Human Rights Organizations Make Serious Errors

The case of Ibrahim Jaffar alerted us – human rights defenders - to a number of issues which we should draw lessons from. The case has revealed that there are those among us who are willing to accept any fabricated story provided that it is presented in a political, humanitarian or human rights context. This means that both the public and the educated elite can become victims of deception, and could be extended to even credible international human rights organizations which usually have in place well established procedures to verify information so that they do not adopt any position based on inaccurate information.

This rush in believing any information is not only a reflection of political naivety or ignorance, but is a sign of lack of confidence in Government apparatuses and their views, despite the fact that many politicians are talking about the need to strengthen confidence between the Government, on the one hand, and the political societies and human rights organizations, on the other. However, the recent incident in which Jaffar Ibrahim was assaulted, and his false accusation that the Government was behind the attack, indicates that this lack of trust still exists. This explains the swift reaction in believing any fabricated story and forming actions and political positions capable of flaring up tensions and riots to the streets.

Four reasons have led human rights activists to be entrapped in this erroneous position:

Human Rights Organizations should not Repeat the Same Mistakes.

Firstly: Relying on a single source of information.

Jaffar Ibrahim had falsely accused the Government of being behind the attack but was actually trying to clear himself from what was considered a more serious offence (at least from the point of view of accepted moral and social norms). This was an opportunity for some to spread the news without awaiting any investigation or allowing time to verify the information from other sources. Also, international human rights organizations were under pressure to issue statements regarding the incident without making any inquiries and relying solely on a single source of information. This is contrary to their common practice, but unfortunately they even failed to obtain the official viewpoint. The Bahrain Human Rights Monitor has advised both national and international human rights organizations on the need to depend on more than one source of information, so that they do not fall prey to any politically motivated and fabricated news.

Secondly: The delay in the Government response to queries from human rights organizations regarding specific incidents, or failing to reply altogether leaves these organizations with no option but to publish letters of condemnation relying on the available information. By failing to respond to questions, the Government has greatly contributed to the distortion of its own image abroad.

Thirdly: The rush in making judgments and taking sides.

There is no doubt that issuing statements denouncing the heinous and serious violations of human rights is at the core of the work of human rights organizations. Any reluctance to do so would be wrong but so is jumping to conclusions by not verifying the information they receive.

The Security Services in Bahrain are by no means immune from making mistakes and should always be under constant monitoring by the media as well as by national and international civil society organizations. This is to detect any mistakes or violations, deliberate or accidental, in order to point them out and attempt to change them, which is not only an acceptable practice but a desirable one as well. There will always be mistakes in the future as it is human nature and regardless of the size of efforts made. This however does not justify slander, especially if based on false information published in haste, or adopting an extreme stance in accordance with such basis.

It is true that international human rights organizations do support human rights activists in their positions and statements. However, such positions will later become a burden on those activists and a distortion of their work if published in haste. The publication of hasty statements based on misinformation would support those politicized activists and encourage them to continue in their wrong path.

Finally: Obscuration, non-admission, non-disclosure and failure to recognize past mistakes.

As it is the objective of local human rights organizations to uncover the mistakes of the Government when human rights are violated, these organizations require consistent revision of their tools and methods to avoid repeating the same mistakes again. And because the case of Ibrahim Jafaar is the third of its kind, and that the previous incidents were totally ignored that there is now a need for a greater degree of transparency and self integrity, in addition to acquiring the ethics of respecting our differences and discussing this issue publicly with the purpose of drawing attention to it and preventing its reoccurrence.