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
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.