Rights Council- Geneva
Moving Bahraini Human Rights Dossier Abroad, Why?
Indeed! Why do we see Geneva and some European capitals becoming
the main battleground for human rights’ battles between the Bahraini
opposition and the government?
Is it mainly because the human rights centre of gravity is currently
located in Geneva, seat of the highest international human rights
authority in the world i.e. the UN Office of the High Commissioner
for Human Rights? Or is it also due to the presence of the UN Human
Rights Council, with all its powers, tools and capabilities and
international influence; in addition to the presence of the headquarters
of a large, unlimited and ever expanding number of the most important
international human rights organiz?tions; and the existence in Geneva
of a persistent and continuous human rights activity by countries
and human rights organizations throughout the year?
Is this sufficient a reason to move domestic human rights battles,
between states and their opposition groups to Geneva? and perhaps
to Brussels, London and Paris?
It is also a basic principle that the local civil society in
each country should enjoy protection and respect, and that there
should be a legal reference capable of protecting the space necessary
for the growth of the civil society. Such legislative reference
is also necessary for the proper guidance of the civil society and
for its participation in sharing, with the government, the responsibility
for developing the human rights situation.
However, in the absence of this free domain and where there is
a diminishing space for an active civil society, combined with a
poor, non-constructive, or even non-interactive relationship with
the authorities, it is obvious that the battle will move abroad.
This may also occur even if there is space for movement within
the state. There may exist a reasonable degree of regulatory laws
that protect the freedom of human rights activity, but this may
not be enough in the absence of a trust-based and constructive interaction,
between the political authorities and the civil society.
What matters in the end, is the interactive work that could lead
to real change in the human rights situation. The objectives are
not served when the authorities and civil society act separately
in parallel tracks that never meet, except maybe once a year. Because
in the end, this will not bring real change, and could ultimately
create a large gap, characterised by mistrust and lack of cooperation,
between the authorities and the civil society.
In Bahrain, the official human rights agenda needs to interact
and even intertwine with the civil society’s agenda, so that everyone
is involved in working towards reaching specific goals, and that
both sides can always cooperate through consultations; and even
through direct support and joint projects to accomplish a proper
and sustainable human rights development.
Human rights accomplishments cannot be achieved, in the desired
manner, through the authorities alone. Nor can they be reached via
the civil society alone, when it is detached from the state and
its institutions, activities and support. There should be some understanding,
interaction, cooperation, as well as a unified vision and agreement
on practices to realize the goals.
This has not happened in Bahrain.
What happened exactly is that the government had allowed the
civil society to be established, but the government’s tools were
not mature or capable enough to interact and cooperate with the
civil society after sanctioning its activity.
The most senior officials in Bahrain were hoping and wishing
for Bahrain’s new-born civil society to reach maturity. We’ve heard
many statements, including those made by His Majesty the King, wishing
that the civil society will undertake some of the burdens and responsibilities
of the state, whether in the field of human rights or other areas.
It was the belief of almost all state officials, at the beginning
of the establishment of hundreds of civil societies, that it is
a necessity for them to be independent. The government even provided
some funding for those fledgling organizations.
But despite all these hopes, the shocking truth was that the
civil society was in its infancy, and that the sincere intentions
of the government, alone, were not sufficient to create the proper
collaborative relationship with the civil society. Even the officials
of the ministry concerned with civil society needed to understand
the mechanisms of action and communication with the societies. They
themselves, same as the new civil society leaders, were devoid of
Since the start of the civil society in Bahrain, the official
and civil sides were working in two separate spaces, even though
they shared the same subject: human rights. Naturally, this state
of affairs entailed a build-up of mutual doubts between the two
sides, and a diminishing degree of trust. In the absence of meetings
and cooperation, the mistrust sometimes escalated to conflicts and
For this reason, the movement of Bahraini human rights dossier
abroad was a highly expected eventuality. This did not happen just
in one push. It is true that it is normal for a relationship between
the local Bahraini civil society and international human rights
organizations abroad to exist; but it was clear that such reliance
on the outside began to grow even before the events of 2011. Today,
we reached a point where any meeting of the UN Human Rights Council
in Geneva (held three times a year) is marred?by battles and clashes.
It has even become known to the UN security personnel that when
any confrontation or clash occurs in Geneva, Bahrainis will always
Surprisingly, that Bahraini human rights activists travel to
Geneva to attend meetings and carry out opposition activities there
and then return to their country. The government does not prevent
them from travelling, nor does it hold them accountable for the
activities they undertake. The government’s behaviour is attributed
to its commitment to an international law requirement preventing
any government from harassing or holding accountable human rights
activists, because of their human rights activities, ?articularly
those activists who interact with the relevant United Nations mechanisms.
There are some who believe that the problem does not revolve
around the ability of activists to express their opinion and practice
their activity at home. According to holders of this opinion that
is not necessarily the root cause of the problem. It is, according
to them, the fact that human rights dossiers-or at least some of
them- have become so intractable to be resolved domestically, and
their referral of the dispute about them abroad is an indicator
that issues cannot be resolved by mutual agreement; ?earing in mind
that the human rights dossier cannot be resolved by the government
single-handedly nor by the activists on their own.
Another view, which may have some truth in it, is that Bahraini
activists have planned to get external support from like- minded
human rights organizations, which are able to understand their views
and positions. Those activists see the ‘outside’ as a tool of empowerment
over their own government inside. This is annoying for the authorities,
and lead them to be skeptical of international human rights organizations
and to doubt their neutrality and impartiality, particularly as
the Bahraini authorities are ?ot good at using the human rights
language, nor are they able to use the appropriate human rights
tools. To them the world of human rights activism is totally new,
while, in contrast, Bahraini activists feel quite at home in this
world that they know well, due to their old relationships with international
human rights organisations, and their ability to use the Human rights
language, and to exploit the subject of human rights for the benefit
of their own political issues.
Moreover, the civil society, being the weaker party, feels the
need to bring in external human rights support and to generate pressure
on the government to force it to change its positions, irrespective
of whether that leads to defamation of the government or exaggeration
of its mistakes. In addition to that, human rights activists also
believe that strengthening relations with their counterparts in
international human rights organizations provides them with a protective
Therefore, governments cannot blame their opposition groups or
activists for seeking support from the outside, unless the tools
of change are available at home; and the prospects of a successful
cooperation between the civil society and the authorities exist,
and that the civil society has been engaged in official activities,
and given its due rights of support, independence and protection.
However, involving activists for public relations purposes, while
maintaining a skeptical view of them and the civil ?ociety in general,
can only result in the eventual transfer of the issue abroad.
So, have the governments done their share by providing the proper
Some might say yes, adding that those activists deliberately
seek to harm the government, and do not accept the status quo because
they are politicized and are not interested in confidence-building
and cooperation between the two sides.
This is a debatable matter, but the government in Bahrain has
a responsibility to fulfil two main requirements, without which
the problems will leave their domestic enclosure:
To secure the safe and adequate space conducive to the emergence
of a civil society capable of expansion, growth and contribution,
where activists are not subject to arrests, neglect, harassment
The government needs to be serious and creative in exploring
the ways and means of involving the civil society and contributing
to its maturation through participation; viewing it as a helper
rather than a trouble-maker. It is the government’s duty to contain
the civil society’s immaturity through breadth of mind and tolerance;
and to adopt a policy that is inclusive and to demonstrate forbearance
when dealing with mistakes, for the sake of guiding the domestic
human rights and political experience towards success.