The benefits of civil society for Bahrain and for you

Why was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights important?

The Universal Declaration was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 10 December 1948. The Declaration commands that human rights be seen as universal, to be enjoyed by all people, no matter who they are or where they live. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. The Declaration allows all states to be held to account in how they treat their citizens.

The Universal Declaration led to a succession of other human rights treaties, concerning rights of the child, torture, women, civil and political rights, economic social and cultural rights and racial discrimination. Some states like Bahrain are in almost full compliance with international human rights treaties, while other have abstained from certain conventions in full or in part, or have yet to sign up fully.  

Bahrain’s signature of UN human rights treaties

Bahrain is signed up to 24 international human rights conventions. These include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1990); the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, 2002), the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention Against Torture, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

For example, Bahrain signed up to the CEDAW Convention in 2002 with a number of reservations. Between 2014 and 2016 Bahrain sought to rewrite these reservations in order to enhance its implementation status. This generated a lot of debate, with many liberals, women’s rights activists and the Government supporting the proposals.

A vote on these revisions was passed in April 2016, despite an intense campaign by Islamists against CEDAW who decried the Convention as a “Western plot” which sought to tear Bahrain away from its Muslim heritage.

Bahrain’s National Institution for Human Rights

Bahrain’s National Institution for Human Rights (NIHR) was formally established by royal decree in 2009 as a body that would “exercise its functions with complete freedom, impartiality, and independence”; with the aims of raising human rights awareness and developing “an integrated national strategy for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Kingdom”, as well as providing assistance in implementing human rights legislation.

The organization was restructured in 2014 with a stronger and more independent mandate. Since then it has issued annual reports into the general human rights situation in the Kingdom.

The NIHR is mandated to receive, examine and research evidence related to human rights. The organization has powers to inspect reform institutes, detention centres and other locations in which it is suspected that human rights violations are taking place. The body studies legislation and regulations that fall within the area of human rights.

In recognition of their important work in promoting human rights, the National Institution for Human Rights and the Bahrain Independent Ombudsman were awarded the prestigious 2014 Chaillot Prize for the Promotion of Human Rights in the GCC Region.

The EU Delegation which presented the Chaillot award said: “The Chaillot Prize is awarded to these organisations in order to acknowledge and further encourage their remarkable efforts and work for the promotion and protection of human rights in the kingdom of Bahrain.:

Bahrain and the UN Human Rights Council – Universal Periodic Reviews 

The Universal Periodic Review is a process which allows for continual revisiting of the human rights records of all UN member states. It provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfill their human rights obligations. The UPR was created through the UN General Assembly in 2006.

The Kingdom of Bahrain was one of the first countries to ever undergo the UPR process. The Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with assistance from United Nations Development Program, prepared Bahrain’s report that was submitted in February 2008.

In the second cycle of the UPR in 2012, Bahrain accepted almost all of the recommendations. Bahrain received and submitted a voluntary interim report in 2014 that was drafted in cooperation with the National Institute for Human Rights and civil society organizations. Bahrain’s Government has praised the Universal Periodic Review process as an important mechanism contributing to the achievement of human rights objectives.

For example, the efforts to enhance Bahrain’s compliance with the CEDAW women’s rights convention (see above) came out of recommendations from the UPR process; illustrating how the UPR can be used as a tool to guide legislative efforts.

ABC of civil society

Media freedoms




Quality of life




UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights


Women’s rights



Zero-sum game

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