The difficult neutrality

Resisting Political Gravity

The activities of human rights organizations are very much connected to political situations, for human rights fieldwork revolves around issues such as political prisoners, prisoners of conscience, executions, and woman and child rights among others, all of which are strongly related to politics. These organizations, including their employees, are naturally affected by political situations whether in their countries or abroad, and it is difficult for them to be completely unbiased towards a particular state or political issue. In addition, these organizations – especially international ones- often attempt to benefit from conflicts between various countries in order to deliver their humanitarian message. For this reason, it is not surprising to find, for example a large human rights organization benefiting from the tense relationship between America on the one hand, and China, Iran and Syria on the other in order to highlight violations of human rights in these countries. Some would regard this as 'opportunistic', whilst others may see it as a form of 'political complicity'.

In Bahrain, as in other Arab countries, there is a strong interest in politics among ordinary people, and constant political activities trigger debates, discussion and dialogues, where there is a margin of freedom for people to express their opinions. In other words, there is an active and positive political atmosphere, which draws the attention of human rights activists, and encourages them to follow political events, form opinions, and perhaps even to subconsciously engage in politics. Due to this active political climate, there is a strong tendency to politicise all social, cultural, and religious issues, and to drag Bahrain human rights organizations into politics, in addition to the hidden desire of human rights activists to engage in politics due to their previous political background. As we noted in the first issue of this Newsletter, some of these activists are still very much involved in politics, even after becoming human rights defenders.

Despite all this, many Bahraini political societies still see human rights organizations as 'foreign bodies', grant them only minimal trust, and have at times even refused to cooperate with some. Instead, a number of political societies have formed their own human rights committees, which deal directly with human rights issues.

Probably there is another motive for those political societies to be involved in human rights, which is the irresistible attraction of human rights. Furthermore, such societies could not turn their backs on politics or leave it to specialised bodies or individuals, bearing in mind that Bahrain's political societies are new in the field and are not yet professional enough, meaning that a political activist would like to practice all cultural, religious, political and human rights activities at the same time, mixing and matching between them in order to achieve a specific goal.

Bahraini human rights organisations must resist this strong political gravity, constantly revise their positions, defend their credibility and emphasize their neutrality as much as they can – if achieving absolute neutrality is ever possible. These organizations are responsible for the implementation of international human rights standards, and should not try to bypass them or attempt to create new standards for themselves. On the other hand, and in order to safeguard the trust and respect of ordinary people, they should reconsider their priorities, for there are many vital issues which are seen by the overwhelming majority of society as being of primary concern, while less important issues are sometimes being emphasized and given more attention than they deserve.