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
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
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
- 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.