My Message to Human Rights Defenders

Hasan Moosa Shafaei

Hasan Moosa Shafaei

The relationship between the Government and civil society in Bahrain was short-lived.

Despite the flourishing of civil society at the commencement of the reforms era in 2000, with the emergence of hundreds of civil society organizations in all fields, including human rights; the relationship quickly deteriorated leaving behind a common sense of disappointment.

The government felt that human rights organizations, in particular, turned away from human rights activism by indulging in politics and ultimately over-politicizing human rights work. Furthermore, the government found that emerging human rights organizations were not rational and were not seeking a gradual political and human rights development, despite knowing that the political system is incapable of omitting or transcending stages due to its own special circumstances.

For their part, human rights organizations were also disappointed. They accused the government of bearing down heavily on their activities, as well as claiming that the government has never been serious about reform in the first place nor was it seeking a break with the legacy of the past,

Ultimately, the clash broke out between the two sides, amid a charged political atmosphere and a sharp political conflict, which eventually spilled out into the street. Thus, Bahrain, as a state, society and institutions, emerged as the biggest loser. The Bahraini experience has failed at the hands of its participants. Consequently, the human rights situation deteriorated, with human rights organizations achieving nothing except further attrition. Nowadays, such organizations have almost become political organizations or branches of such organizations, rather than being human rights organizations.

If we aspire to improve the human rights situation:

It is necessary to bridge the gap in the relationship between the Bahraini civil society and government.

It is necessary for each side to understand the nature of the other side’s activity and fears.

It is necessary to resort to the governance of a modern law, which provides the necessary breathing space for the civil society in order to evolve and grow.

Ultimately, it is necessary to have real cooperation on the ground. It is necessary to learn from the harsh lesson of the past five years to carve a better future. Political wrestling has led to nothing but the decline in human rights conditions.

We have directed several messages to the government, urging it to take the lead; to involve the civil society in its programmes and to reconsider its policies and practices relating to human rights. This time, however, my message is addressed to human rights defenders in Bahrain. To them I say:

  • Stay away from opposition political parties lest you be accused of politicizing human rights or exploiting them politically. Thus, you can affirm that your goals are not political and genuinely intended for human rights. When you hold human rights activities abroad, do not allow yourself to become a key part of the opposition, and thus appear as if you are one delegation, using and sharing the same discourse, political language and attitude.
  • It is necessary to calm down the street. A human rights defender is not a political agitator. The human rights message may be severely distorted if the defender allows himself to be controlled by the mob. The frenzied street, or part of it, has no human rights education. Thus, the message of a human rights advocate may conflict with the methods of the politically radicalized street.
  • Denounce violence, hate speech and extremism in general. Denounce it out of true conviction, vision and foresight, rather than just paying lip service. Denounce it because it does not serve Bahrain or the entirety of its people. Denounce it practically by dismantling inflammatory rhetoric and by calling for peace, moderate democratic discourse and by rationalizing the dominant public culture, especially among youth.
  • Try to resolve human rights issues internally, through communication and cooperation with the official authorities concerned. Try to resolve issues quietly, without fuss or thrills. Avoid disclosing news about your privacies to the public, because in the end this will restrict your margin of movement, and will diminish your ability to benefit from the freedoms available domestically.
  • You know that the human rights situation in Bahrain has improved in general, and therefore you are required to, firstly, acknowledge this fact, and, secondly, to build on and interact with it; and to make your reports more balanced in presenting the human rights situation.
  • As is the practice of international human rights organizations, prior to issuance, present your reports to official authorities, which may offer an opinion, correct some information, or better still resolve an issue before it is publicized in a report.
  • There are official human rights institutions, join them, partake in their activities and make their work more effective. Cooperate with these institutions to improve the human rights situation. They are human rights platforms recognized by the international community. Distancing yourself from these organizations and bombarding them with criticism and vilification does not serve the ultimate human rights mission nor does it help in the development of the civil society.