Citizens for Bahrain has in the past warned about the dangers of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights “Wanted” campaign for inciting vigilante violence. The BCHR issued images and personal details of private individuals; made unfounded allegations against them; and then left it to the radicalized thugs on the streets to decide how to take action.
Since that campaign we saw a drastic escalation of attacks against police officers, which saw dozens seriously injured and around nine new police fatalities.
Consequently, it was shocking to see the director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, circulating BCHR “Wanted” images from his personal Twitter account. We would fully support the basic principles that groups like Human Rights Watch claims to uphold. Such as the prohibition of incitement to violence against individuals; the presumption of innocence until proven guilty; and preventing the spread of hatred and sectarian tensions. The BCHR’s “Wanted” campaign is transparently guilty of all these transgressions.
Kenneth Roth circulated a “Wanted” poster for the King of Bahrain. This seems to break another taboo for human rights groups by straying directly into politics.
By circulating a “Wanted” poster for the King of Bahrain, do Kenneth Roth and Human Rights Watch now advocate regime change? Do they claim to know best who should govern Bahrain and how it should be governed? Why don’t they just come straight out with it and call for revolution and declare their support for the militant groups who are trying to use force to bring about an Islamic Republic?
It is one thing for Human Rights Watch to make constructive criticism about the human rights situation in Bahrain and elsewhere round the world, we respect their right to do that, although Citizens for Bahrain has on occasion challenged criticism considered to be unfair, incorrect or lacking context.
However, when the head of Human Rights Watch leaves the field of human rights behind and appears to pass judgment on the system of government of another state or the head of that state; then this is well outside its area of competence, trespassing on the right of nations to adopt their own system of government without foreign interference.
It makes the situation far worse when the allegations made in the circulated “Wanted” poster are so blatantly incorrect. They claim that in 2002 the King “unilaterally altered the constitution of Bahrain to give himself absolute power”. This statement couldn’t be more wrong: The 2002 Constitution was approved by 98.4 % of Bahrainis in a popular referendum, set in place the fundamentals of a democratization process in Bahrain, including the new elected Parliament and converted Bahrain into a Constitutional Monarchy. That is not opinion; that is fact and shows how flagrantly dishonest and politicized claims made by the BCHR are.
Needless to say, the BCHR says nothing about King Hamad’s efforts to resolve the crisis, to ensure justice for all those affected by the unrest and to secure National Dialogue with all the components of Bahraini society.
Human Rights Watch discredits itself by circulating such material from an organization, which through its chairman, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, has its roots in the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain – a movement that unashamedly advocated violence to force regime change.
Regrettably, because Al-Khawaja spent years forging unhealthily close relations with human rights groups around the world, on too many occasions, outrageous claims made by the BCHR have been listened to and repeated uncritically by NGOs that should know better.