Following an Arab League meeting in Cairo on September 1, it was announced that Bahrain would be host of the Arab Court of Human Rights when the court gets established. There is no word on what jurisdiction the court will have or when it might open, only that it will be based in Bahrain. The news was initially greeted with some surprise and skepticism by those who have followed the Kingdom's recent dismal performance on human rights. On reflection, though, there are several factors that make it an appropriate choice.
Below are the top six reasons it makes sense for Bahrain to host the Arab Court of Human Rights:
- Many defendants will be in easy reach. So far, Bahrain has failed to convict any senior government official for the deaths, torture and other human rights violations that have taken place since 2011. Having the court based right where perpetrators live and work will save on transport costs to the court.
- The Bahrain government has a stack of unused arrest warrants. Many of those who have been taken in dawn raids by Bahrain security forces have not been shown arrest warrants, meaning there must be a pile of unused ones in police stations across the country for the court to use.
- Bahrain courts have shown themselves to be fast. There's often no messing about with lengthy legal proceedings -- some court cases only take a few minutes for the judge to realize the person is guilty of all charges. No need to waste time on a defense or to investigate the torture marks on prisoners.
- Bahrain courts have already developed strict behavior code. There are already clear rules in place for how those attending trials are to conduct themselves during hearings. These include not crossing one's legs while the court is in session.
- No extra costs for international observers. Bahrain has shut out the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture in 2012 and 2013 and continues to deny entry visas to international human rights NGOs and media. Having the Arab Court of Human Rights based in the country means it won't have to accommodate seating for international observers or journalists.
- Not hard to find human rights lawyers. Thanks to years of repression, the Bahrain legal profession has a team of experienced human rights lawyers. They are readily accessible and their whereabouts typically well known to the authorities, not least when they spend time in prison for representing their clients.
Brian Dooley is the Director of the Human Rights Defender program at Human Rights First.