The Difference between the Criminal
and Human Rights Issue

The importance of the link between the criminal issue and the human rights issue stems from the fact that one can be used as a cover for the other. Authoritarian governments, for example, can use the criminal cover to transform a politically motivated case into a criminal one, and on the other hand, politicized human rights organizations can also do the same when attempting to give a purely criminal case a human rights dimension.

One particular case which exposed this dilemma is that of Kazim Jaffar Ibrahim, who had been severely beaten and accused the security forces of being behind the attack. This incident raised tensions in the streets of Bahrain despite the fact that it was later revealed that the victim had lied, and that the attack had nothing to do with the security services. It also revealed some important facts, which should be carefully considered by those working in the human rights field, political societies, clergymen and other civil society organizations among others. One of the most important of these facts is how easy it is to link criminal cases committed by individuals with purely human rights issues. The case in question, which took place in May 2009, revealed that the victim, who is a political activist, had committed an honour related crime and obviously did not want to admit it. Therefore, in an attempt to protect himself, he used the political cover and accused the security services of violating human rights. The security forces can easily be accused and any accusations filed against them are usually quickly believed due to many different reasons, but neither this is the time or the place to discuss them. By doing this, the accused would both acquit himself of the criminal act and gain social prestige as the assault against him was given a political and human rights dimension.

This is not the first or the last time a political or rights activist attempts to transform criminal offences they have committed into political or human rights issues, for this is an ideal way to cover up any acts which are not acceptable legally, religiously or traditionally. Of course, some human rights organizations can make unintentional mistakes, either due to premature judgments (as with the case of Jaffar Ibrahim or two previous similar cases) or due to the assumption that the security forces always tend to make mistakes, are enemies of the reform process and are the usual perpetrators of human rights violations. This assumption surely lacks precision and wisdom as it assumes that anything said against the security services is necessarily correct.

The danger of reactions to such cases is that some of them do not fall within the frame of unintentional error, for there was a deliberate politicization of the subject even after the truth was revealed. It is unfortunate that one of the local human rights organizations described Ibrahim as a ‘human rights defender’ and encouraged some international human rights organizations to issue hasty statements which undermined their own credibility.

There are many issues which concern human rights defenders in Bahrain and the case of Ibrahim is certainly not one of them. There are obvious human rights issues which need to be addressed, monitored and followed- up on the ground and we all do not need to fabricate cases that damage our credibility.

Hasan Moosa Shafaei
President - Bahrain Human Rights Monitor