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Bahrain’s Police Ombudsman on New Role | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The of Bahrain’s General Secretariat for Grievances. Nawaf Al-Ma’wada (Asharq Al-Awsat)

The of Bahrain's General Secretariat for Grievances. Nawaf Al-Ma'wada (Asharq Al-Awsat)

The of Bahrain’s General Secretariat for Grievances. Nawaf Al-Ma’wada (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Manama, Asharq Al-Awsat—The office of “ombudsman” owes both its name and job description to the nations of Scandinavia, at least in modern times. Now, following the reforms enacted by the government of Bahrain after unrest of 2011, the island kingdom has become the first Gulf state to adopt it, following the example of dozens of other countries around the world.

The new office, tasked with investigating citizens’ complaints against law enforcement officials, is named the General Secretariat for Grievances. Asharq Al-Awsat spoke with the head of the new body, Nawaf Al-Ma’wada, about the origins, role, and responsibilities of his organization.

Asharq Al-Awsat: What is the General-Secretariat for Grievances?

Nawaf Al-Ma’awada: The General-Secretariat for Grievances in Bahrain is the first of its kind in the Gulf region. It is an independent department administratively and financially. It works within the Ministry of Interior and accepts complaints from the public if any ministry staff committed an unacceptable act or behavior. It also ensures that laws and professional standards are adhered to in the kingdom with regards to policing, in addition to the regulations governing the work of civilian staff at the ministry.

One of its mechanisms is to inform the relevant department in the Ministry of Interior to take disciplinary action against members of staff who violate regulations, or inform prosecution if any criminal acts have been committed.

The department will also provide the complainant and the respondent with details of the procedures being taken regarding the complaint. It will also visit prisons and detention centers to ensure detainees’ rights are protected, according to local and international standards.

Q: You said the General-Secretariat for Grievances is the first of its kind in the region, what are its distinctive features?

The general framework which governs its work includes many objectives and means at the same time, including: the ability to question any violator, independence, and impartiality and transparency, completing work to ensure justice is achieved, increase confidence, trust and credibility within the public, and work to avoid repeating previous mistakes.

These can be summarized by the five principles which represent the department’s emblem, which are: independence, credibility, impartiality, accountability, and transparency. These are the five principles which define the department and its work, especially in the way investigations are carried out with the help of experts in legal issues and human rights.

Q: What is the need for its establishment at this current time, and was it one of Bassiouni’s recommendations?

Indeed, the department was founded upon the recommendation of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, known in Bahrain as the Bassiouni Commission. It complies specifically with recommendation 1717 regarding the founding of an independent body within the Ministry of Interior to look into complaints, as is the case in some countries. It was founded under a royal decree which was issued on February 2012 and amended in May 2012, which in turn, gave it more power.

Q: Is this department in Bahrain the similar to other grievance departments at international level?

Yes, it comes under a category of grievance departments knows internationally as that of the “ombudsman.” The department in Bahrain has sought to benefit from international experiences in this field, and has participated in international meetings and training programs which helped staff greatly.

Q: Is the department’s work limited to investigating complaints, or does it involve monitoring the work of police and Ministry of Interior departments?

The work of the department involves three main roles: looking into complaints made against police officers who may have committed acted in breach of police behavior code; looking into complaints against civilian staff at the Ministry of Interior who may have committed acts in breach of the law and the administrative code, and finally, monitoring prisons and detention centers to ensure no human rights violations are committed.

Q: What is your role in monitoring prisons and detention centers?

As I said before, the department has the power to visit prisons, youth institutions, and detention centers, to ensure prisoners were detained legally and treated humanely. There are also standards which are followed, including provision of suitable detention facilities which provide the basic needs of inmates, and the provision of health care and legal representation.

Q: How did the interior ministry receive the general secretariat given that it is accustomed to work independently? Do you think interior ministry officials will get annoyed or accuse you of interfering with their affairs?

From the day it was established the general secretariat for grievances has received great support and encouragement from all interior ministry officials particularly lieutenant general Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al-Khalifa, the interior minister, who was very careful to consolidate the independence of the institution.

In my opinion, the relationship between the general secretariat and all interior ministry departments is complementary rather than competitive and both sides aim to enhance the performance and boost the capabilities of the staff of the ministry in all fields as well as establish human rights and ensure that anyone who commit an sinful act will be held accountable.

However, no complaints can be filed against the decisions, directions and instructions issued by the interior minister or the chief of public security to the ministry’s staff; and any such complaint will be ignored.

The general secretariat for grievances seeks to build up mutual trust and respect between individuals and security men based on justice, honesty, equality and the rule of law. Besides this, the general secretariat emphasizes the rights of citizens to proper treatment, dignity and humanity as set in the constitution.

Q: How did the Bahraini opposition recieve the general secretariat? Did they accuse you of collaboration with the government even before you started?

It is not an issue of politically labeling the general secretariat of grievances. The general secretariat is an executive agency that provides services to citizens and residents in Bahrain who want to file complaints against any member of staff of the interior ministry. Among the other activities of the general secretariat is visiting prisons and detention locations. As for the output of the activities of the general secretariat, it is governed by several governmental bodies, such as the public prosecution, special investigation unit, military court, commission of inquiry with civil servants and the legislative power in general. At the same time, the general secretariat actively seeks to consolidate a number of principles, such as independence, credibility and impartiality. These interrelated principles will be observed in the way of dealing with the public regardless of their political affiliations. The general secretariat considers all complaints in an objective and professional way without taking sides. The independence of general secretariat stems from the mechanisms and guarantees set by the decree that established the institution. According to the decree, the general secretariat has an independent budget and administrative structure, a thing which ensures its credibility. The credibility can be measured in several ways. For example, the general secretariat will publish, God willing, an annual report covering the outputs of all activities undertaken during the year in order to strengthen the impartiality of its work. Hence, the general secretariat will prove to be a disciplined and professional institution which aims to be distinguished in its field.

Q: With the establishment of the general secretariat for grievance, what is your main objective?

The general secretariat mainly aims at making every effort to succeed and attain its desired objectives within a balanced framework that maintains harmony between freedom and responsibility, as well as rights and duties. The institution aims to make an important addition to the field of rating and monitoring the performance of the interior ministry to enable competent authorities to fulfill their official duties such as tightening security and achieving stability in accordance with the legal and professional standards of police work. By doing so, the general secretariat for grievances will be a model of credibility, ensuring accountability and respect of human rights in the region.

This interview was conducted in Arabic and is available here