Human Rights and Sectarian Language

Human rights defenders usually emphasize the sectarian and ethnic affiliations when talking about specific groups and political parties in their reports. The use of certain sectarian terms such as ‘Shia’, ‘Copts’, ‘Barbars’ or ‘Zaidis’ is used in order to reaffirm the sectarian and ethnic identity of these groups. These expressions may seem necessary in order to understand the political and social reality, especially to Westerns.

There is a noticeable increase in the use of sectarian expressions in the human rights discourse, which does not help but rather complicates matters even further. The use of sectarian language has proven to be beneficial only in cases involving discrimination against groups on the basis of their sectarian, religious, regional and tribal backgrounds.

For example, referring to the sectarian background of detainees will mislead people into believing that sectarian motives were behind the arrests. The use of sectarian identification is acceptable if a person is arrested and tortured based on his sectarian or religious affiliation. However, if a person is arrested on political and security grounds, mentioning his sectarian background will be irrelevant.

Emphasizing the sectarian identity of Shia detainees, for example, will give the impression that the background of the arrest was sectarian in nature, and that the authority is targeting the Shia in the country. This is not necessarily what international human rights organizations intend to reflect in their reporting. Therefore, it is not favourable to emphasize the sectarian identities of any group or person.

The sectarian intrusion in human rights reports is damaging and can become a tool for incitement. Human rights defenders look for means to reduce street tensions, and place the national identity above sectarian and ethnic identities in order to avoid civil unrest. Mentioning sectarian affiliations may increase social divisions and alienate groups inside Bahrain from both sects who strongly believe in mutual coexistence.