Bahrain and Egypt’s National Human Rights Institutions raise concerns at the UN

December 06, 2023

MENA Rights Group welcomes the Sub-Committee on Accreditation's decision to defer the review of Bahrain and Egypt's National Human Rights Institutions, which cited their lack of compliance with the Paris Principles.

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The Sub-Committee on Accreditation (SCA) of the Global Alliance of NHRIs (GANHRI) has recently announced its decision to defer the review of Egypt and Bahrain's National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) to 2024, citing their “lack of independence” and “cooperation with civil society” as well as their “inability to address human rights abuses”. This undoubtedly echoes the concerns shared by civil society organisations (CSOs) with the SCA ahead of the review.

In October 2023, both the Bahraini National Institution for Human Rights (NIHRB) and the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) were examined by the SCA, which is responsible for reviewing NHRIs’ compliance with the Paris Principles through a peer-review process. NHRIs that are deemed as complying are accredited with “A status”, while those that partially do are accredited with “B status”. Currently, the NIHRB holds B status, while the NCHR holds A status.

Prior to the review, CSOs are invited to submit information to assist the SCA in its evaluation of NHRIs. As such, MENA Rights Group jointly with other CSOs submitted reports highlighting concerns over the Bahraini and Egyptian institutions. Furthermore, the CSOs sent an open letter to the SCA urging them not to grant the NIHRB and NCHR status “A”, citing concerns over their independence and effectiveness. 

Following its session, the SCA decided to defer the NIHRB and the NCHR’s review for another 12 months rather than take a decision on their respective status. Their report extensively cited and relied on third-party information, i.e., reports submitted by CSOs.

With regards to the Bahraini NHRI, the SCA explained that the grounds for deferral were the NIHRB’s inability to address human rights violations and its lack of cooperation with civil society. The SCA further referred to third-party submissions, raising “concerns about the independence and effectiveness of the NIHRB in addressing human rights violations, including torture and arbitrary detention”. It also considered that the NIHRB had yet to provide “sufficient evidence of its work addressing serious human rights violations, including torture and arbitrary detention.”

The SCA also deemed that the initiatives undertaken by the NIHRB with local CSOs were not providing “sufficient evidence of effective and meaningful cooperation with civil society organizations, including human rights defenders.”

With regards to the Egyptian NHRI, the SCA stated that the grounds for deferral were the NCHR's lack of independence, inability to address human rights violations, as well as impediments to its mandate to visits of places of detention, including that such visits were “often denied and, when granted, were prearranged, and did not allow for unhindered access or confidential interviews with detainees.”

The SCA further cited a third-party submission “raising concerns about the NCHR’s effectiveness in dealing with serious human rights violations, including torture, enforced disappearances, conditions of detention and detainees, situation of human rights defenders, fair trial rights and due process, as well as freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association.”

Furthermore, responding to the NCHR’s claims that it receives and addresses thousands of complaints, the SCA stated that this was “not sufficient to demonstrate how it implements its full mandate to monitor, promote, and protect the rights of everyone including human rights defenders.”

Finally, the SCA noted the lack of independence of the NCHR, highlighting that political representatives and politicians are part of its decision-making body. This echoed civil society concerns that, for example, the NCHR’s Vice-President Mahmoud Karem Mahmoud served as campaign coordinator of Egyptian president al-Sisi.

In light of the concerns cited in the SCA’s report, MENA Rights Group will continue to monitor human rights violations in both Bahrain and Egypt, as well as the efforts taken by the NIHRB and NCHR to address them. Ahead of next year’s reaccreditation process, we will continue to engage with the SCA to keep them informed of the NIHRB and NCHR’s compliance with the Paris Principles.

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