visit of HRW to Bahrain

The Relationship with International Human Rights Organizations should not be Jeopardised

The visit of HRW to Bahrain in February and its report on 28th which contained harsh criticisms of the human rights situation sparked the question of how useful it is to continue the relationship with international human rights organizations.

In comparison to other organisations such as Amnesty International, HRW’s reports are the harshest. The relation with these organizations has always been tense and the disagreements from the Government’s point of view can be summarised as follows:

  • When the Government allows human rights organizations to visit Bahrain and meet officials, it does not see a positive result that comes out of their cooperation.
  • From the Government’s point of view there is no indication of any appreciation for its clear efforts.
  • According to the Government, international human rights reports still depend on one-sided information (the opposition/local human rights organizations); despite the fact that these organizations are exposed to different point of views with regards to human rights issues. Hence, officials, MPs and journalists are always pessimistic about the benefit of such relations because in their eyes the ultimate result of their reports will always be the same.

Some state: we should learn from our past mistakes and prohibit rights organization from visiting Bahrain.

We in BHRM believe that the previous Government policy of boycotting these organizations has badly affected Bahrain’s efforts to find a solution to the crisis. Criticisms of the Government have actually increased due to the fact that it withheld information and hence forced these organisations to rely on limited sources. In addition to this, ignoring these organisations has made the Government look like a criminal trying to hide his crime and this has caused a great deal of embarrassment for the Bahraini Government and its allies, such as the UK.

Furthermore, it is not a good idea to boycott these organizations because currently Bahrain is under the spotlight and experiencing a lot of pressure from the international community. The key to easing international pressure is by cooperating with these organizations and providing them with the truth.

The call to sever relations with HRW for example because of its criticism of the violations in Bahrain is, more or less, a call to sever relations with the USA and the entire EU including the UK, as well as the UN and its agencies such as the Human Rights Council. The concern of all these bodies is similar to those of the HRW especially regarding holding those who were involved in the violations accountable and the detention of political activists. The only difference is that HRW raised these issues in a direct, sarcastic and personalised manner.

But why would international organizations never point out any of what the Government view as positive reform steps? The answer to this question is that these organizations are mainly concerned with violations and the ways to eliminate them. They only ignore Government efforts when they do not respond to their basic concerns or when these organizations have a deep problem of trust with a country. Trust is a vital factor and Bahrain should strive to gain the trust of these organizations. Trust cannot be achieved through the use of negative language and the accusation of having secret agendas, or through the use of promises that cannot be fulfilled on the ground. Some believe that Bahrain has been specifically targeted more than any other country and ask why HRW does not criticise Israel or America? In fact, there are many harsh statements and reports criticising human rights in those countries. Most countries do not like international human rights reports but deal with them differently. And those who undermine these organisations tend to have more pressure exerted on them.

The Bahraini Government has the right to respond to any mistakes included in the reports of international human rights organisations. But what is most important is the way in which this response is presented. It should be backed up with convincing evidence and documents which leaves no room for doubt.

The media also has the right to express its concerns regarding the reports of these organisations but they should explain their issues clearly and not rely on accusations and generalisations. Human Rights reports and statements contain detailed and clear points and anyone who wishes to respond to these points should do so logically and elaborately.

Bahrain has been on this path before and gained nothing out of it and even if human rights reports are negative, calling for a boycott of human rights organisations will only make the situation worse. These organisations will continue to issue their reports and their impact will remain the same, if not worse.

Allowing Human Rights Organisation frequent entries to Bahrain will help them understand the situation better. In time, and with more reforms, objectivity will be reflected more clearly in their reports. However, it should be noted that positive changes can only take place over time and after the achievement of real development on the ground.

It is important to realise that human rights organisations are the most important source of credible information on human rights all over the world. They also have a great impact on the positions of states and parliaments around the world and are able to exert pressure and influence the international public opinion through their contacts. It is therefore wise to cooperate with them and avoid international isolation which could lead to the adoption of International measures that could include more pressure?and defamation.