Improving the Human Rights Official Language

Hasan Moosa Shafaei

Although Bahrain has had a long experience in political reform and in dealing with human rights personalities, institutions and principles, official Bahraini political and media discourses remain erroneous and do not help in understanding the political and human rights situation in the country. This has negatively affected Bahrain’s reputation as these discourses have also failed to adopt a language for the new post-reform Bahrain, which goes hand in hand with political and human rights developments in the country during last decade.

The recent rhetoric of a number of Bahraini officials contradicts the essence of the reform project and caused many misunderstandings especially with international human rights organizations. The objective of this article is to provide constructive evaluation of official Bahraini human rights discourse, in order to provide some guidance.

The recipients of the discourse

In their communications with UN human rights mechanisms and international human rights organizations, officials should bear in mind that they are dealing with a different mindset which requires special attention. International human right bodies adopt a scientific and professional approach and can distinguish between factual information and propoganda. On the other hand, in their debates and sometimes even in their statements, Bahraini officials cannot distinguish between the two. The ‘scientific’ human rights approach distinguishes between balanced and imbalanced views and is characterised by:

1. Presenting an honest and complete picture including positive and negative aspects. It is not enough to mention the achievements of Bahrain and then ignore the shortcomings. When an official provides an objective view of the situation for example, the recipient will have the impression that the official’s country is genuine in its desire to improve human rights and that he is not just using propaganda.

2. Revealing the challenges and obstacles facing the State regarding human rights and the potential reasons for this. It should also show the potential corrective measures, which the Government plans to take in order to overcome challenges, obstacles and shortcomings.

Such a balanced and convincing discourse will ultimately serve Bahrain’s reputation, preserve its position and promote its credibility.

Characteristics of the official discourse

The shortcomings of the official discourse can be clarified as follows:

The use of a contradictory discourse: where two different languages are used: one for the Bahraini public in Arabic and another for audiences abroad in English. The first discourse tends to attack and accuse international human rights organizations, whilst the latter uses a tame language which affirms cooperation with human rights organizations and UN bodies, including performing joint activities that promote human rights. The English discourse also admits the occurrence of mistakes and shortcomings and promises to correct them.

The use of two languages, ignoring the fact that internal discourse is easily accessible to those abroad (all international human rights institutions follow local media, official statements and TV and social networkers) casts doubts about the seriousness of Bahrain’s reform project.

International human rights organizations are astonished by the change in official positions. They meet officials who use an ideal language abroad, but as soon as they return to Bahrain they use a different tone. What is worst is when words are put in the mouth of international organizations and UN bodies. Such a discourse must change in favour of a serious, responsible and credible one as using contradictory discourse damages the reputation of those officials and the Government. Furthermore, any loss of face, which results from admitting Government mistakes is much less damaging than adopting two contradictory discourses.

The use of accusations, excessive justifications and complaints: official discourses accuse human rights organizations of being biased and infiltrated by foreign bodies as well as having hidden agendas. These accusations are constantly repeated in the local media and are sometimes mentioned by officials. However, the repetition of accusations as a defensive strategy is useless and could spark a losing battle with international human rights organizations and UN bodies. An article in the previous edition of the BHRM entitled (International Human Rights Organizations: Confrontation or Cooperation) stressed that adopting a confrontational strategy will only antagonise these institutions without changing the way in which they deal with Bahrain’s situation. This discourse is also needlessly argumentative, for example by asking why these organizations do not condemn Israel or America or the Opposition. These countries have also been condemned and more reports have been issued about them than on Bahrain. In an article in this edition entitled ( Western Countries’ Concerns over the Situation in Bahrain) we highlighted the western position, the reasons behind it and western advice to Bahraini officials to stop this kind of discourse.

Bahraini officials should stop this kind of rhetoric and examine human rights reports closely whilst correcting any inaccurate information. The improvement and development of human rights in the country is more useful than arguments and blaming others.

Government discourse unnecessarily justifies official steps by asserting that they are all legal and correct and by saying that it is only the opposition that has made mistakes and violated human rights. Sometimes officials deny information, which later turns out to be true, and they are then forced to admit it.

A few officials have also been drawn to sectarian arguments with international human rights organizations, which merely aggravates the problem. It is far worse for an official to be involved in petty sectarianism than any member of the Opposition. This is because the Government should be more eager to protect the social unity and cohesion of the country and should thus use a comprehensive political discourse above social, sectarian, tribal and ethnic differences. When an official uses a layman terms, this degrades the position of the government he represents and reflects a badly on the performance of its institutions. It will also cause concern among human rights organizations and political and diplomatic bodies especially during the reform period, which had supposedly surpassed sectarian discourse. Such discourse will provoke the opponents to use the same level of language.

We also reject emphasizing sectarian affiliations in international human rights reports as this will divide Bahraini society. International organizations do not accept cheap sectarian arguments made by an official who is drawn into petty sectarianism through the questions of journalists and responses to the foreign media.

Why has the official discourse on human rights not yet matured?

There are weaknesses in the use of human rights literature in general, as well as problems in the training of officials on human rights, despite the many workshops that have been organized for this purpose. The last ten years should have produced specialised staff who are competent in human rights terminology and discourse, well aware of its effects and methods of use and most importantly, staff who are able to deal well with international human rights organizations.

A number of officials who deal with human rights do not have sufficient understanding of the mechanisms of international human rights organizations or the legislations and agreements regarding human rights. The subject of human rights has become a field of knowledge, which is developing very quickly. Hence, despite all exerted efforts to raise the competency of officials, there will always be a need for more training, technical and official efforts to develop human rights in Bahrain.