“Towards Intensifying the Change Movement in Bahrain while Reducing the Risk to Lives and Safety of Humans”

By the imprisoned human rights defender: Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja

20 Feb 2013

Responses to the questions and objections related to the draft initiative: “Towards Intensifying the Change Movement in Bahrain while Reducing the Risk to Lives and Safety of Humans” While in prison – and despite the difficulty of communication – I received a number of questions, objections and comments. I will attempt to respond and make some clarifications, in order to impel further discussion of this initiative which I hope will be adopted by human rights activists in Bahrain, and supported by the parties concerned with the initiative, in order to achieve the main aim and which is escalating the pursuit of legitimate popular demands, while reducing the risk to lives and safety of individuals.

Read the first draft of the initiative: “Towards Intensifying the Change Movement in Bahrain while Reducing the Risk to Lives and Safety of Humans”

Summary of some of the queries and objections:

- The draft, and especially in the introduction, was written in pure human rights terminology, and some of the points were brief and lacked clarification of why they were raised or their relation to the subject of the initiative.

- In two conflicting queries: the first question: Is the wording of this draft not considered as if labelling the revolution and popular movement as violent. On the other hand, the other question: why does the draft not explicitly condemn violence?

- How can this regime be confronted, only by protests and peaceful activities? Especially in the light of the regime’s policy of entirely restricting freedoms, and suppressing peaceful activities and targeting its organizers.

- Does this initiative not give priority to those who push towards accepting the regime…at the expense of those who call for the overthrow and change of the regime, which is the demand raised by a large portion of the masses of this revolution, especially after all the crimes and violations committed by the regime?

- What are the mechanisms of implementing this initiative if it receives acceptance and support? What is the action plan and timeline to implement it? On the other hand…what if the Authority does not respond to this initiative, what is the point of it?

Answers and comments:

1. The legitimacy of the revolution and the rebellion against tyranny, injustice, and existing laws and regulations: the draft initiative included a text from the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, that one is eventually forced to rebel against tyranny and injustice, if human rights are not protected by law. This text does not only give reasons for rebellion but goes as far as giving it legitimacy. In the same context…Article 21 of the “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” states that an individual when practicing his or her rights and liberties is only subjected to restrictions recognized by law in a democratic society. This means that the laws in the non-democratic countries, related to rights and liberties, are not legitimate. Hence, the international conventions for human rights legitimize the rebellion against tyranny and injustice, and the laws that conflict human rights which have not been issued in a democratic manner.

2. The importance of rights related to the three fundamental liberties: expression, assembly and organization: the draft focused on the major importance of these rights, it did not only raise these demands as legitimate demands that must be achieved and that in no way can be waived, but it embraced them as vital and essential means to continue the revolution and make it succeed in achieving its goals. Therefore, the draft included that those taking part in the popular protest movement… “will not give up, under any circumstance, practicing their rights in expression, assembling, demonstration and association and peaceful gathering, not only because they are convinced that they are their fundamental rights, but considering that they are the only available method to resist the tyranny and suppression of the Authority” Consequently, these rights may not be compromised in any political dialogue or negotiations, even if it was in return for obtaining other rights such as releasing detainees.

3. Fundamental rights: although the proposed initiative does not target providing a political initiative, it reviews a summary of the political in order to contribute in forming a common vision for those partaking in the revolution. Reviewing the political rights exposes the existing regime and shows its flaws and its lack of true democracy, which also contributes in the legitimacy of the rebellion against it. The draft summed up the political rights: 1. the right of people to decide in utter freedom the form of their political entity, and 2. the right of each individual to participate in managing public affairs of his or her country and 3. the equal rights of individuals with others in holding public posts and 4. no authority of any government without the people’s will, that will that is expressed through fair and periodic elections, based on equality among everyone. These rights determine the basic specifications of a democratic and legitimate political regime.

4. The right to life: The international laws do not permit depriving any individual from the right to live …the right to rebellion and disobedience is controlled by the rights of others, especially the right to life and safety. Committing to these rights is primarily mandatory for governments – as they are the ones that possess the means of oppression and punishment, this does not exempt the revolutionaries from their duty to spare bloodshed whenever possible. The popular movement in Bahrain has more or less been characterized as peaceful and self-controlled, while the Authority has used violence and brutal suppression. However, continuing the political and security tension in its existing form could lead in any moment to the outbreak of mutual violence that could claim the lives of many, as is happening in other countries in the regions.

The Authority is responsible for this, yet the popular movement is not exempted from making every effort to avoid it, without compromising the continuity of the popular movement and its effectiveness in achieving the legitimate goals. If the Authority does not mind sacrificing the lives and safety of people in an attempt to serve their self interest and their stay in power, the revolutionaries however are keen on and dedicated to protecting the lives of others, even if it were their enemies. Moreover, the principles of civil resistance are based on the willingness of the revolutionary to sacrifice his or her life in order to preserve the lives and rights of others.

5. Who is responsible for the violence, polarization and extremism: in addition to what was stated in the Universal Declaration that the general cause for rebellion is tyranny, injustice and unjust laws, the draft initiative cited the “Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI)”, the BICI said that the Authority’s failure to respond to the peoples demand for reform in the first stages of the demonstrations and protests is the reason behind raising the ceiling of demands to: “overthrow of the regime". Hence, the Authority takes full responsibility for the outcome of the situation. The draft then introduces the regime’s failure to seriously and effectively implement the BICI recommendations, as well as the demands of the human rights organizations and international community. Accordingly, impunity continued; the judicial system or security apparatuses were not reformed, nor were the public liberties granted, the detainees were not released either, and its continued practices continued to cause more killings, more detentions, and more unjust trials, and thus the regime bears the primary and major responsibility for all that happened and all that can happen from dangerous developments in the security situation, which makes it lose more of its legitimacy. The regime’s persistence in its policy could lead to stimulating counter-violence and the popular movement turning into violent clashes that could cause large numbers of deaths, and other damages.

