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
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
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
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
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.