19th Apr, 2013 –

Over the past week Amnesty and HRW have released multiple statements on Bahrain – apparently because they know that they can capitalize on heightened media attention during the Grand Prix.

Let us say from the outset that Citizens for Bahrain has the highest respect for the great work these organizations do in classifying outrageous violations around the world. However, below we set out our argument for why these organizations have got it completely wrong over Bahrain:

1)      Ignoring issues once they have been fully addressed

HRW and Amnesty rightly lobbied hard about detained medics; workers fired from jobs; military trials and other issues – but went completely silent on these matters when they were addressed in full by the Bahrain authorities – refusing to give and credit to Bahrain for resolving these difficult issues.

This is both dishonest and counterproductive, because when you fail to acknowledge positive moves then you eliminate one of the major incentives for further positive measures. We agree with HRW and Amnesty that reforms must go further, but can sympathize with those who ask: Why bother when these efforts are just met with further condemnation?

2) Treating the Bahraini Government as the enemy

We can sympathize with idealists in these human rights groups who would like Bahrain to have a human rights record like that of Sweden – but the Arabian Gulf is not Scandinavia.

A Government which recognizes that its human rights record falls short and is working hard to improve it deserves credit and support – not automatic condemnation. Bahrain is more democratic than many of its neighbours and has the desire and capacity to continue down the path of reform as a Constitutional Monarchy. Bahrain should be understood on its own merits and not treated in the same category as Syria where more people are murdered every day than in the entire Bahraini unrest.

Bahrain is a liberal and tolerant oasis in the Arabian Gulf region. We wish we could enjoy some international solidarity in preserving and strengthening this.

3)      Refusing to recognize the opposition’s anti-democratic tendencies

The protest movement for a brief moment in 2011 was diverse, representative and moderate – it is now sectarian, militant and intolerant. The leaders of this movement are not democrats by nature. Their attitudes to women, religion and society suggest the highly illiberal direction they would take Bahrain in, if they got into power: Bad for human rights on all counts.

4)      Refusal to recognize what is in Bahrain’s national interest

It is manifestly in Bahrain’s national interest to continue hosting an event that brings in hundreds of millions of dollars to the economy, employs thousands and reinvigorates tourism and other sectors. This is good for protesting communities who need jobs and services. Damage to Bahrain’s economy damages the rights and opportunities of the most vulnerable.

5)      Refusal to acknowledge the basic human rights of ordinary Bahrainis

Bahrainis have a basic right to safety and security. We have a right not to be terrorized by those using violence for political ends. Our children have a right to be threatened. Our businesses have a right to flourish without being closed due to continual rioting and political agitation. Where is Amnesty on these basic rights? Why are we made to feel that if we don’t agitate for our rights by throwing Molotovs at police then our rights go ignored?

When the Government arrests someone who has fatally wounded a policeman or has threatened to engage in terrorist activity during a major sporting event – this should not be seen as a human rights abuse. As Grand Prix spectators, we are relieved that security measures are being taken seriously.

6)      Refusal to acknowledge human rights abuses by militants

·         Children are routinely paid to build roadblocks and attack police

·         600 attacks on schools have been logged

·         Leaflets signed off by the “14 Feb Movement” threaten civilians of dire consequences if they take children to school or work on strike days. Businesses that have violated these strikes have been firebombed.

·         Large numbers of people within these protesting communities oppose the increasing radicalization and extremist tactics but are terrorized into not speaking out


7)      Uncritically reporting opposition propaganda

The opposition shamelessly lies about events in Bahrain. Propagandists based in the West tell naive audiences about “apartheid”; “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide”. These figures do not deserve to be treated as trusted sources. The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights is a political – not a human rights organization. Prominent BCHR activists can trace their roots back to the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain which staged Iran-sponsored coup attempts in previous decades. Yet it is continually cited as a reputable source by NGOs which should know better.

The opposition has a well-funded propaganda machine which gets far more attention than it deserves.

8)      Making the situation appear far worse than it is

The picture of Bahrain portrayed by these NGOs is fundamentally unrecognizable to anyone living here. Most of Bahrain is stable, safe and peaceful. It is only those of us unlucky enough to live in a protest centre, or whose businesses are closed due to constant rallies and rioting, who can’t go about our lives as normal. We resent the way Bahrain is being presented as a war zone by people who have never been here.

9)      Rehashing very old information

Amnesty’s latest report on the eve of the 2013 Grand Prix seemed designed largely to remind people that there had been deaths and abuses in February 2011, while stating baldly that things had not got any better; creating the impression that criticisms of abuses from that date still apply today.

By any impartial standards Bahrain is a completely different country from the disordered state of early 2011, and Government responses to (increasingly violent) rioting is greatly more professional – which is why recent casualty rates have been substantially lower.

10)  Refusal to recognize real reform

Both organizations talk very bluntly about “no progress on reform”. We wish again to cite the following important measures;

·        Root and branch overhaul of the justice and security sectors

·        Constitutional amendments for empowering elected MPs

·        Returning 96% of those fired during the unrest to their jobs

·        Dropping all charges against the medics

·        Embarking on a process of National Dialogue

·        Millions in compensation paid to victims of violence

·        Cancelling the National Safety status and referring all trials to civilian justice

·        Appointing the Crown Prince as deputy PM to oversee executive reform

The British Ambassador recently had this to say in response to Human Rights Watch: “We would disagree with their conclusion that there has been no progress on reform…” He concluded that HRW’s comments about the political dialogue were: “Deeply unhelpful, condescending and patronizing” – Damaging stuff for these NGOs’ credibility.


To illustrate the core point we are trying to make, let’s compare the Amnesty/HRW statements with a statement which has just been released by Redress on torture in Bahrain.


This Redress report repeatedly acknowledges steps that have been taken to address issues related to torture in Bahrain, while clearly, realistically and constructively stating what more needs to be done.

Specific actions by the Government of Bahrain are welcomed, e.g.: “…. organizations welcome the decision of the Government of Bahrain to invite the UN Special Rapporteur on torture”.

Redress also makes clear that this is about addressing the “legacy” of torture, rather than trying to give the false impression that nothing has changed.

The emphasis throughout Redress’s statement is on encouragement and partnership, rather than treating the Bahraini government as if it is the embodiment of everything evil. This is far more conducive to stimulating a constructive atmosphere where reforms can be achieved through consensus, than the combative and oppositional stance taken by these two larger NGOs.a

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