak when the kingdom established an independent ministry for human rights two years ago, Fakhro said. In the past, only the Foreign Affairs Ministry dealt with human rights cases.
"The main goal behind the new commission is to make sure that state ministries are implementing international human rights recommendations that were agreed upon with well-known international organisations," he said.
"Civil society institutions play a supervisory, not an executive role within the commission, which means they are required to review the government's performance and communicate with state officials if there are any shortcomings," Fakhro said.
Human rights activist Abdullah al-Derazi welcomed the formation of the commission.
"It is a positive tributary to support the human rights journey in Bahrain," he said, adding that he believes it will improve the country's human rights reputation.
However, civil society institutions lack an active role in the commission, he noted, as they have been relegated to providing counsel and serving as monitors when necessary.
"There should be human rights organisations from civil society that are officially listed in the new commission," al-Derazi said. "Human rights are a collaborative effort between the public and private sectors to ensure a high level of transparency to prevent any violations by government institutions."
"In order to develop mechanisms to deal with human rights issues, particularly discrimination, civil society institutions focused on human rights must be part of the commission's structure, so that reliance on their expertise is not only used when needed," he said.
Al-Derazi said the commission should concentrate its efforts on evaluating existing local legislations to determine whether they are in harmony with the spirit of international human rights treaties.
Sawsan Taqawi, chairwoman of the parliament's committee on foreign affairs, defence and national security, said the commission's formation is an important step that confirms Bahrain's commitment to human rights reform and as a guarantor of citizens' rights.
"The timing of the commission's formation is appropriate and well-conceived, especially since it comes at a time when a segment of society says it has suffered injustices in the courts as a result of the transgressions of some individuals, whether members of the government or ordinary citizens," she said.
Taqawi said the commission will be inclusive in its approach due to the diversity of its members and because it includes different state agencies.
"The fact that civil society institutions only play a monitoring role [in the commission] is not incompatible with fulfilling people's demands for more transparency regarding human rights," Taqawi said. "Adding more members to the commission from civil society groups would be superfluous and would hinder its efforts."
According to the ministerial decree, the commission will be chaired by Bahrain's Minister of State for Human Rights, with representatives from other prominent ministries who will serve as commission members with renewable three-year terms.
Members include representatives from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Interior, Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowment, Education, Social Development, Health and Labour. Representatives from the Supreme Council for Women, the National Security Agency, the Public Prosecutor's Office, the Information Affairs Authority and the Civil Service Bureau will also serve on the commission.