Bahrain Monitor - A Monthly Newsletter on the Human Rights Situation in Bahrain
Hasan Moosa Shafaei

Bahrain: Human Rights Organizations and the Relationship Strategy with the Government

Hasan Moosa Shafaei

It is customary for international human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among others to differ in the way of dealing with various countries around the world. On one hand, they adopt a method based on co-operation and constructive criticism in their relationship with some countries. But on the other hand, they use a confrontational approach with others which includes escalation via the media, mobilization of public and political pressure as well as the use of blunt language.

The nature of the relationship between international organizations and various countries, as well as the differences in discourse is determined by the human rights record of each country. Two categories of countries can be identified in this area. With respect to authoritarian countries, and in order to create gradual change, it is necessary for international human rights organizations to adopt a strict approach which includes escalation in discourse, confrontation and strict scrutiny. In addition to this, it is also important to constantly follow up the events taking place and regularly issue public statements and reports etc; as in such countries oppression is widespread and unlikely to stop in the near future. Additionally, strict authoritarian policies prevail in such countries - as revealed by their human rights record.

The second category includes countries where human rights violations are limited, or those trying to reform their human rights record, develop their legislations, do not restrict the opposition and exert efforts to improve the human rights situation. Such countries can achieve these developments through inventing new mechanisms, filling-in legal gaps and committing to the minimum limits of their human rights obligations at both national and international levels. With regards to such countries, international organizations avoid any kind of confrontation and help them improve their human rights situation through encouragement without undermining the importance of both private and public constructive criticism. It seems that this distinction in the treatment of countries has been resolved on by international human rights organizations and still represents a disagreement among human rights defenders in the Arab world, such as Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Palestine, Jordan as well as Bahrain among others.

In some Arab countries, local human rights organizations have opted for the use of constructive criticism and co-operation for developing the country’s human rights record. Morocco is an example of this where it is apparent that it has progressed a great deal in democratization and respect for human rights. However, other human rights organizations in other countries are still caught between choosing the approach which uses confrontation and escalation or the one based on co-operation and constructive criticism.

It is likely that the root of the problem stems from the fact that human rights organizations have different evaluations of the performance of the political system at all levels (politically, legally, socially and legislatively). Thus, it becomes important to answer the following question: is it possible to build on the regime’s policies in order to promote reform, development and respect for human rights? Or is the regime uncompromising in its position and does not want change and reform? Therefore, it is not possible to depend on the use of moderate discourse as a means of changing the Government’s position.

In Bahrain, human rights organizations differ, till this day, with respects to the evaluation of the situation. And hence, they differ in determining the nature of the relationship between them and the Government. In our evaluation, the dissolved Bahrain Centre for Human Rights believes that nothing important was accomplished with respects to the political, civil and social rights of the citizens. Therefore, there is no other away than confronting the regime and escalating the political and human rights discourse and mobilizing the public towards confrontation. On the other hand, Bahrain Society for Human Rights evaluates the situation differently and feels that - despite its flaws and shortcomings - the current political regime is not the same system of the 80s and 90s. For it has clearly developed mentally, practically as well as in theory and practice. Thus, it is necessary to co-operate with the regime, criticize it in a constructive manner, encourage it, push it towards making bigger reforms and benefit from the available margin of freedoms in promoting a human rights culture in order to achieve more progress in the future.

We believe that it is necessary to discuss the disagreements between the Bahrain human rights organizations regarding this subject in order to unify their efforts when adopting the best suited approach for the situation in Bahrain. Of course, there are some human rights activists who believe that both ways are correct. However, the Bahrain Human Rights Monitor believes in adopting constructive dialogue with the authority and the use of developed, balanced and impartial human rights discourse. As this is the most effective approach to develop human rights and push it forward as well as develop the political system itself.