Funding in the work of Human Rights Organizations

Almost all civil societies in Bahrain, including political parties have condemned the recent unrest that took place in the country, and insist on the importance of peaceful expression and the respect of the rule of law. However, these societies, human rights ones in particular, are facing a great challenge to remain neutral and to adhere to human rights standards in the shadow of political and security upheaval.

All occurrences in Bahrain are strongly connected to the political situation; thus these organizations are not dealing with incidents which are removed from political reality and, therefore, can not pass judgment on each event independently. Instead, they face a chain reaction of events and counter reactions which are difficult to de-politicise and untangle, for in these events the cause has become a result and the result has become a reason for the reoccurrence of new events.

For this reason, human rights organizations, and despite their attempts to distance themselves from the regime on the one hand, and the opposition on the other, feel that their credibility is being constantly challenged and that they are still being subjected to criticism from both parties, and accused of favouring one over the other. They are in the governments' eyes biased towards the opposition's political agenda, easily believing its propaganda and reports, and only seeing the negative aspects of events without noting the positive ones. On the other hand political activists view them as untrustworthy in their reports, siding with the government and incompetent in presenting what is really happening on the ground.

To what extent are human rights organisations able to safeguard their neutrality, and distance themselves from political agendas?

Initially, it can be said that all human rights organizations are subjected to various kinds of challenges and pressures related to their integrity and independence. It is difficult to achieve absolute independence as there are no agreed upon standards for neutrality. This is besides the fact that ‘neutrality’ in the performance of human rights organisations varies from one subject or issue to another.

Funding is an important consideration which could potentially compromise an organisation’s neutrality, including those in Bahrain. All large international human rights organizations–except Amnesty International- depend on governmental and institutional financial support. This support has a significant influence in determining the country or the area targeted with follow ups and research, and in many cases the supporting body determines the subject of the follow ups, and the field of activity such as women’s rights, prisoners of conscience, or freedom of expression etc. Occasionally, particularly in the Middle East where conspiracy theory magnified, human rights organizations are frequently depicted as partners in the political project of a certain state or group of Western countries in particular.

In Bahrain the government was required to encourage civil society organizations in general, since the beginning of the reforms in 2001. These organisations were first formed with government support through the Ministry of Social Affairs, providing them with an official bases, as well as the allocation of an annual budget. The question is: does this funding affect the neutrality and the activity of these organizations and to what extent? Or more importantly, does financial support by government affect the neutrality of these organizations in issues related to the government in particular?

This does not seem to be the case, at least for human rights organisations, as the government still complains of their bias!

Other questions follow: is government funding sufficient to cover all organisational activities? And are there any other financial supporters? And do these affect the neutrality of the organizations in question?

It is clear that government financial support is insufficient to cover all their activities, but there are two possibilities in this regard:

Foreign funding from states is strictly prohibited, and undoubtedly, Bahraini organisations' loyalty is to their country and to their fellow citizens. However, it is possible that there is some limited and ineffective funding from foreign civil societies to their counterparts in Bahrain. It should be noted that this kind of financial, media and other support is legitimate in most of countries including Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Palestine and Iraq among others. As for local support from individuals and institutions inside Bahrain-if it exists- this can easily be uncovered through the bank statements of the organizations, and does not necessarily assume that the supporters have specific political affiliations, and if found, their impact is not absolute, and is probably limited.

In conclusion, there are no obvious effects of funding on the neutrality of human rights organizations.