Conflict or Cooperation: The Relationship with the International Human Rights Community

In recent years there has been considerable debate in many countries, feeling the heat from international human rights organizations, on whether they should disregard these rights watchdogs with their posture on human rights issues and bear the consequences or establish a healthy relationship with this community by cooperating, and therefore, benefiting from it.

There are two conflicting views on this

  • In terms of the country’s reputation internationally, it goes without saying that all nations seek a clean image. As such, non-cooperation with the human rights community and continuing to commit abuses would tarnish any country’s image and undermine its credibility by being labeled as a state that violates the rights of its citizens. The country in question could also end up finding itself subject to political and economic sanctions. This attitude could also take a toll on the citizens themselves who will be adversely impacted by what they see and hear about their country and its leadership. In today’s world, this may very well diminish the people’s loyalty to their country and leadership which would have the effect of wearing down the government’s legitimacy domestically and internationally.
  • However, the ability of nations to withstand notoriety and its ramifications, that could include contempt and restrictions on them and their people, varies widely. In some cases, and as part of the pros and cons assessment, the state may decide on non-cooperation with the human rights community and to ignore it altogether with the view that it can tolerate notoriety and the pressure that ensues. What ends up happening in many cases is that the pressure becomes so excruciating that it forces a change of heart. (Mexico stands out as an example).
  • There are those who believe that cooperation with the international human rights community has a very limited positive effect on the country’s image as these organizations, even with cooperation, will not stop their criticism, and therefore the efforts put into cooperating far outweigh the few gains that could be reaped from removing some of the blemishes from their reputation.
  • We would like to emphasize here that reforming a country’s human rights situation is a noble, humane and a necessary goal in itself and that the state should not expect any praise or reward for thriving to improve it. Also, it should not measure its human rights accomplishments by the degree of the international community’s satisfaction alone, but, most importantly, by looking at its own citizens because ultimately, they along with the political system end up being the major beneficiaries.
  • Needless to say that any improvement in the country’s reputation would reflect positively on its domestic economic, investment, scientific, media and other situations
  • Cooperation with the international human rights community helps boost the internal stability of the country because, on the one hand, it prevents or reduces the amount of foreign interference whether by friendly or unfriendly states. It also diminishes or blocks intervention justifications that are more harmful to the state and its security, whether through UN resolutions or otherwise. It is important to note here that international human rights organizations have the ability to mobilize and stimulate domestic activists as it has done so in several European and Asian countries. The former Soviet Union and what is currently going on in Iran and Syria are prime examples.
  • Cooperation with the international human rights community also serves to improve the state apparatus through experiences gained by engagement and restores their confidence and esteem, therefore making state institutions more effective, professional and credible on their march towards the rule of law, equality and justice. All of this bodes well for the lives of the citizens and their relationship with the system.
  • Cooperation with the international human rights community strengthens local civil society and prevents it from becoming politicized, and helps to avoid the political exploitation of violations both internally and externally.
  • Among the benefits of cooperating with the international human rights community, is that it leads to a strengthening in the state’s relations with its friends and removes the latter’s embarrassment of having to defend its human rights record.

The Role of Official Human Rights Bodies

First: To understand the foundations of international human rights work and the impact of the mechanisms that governs the use of human rights in international relations; and to grasp the consequences of human rights violations and their potential negative repercussions.

Second: To recognize the fact that respect for human rights in any country is in its own interest as it improves the status of their citizens, strengthens their relationship with the government, prevents foreign interference and preserves the reputation of the state and its interests. In a perfect world, it is best to see the state with a spotless human rights record. But naturally this remains an unrealistic and unattainable goal as there is no country around the globe that is abuse-free. The only difference lie? in whether these violations are of an inadvertent nature (a simple error; individual negligence; shortcomings of an institution or the absence of legislation) or they are institutional and methodological adopted by the government itself.

Third: The official bodies must possess the aptitude and ability to perform the required work. It is not enough to just have theoretical awareness but there must also be a tendency to handle matters in a professional manner. For example, it is not professional to simply deny the accounts on abuses or to furnish the press with false information in order to discredit the other side and justify the abuses, and neither to self-vindicate and assert that the state respects human rights. Words and promises are never enough but the critical factor will always be whether there is a change to the situation on the ground.

Fourth: It is unwise to clash with human rights groups or media organizations in any country by accusing them of being enemies or conspirers, or labeling them as paid proxies on behalf of certain quarters or otherwise. In fact, the exact opposite ought to be said, which is to underscore that the state appreciates their activities, role and commitment to human rights and that it shares their interest in human rights and is willing to assist them by furnishing them with facts and information and offering opinion an? other kinds of assistance.


  1. The relationship with the international human rights community boils down to two things: First, it is an inevitable relationship in international diplomatic relations. Second, it is not possible to shirk from the impact of the activities of the international human rights community on any state, but the orientation of its work can, nonetheless, be modified in order to serve the country in question. Because the international human rights community has an impact on every country, it is crucial for Bahrain to have some sort of a relationship with it that would enable it to determine its framework, meaning and direction in a way that would serve its interests. There should not be a breakdown in relations that could lead to further loss in the prestige and reputation of the state and its ?stability.
  2. The internal human rights situation must be improved in each country because the more violations there are, the more tools, means and evidence the opposing party would possess to inflict damage on the country in question. Improving the internal situation is a very noble goal in itself, whether demanded by the international human rights community or not. The state should reform its practices and develop its legislation and performance.
  3. The state or its institutions dealing with human rights should not expect praise, and must not make praise the principal basis for their cooperation with the international human rights community. Also it must not use its human rights performance as a bargaining chip with the outside world, but should carry it out as an obligation of the state towards its citizens, done on the basis of conviction in the rights of its citizens and that it is good for the well-being and stability of their country and to consolidate the citizen’s relationship with the leadership.
  4. The relevant organs of the state must work on improving their performance, with respect to human rights, on both the media and the political levels, and to comprehend the humanitarian, moral and legal dimensions of their activities and practices. In other words, the competent authorities must possess the knowledge and skills in all that relates to the issue of human rights at the international level.