Human Rights between Foreign
Conspiracy & National Responsibility

When monitoring the media, public opinion and the positions of some official quarters, it is noticeable that an increasing number of people attribute criticism of Bahrain’s human rights record to an international conspiracy against the country aiming at distorting its reputation and questioning its credibility. The list of the conspirators includes the UK, USA, some EU countries, the OHCHR, international media, European Parliament and prominent international human rights organizations.

Advocates of this conspiracy theory raise many questions, for example: why is Bahrain criticised by the High Commissioner when there are other countries with even worst human rights records? Why did Obama mention Bahrain alongside Syria and Iraq? Why do western ambassadors meet with the Bahraini opposition? Why all this pressure from some parliaments in the west despite Bahrain’s achievements in the past years? And why are they ignoring what has been achieved since Bassiouni’s recommendations?

It is obvious that all these questions reflect an obsession with the conspiracy theory; an attitude that has a tendency to transform those considered as friends and allies into enemies, and that manifests an inclination towards self-absolution by playing the victim while blaming the others. This leads eventually to a state of an increased self-delusion that obscures the objective of seeking suitable solutions to the existing problems and confines oneself to mere reactions, which could only lead to more criticism and international pressure.

The fact that Bahrain was criticised in Geneva recently does not mean that there is an international conspiracy against it, and that Bahrain’s allies and friends have ceased supporting it in the face of regional threats. What criticising Bahrain really means is the following:

  • Firstly: these countries see both the negative and the positive sides of the human rights situation in Bahrain, yet believe that things are not as they should be. They are convinced that Bahrain is experiencing these problems because it has failed to address them correctly, or did not exert enough efforts to deal with them. Therefore the criticism coming from these countries represents an attempt on their part to draw attention to their concerns, and embodies some sort of an encouragement for Bahrain to move forward towards more human rights reforms.
  • Secondly: Bahrain’s allies, particularly Britain and America as democratic countries with reputation and credibility to uphold, are subject to an intense internal and International pressure to push for more democracy and human rights respect in all countries, allied or otherwise. There are many indications that the official political institutions in both countries are currently faced with a great deal of pressure regarding what has been perceived as their lenient approach towards Bahrain, to the extent that officials in both countries face a barrage of harsh questions in their respective parliaments in that regard.

At present there is a continuous campaign against both London and Washington in Bahrain’s local media, some of it, we believe, is a result of a misunderstanding and a lack of appreciation of the pressure emanating from the international human rights pressure groups. Human Rights organizations does not only criticise the human rights records of many developing countries, but also criticise –by the same token– leading developed countries, including America, which faces domestic and international accusation of not being honest in it claims that it supports democracy and human rights in friendly countries.

As we present here some examples, it is important to stress that our objective is not to confirm or deny the existence of a conspiracy against Bahrain, but rather to emphasise the importance of improving our understanding of how human rights issues are administered on the international level and how we could improve our domestic performance and reform our internal affairs in a way that would benefit Bahrain and its people and keep criticism at bay. This means shouldering the responsibility with efficiency, undertaking more corrective and reformative procedures in a self criticizing manner that precedes any criticism coming from abroad and generally engaging in more self criticism whilst anticipating the criticisms of others.

Following are some illustrations of the kind of pressure faced by both the US and Britain regarding their positions on Bahrain:

