Bahrain Strikes Balance Between Rights and Security

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A report by the Arab Lawyers Union, released at its meeting in Egypt last week, has rightly praised Bahrain’s human rights record. It has affirmed the kingdom’s resolve to ensure balance between human rights protection and the reinforcement of security and stability while confronting acts of violence, extremism and terrorism which have claimed the lives of several policemen.

In fact the report goes so far as to say that Bahrain is the first Arab country and the sixth in the world in the “Most Secure Country” index. Generally such claims are made by particular countries about themselves on the basis of their own surveys. That a regional body has recognised Bahrain’s human rights record is saying a lot, especially that the assessment comes from a lawyers’ body which must be privy to, and handling in the course of its work, numerous human rights cases.

Among other things the lawyers’ union agrees that Bahrain’s reforms have strengthened democracy and political awareness in society. It appreciates the fact that, following the troubles which started in February 2011, the King of Bahrain took the unprecedented step of ordering the setting up of an independent commission of inquiry consisting of lawyers and experts of repute from overseas who were allowed unfettered access to interview government (including police) officials, people with all shades of opinion and all sections of society. No country in modern times has ever set up a panel to probe itself.

King of Bahrain Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa, balancing rights and security.
King of Bahrain Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa. United States Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Julian Carroll.

Indeed openness is the hallmark of the functioning of the Bahrain government institutions. Thus, once the commission of inquiry had submitted its report, where in many instances its criticism did not spare the government, the report was immediately put up on a freely accessible website for the entire world to see.

The commission’s recommendations, which involved much soul-searching on the part of the government, were implemented without demur or delay. A Special Investigation Unit was set up to look into the claims of deaths, torture and cruel treatment that allegedly occurred during the 2011 troubles. 43 cases were referred to courts as a consequence, and compensations were paid to the aggrieved parties where applicable.

Many other related steps were also taken to combat hatred and sectarianism. Creation of the Prisoners and Detainees Rights Commission, creation of the Bahrain National Committee for the International Humanitarian Law, the activation of the role of the high coordination committee for human rights, the National Institution for Human Rights, and the initiative to set up an Arab Court for Human Rights.

Given that Bahrain is a tiny island kingdom, the government has indeed tended to treat all its citizens as one family and the Prime Minister has quite often referred to the country’s one-family spirit. Whenever a calamity strikes a Bahraini family, the government is there to extend its helping hand. Numerous Bahrainis are sent overseas for treatment of ailments. Where medical expenses are enormously high, Bahrainis in distress overseas are immediately looked after.

If the troubles still flared up in 2011, that’s because a section of the citizens indulged in extreme violence and killing of security forces in their quest for regime change at the instigation of Iran. Prompted by Iran, these people rejected the constitution and the democratic process of elections. They also refused to enter into any serious dialogue with the government to resolve their alleged differences.

If the government still ensured, through various institutional means, that their rights and freedoms were protected, then it is not surprising it has won kudos from the Arab Lawyers Union.

Brij Sharma is an Indian journalist and editor based in Bahrain. Brij tells us the interesting stories we don’t usually hear from the middle east country.