6. The necessity of presenting such an initiative comes after analysing the current and expected political and security situation in the near future. The draft initiative indicates that the current situation in Bahrain reveals a political paralysis, and the lack of a ground for real immediate solutions for the crisis, which warns of an aggravating security situation and that threatens of a more critical situation. Consequently, continuing the current situation may linger, that’s why efforts must be made to avoid the worst.

7. The relation between public liberties and violence: the general direction of the popular movement in Bahrain is peaceful protest and non-violent civil resistance. It has been proven from the experience of other nations that providing the minimum liberties of expression and assembly is a prerequisite for the popular movement to maintain its peaceful approach. In addition to that, is the need for at least the minimum of independence of the judiciary, and the international sympathy and attention of the media. This is clearly reflected in the experiences of Mahatma Gandhi against the government of the British Crown, as well as the Civil Rights Movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. against the American Authorities and the racist laws and regulations. What happened dozens of times in both experiences, is that each time there was an increase in restricting and suppressing the three liberties it caused the outbreak of violence. As for the South African experience, Nelson Mandela – winner of world appreciation and peace awards – when he failed as a lawyer and political activist in putting an end to racial injustice and oppression through political work and peaceful protest, he himself established a military wing for his political organization which turned into covert action and armed struggle.

8. Mechanisms and stages of implementing the initiative and its timeline:

a. The draft initiative supposes that granting public liberties and withdrawing the Special Security Forces, and ending arbitrary arrests and unjust trials will automatically lead to guaranteeing the continuity of the popular movement’s peaceful approach, and reducing the likelihood of the outbreak of violence in future. The draft also points out that the Special Security Forces are the ones that suppress peaceful gatherings, they are the ones that cause the largest number of deaths and injuries among protestors. Withdrawing these Forces and replacing them with regular police, will not only be an indication of launching liberties, but it will be an elimination of a main source of violence and provoking of counter-violence which can escalate seriously.

b. Lifting the restrictions from liberties, and withdrawing the Special Forces is the direct responsibility of the Authority, if not implemented the Authority holds full responsibility not only for the violence and killing carried out by those Forces, but also for any escalation in counter violence in the coming period.

c. Although the Authority bears the responsibility of urgently implementing the BICI recommendations and the pledges it made to the international community – which will directly influence reducing the possibility of an outbreak of violence, the real implementation will not be through the same institutions that carried out the violations, but through transitional justice and the mechanisms agreed on by the different parties with a nongovernmental body monitoring the process.

9. What if the Authority does not respond to this initiative, what is the point of it?

a. In the current circumstances, the Authority might not have the inclination to respond to such an initiative. However, the change of the current political and security circumstances or shifting the equations of power, or the worsening of the security situation could lend itself to such an initiative. Therefore, it is important to discuss and finalize it so that is ready whenever needed.

b. Just widely deliberating and discussing this initiative contributes in promoting the culture of peaceful resistance which is based on the principles of human rights.

c. If local activists adopt the idea of the initiative by sending it to the international bodies concerned and publicly distributing it, this will give it moral value that compels the Authority and holds it responsible for any worsening in the situation, and draws attention to the protest movement in its peaceful and civilized nature.

10. Dealing with the suppressive security apparatuses:

a. One of the main strategies of peaceful civil struggle is to neutralize the security forces or turn them into a burden on the regime if they commit idiocies, violations and killing. This is what happened to the Shah of Iran’s regime with his colossal army and his intelligence system “the SAVAC”, and this also happened to the forces of Great Britain in the face of the deprived Indians, as well as Zine El Abidine’s regime in Tunisia when the security apparatuses violation triggered the revolution which got him banished from the country, and what happened to the regime of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt which relied on the intimidating state security forces which faded suddenly before the cries of the masses.

b. Peaceful work, and the readiness of revolutionaries to sacrifice themselves in front of the security forces is an effective method in widening the scope of the revolution and popular movement, and having more groups and numbers enter the process of change and gaining international and regional sympathy, all critical factors in the success of the civil struggle movement. This is what the revolution in Bahrain took notice of since the beginning, and what it should maintain adamantly even during difficult circumstances.

11. Does this initiative push towards overthrowing or reforming the regime? The purpose of this initiative is not to state the position towards the form of the future political regime. The legitimacy and credibility of any political regime does not depend on its form, whether it was a constitutional monarchy or a republican, presidential or parliamentary, but to what extent it respects human rights, dignity and liberties.


The outbreak of protests and popular revolutions is a sign that people have passed the state of fear and moved into a state of anger; the challenge is then to organize the state of anger and employ it to achieve the just demands with the least possible amount of sacrifice and bloodshed. The popular movement in Bahrain has in a stunning manner succeeded in adopting the approach of peaceful struggle and civil disobedience. So that the regime does not continue its arbitrary policy towards increased violence, the people, activists and organizations, carry a heavy burden in avoiding that, and the political and human rights international bodies also bear a major responsibility in the immediate action to stop the recklessness of the regime in Bahrain, and to work on providing the circumstance that assists the popular movement in continuing to commit to the peaceful approach it has embraced and excels in.

Final observation:

These comments are opinions that are subject to alteration, and this proposed initiative is not a personal possession, yet it outlines the evaluation and what gives it the power and effectiveness is adopting and supporting it with the largest number possible of activists and people.

With sincere love and appreciation