  • Joe Stork the Deputy Director for Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch wrote a very harsh article on 20 September 2013, attacking the US Department of State, ironically at the same time harsh criticism of the US appeared in the Bahraini media but for quite the opposite reasons. He opened his article by criticising the US Department of State for the assistance it provided , in his view, to the Bahraini regime in its efforts to oppress the opposition. He concluded his article by saying that ‘Washington should publically condemn the escalation of oppression in Bahrain.’
  • Another example of the pressure wielded by human rights organizations is Amnesty International’s criticism on 17 June 2013 of the 2012 British report on human rights. It called upon the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Parliament to ‘ask the UK Government regarding its procedures of cooperation with the EU to adopt a decision in the Human Rights Council in the UN regarding Bahrain.’ It added that Britain had turned a blind eye to human rights abuses in some countries, and demanded a more critical approach with regards to the human rights situation in Bahrain through the work of the Human Rights Council. It also stated that the British Government had until then failed to adopt that approach..
  • At the same time, London-based Redress criticised the British position on Bahrain because it did not classify it in its report as a ‘cause for concern’ country, instead categorizing it as a ‘case under study. Redress demanded that the House of Common’s Committee of Foreign Affairs should ask the British Foreign Ministry for a detailed and comprehensive clarification regarding what can be done to convince Bahrain to stop the practice of torture. This was based on the assumption that the ‘UK is an old friend of the Bahraini people.’ Similar to Redress other organisations, such as the Campaign against Arms Trade, followed suit which highlights the level of the increasing pressure within the UK’s political system.
  • When British foreign policies were discussed, and the issue of Bahrain was raised, Baroness Warsi- the representative of the Foreign Ministry in the House of Lords- was asked by Richard Ottway , the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee , whether she was worried about the human rights situation in Bahrain. She answered diplomatically by saying ‘I am concerned about human rights in Bahrain just as all Bahrainis are. I had a very frank conversation with the Foreign Minister when he was here a couple of months ago. We regard Bahrain as an important partner and friend and this friendship as I told the Minister, goes hand in hand with a high level of honesty and frankness between us on these issues. They are certainly dedicated to the issue and are making some progress, but things are not progressing at a rate which satisfies either of us. But we do feel that they are moving in the right direction.’ Regarding the categorization of Bahrain, she added that the Foreign Ministry documents incoming information from NGOs, British ambassadors and from the OHCHR. The situation in individual countries, she said, is assessed in comparison with others. Thus the Foreign Ministry saw that there was a need to keep Bahrain as a case under study.
  • There is another source of pressure on the EU countries, which is the European Parliament. The latter not only issues statements and reports, but some times also criticises the policies of some EU countries regarding their positions on Bahrain. For example, on 12/9/2013, the European Parliament issued a statement, in which it expressed its regret regarding the weak reactions of the EU towards the situation in Bahrain, and called for more condemnations, and even sanctions.
  • British MPs also represent a source of pressure on the British Government. On 2/9/2013, MP Conor Burns, considered a friend Bahrain as he is the President of the Bahraini British Friendship Committee in the Parliament, asked the Minister of Foreign Affairs Alistair Burt about his assessment of the implementation of Bassiouni’s recommendations, and the technical projects which can help Bahrain in this regard. He also asked Burt about his assessment of human rights reforms in Bahrain, the establishment of NIHR and the efforts regarding national reconciliation and political participation.
  • On 4/9/2013 MP Katy Clark continued asking questions regarding specific individual cases, and the extent to which detainees were being offered necessary treatment and medical care. In general, the total number of written questions presented by MPs and members of the House of Lords to the British Foreign Ministry since the beginning of the year until September 2013 reached 73 questions. This is besides the oral questions and hearings and discussion meetings on human rights in Bahrain which provide an indication of the sheer amount of pressure faced by the British Government.
  • On 24/9/2013 the American organisation Human Rights First issued a statement directed to the Congress and contained ten questions for Tom Malinowsky, former President of Human Rights Watch in Washington and the nominee for the position of Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour. The questions included one on Bahrain that went as follows: what does America have to lose in Bahrain, and do you agree that the current situation is heading towards failure? What strategies do you suggest should be adopted by the US for developing human rights and the rule of law in the country, considering our other interests there?
  • In most press conferences in the US, journalists ask criticising and embarrassing questions, casting doubts on US Government policies towards Bahrain. This is in addition to many articles in the daily US and British press and papers published by various research centres in the West. All of these heap, in one way or another, tremendous pressure on decision makers in both London and Washington. Among the most recent articles on Bahrain is one published in the magazine ‘Left Foot Forward’ by Daniel Wickham, in which he criticised the position of the UK and said that it had the opportunity to condemn Bahrain in 2012, alongside 28 other countries at the HRC in Geneva, but chose, with Washington, to remain silent.


1) Democratic countries in the West are no longer the sole decision-makers regarding new events abroad, for there are human rights organisations, parliaments, media, public opinion formed on social networking sites that all participate in directing the foreign policies of these countries.

2) Human Rights have become an integral part of international relations, even among allied and friendly countries. The interests of countries are no longer confined to material gains ; but rather extends to issues that relate to the credibility of these countries. The reputations of a country and its international status have become more important than ever, hence any damage done to these represents a big loss in terms of the interests of these countries.

3) Officials in charge of human rights in Bahrain should be aware and keeping up to date with the sources of influence in other countries, such as parliaments, international human rights organisations, research and study centres or media outlets and the press. Being well-informed will enable these officials to acknowledge the extent of international concern or focus on human rights situation in any particular country. It is obvious that officials in Bahrain lack the appropriate tools to monitor and analyse what the world is saying about their country as well as the ability to initiate speedy responses and positive interactions with international pressure.