This is the second in a series of blog posts by Auschwitz Institute interns who from October 2011 through March 2012 monitored countries for risk of genocide using the Analysis Framework of the United Nations Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide. This week we present the post by Shamiran Mako, a graduate student in political science and international relations at the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland. Shamiran monitored Bahrain for risk of genocide.
As an academic working mostly on comparative politics and international relations, the joint internship with the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation and the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide (OSAPG) furthered my understanding of the structure and implications of international policymaking on genocide and other crimes against humanity. Using the OSAPG’s eight-point framework of analysis as the legal and normative framework for measuring the risk of genocide in conflict states also furthered my understanding of international law and the structures and processes that shape the international community’s response to genocide. As a genocide-monitoring intern, my task was to compile research on the developing crisis in Bahrain following the Arab Spring.
A common misperception pins genocide as an abrupt and spontaneous rupture in a state’s internal governing structures and institutions. However, as an unfolding process, genocide often beings with the violation of basic human rights, ultimately resulting in the suppression and extermination of targeted groups based on a misplaced threat perception by the ruling elites. This threat perception, often entwined in an ideological justification, escalates to the mobilization of the state’s resources and institutions for the destruction of the perceived threat group. Two things I learned during the course of my internship with the Auschwitz Institute and the OSAPG are the role of history and ideology as fundamental mobilizing factors that legitimize and shape the state’s response to perceived threat groups.
As a genocide-monitoring intern, I was responsible for mapping out a background assessment of the country’s historical inter-group relations, discrimination of specific groups in society, and prior record of human rights violations against targeted groups. In the case of Bahrain, the Arab Spring, marked by widespread revolutions and uprisings that have come to define the politics of the region since early 2011, demonstrated an opportunity for Bahrainis to voice their discontent with the ruling Al Khalifa family’s domination of state structures and institutions since the 19th century. Culminating in state-sponsored human rights violations, mass suppression, and the targeted killing of unarmed protesters, Bahrain posed a complex and challenging case that required an analysis of all relevant contextual variables.
While gaining independence from British colonial rule in 1971, Bahrain is comprised of an estimated 70 percent majority Shi’is and has been ruled by the Sunni-minority Al Khalifa family since the 18th century. Sectarianism and competing religious ideologies have also been determining variables of state-citizen relations, where the Al Khalifa family, with strong regional ties to other Gulf States, have ruled with impunity. Historically, the Shi’i community has been marginalized from state structures and institutions and live on the lower margins of the socio-economic strata. The 2011 revolts and revolutions in the Arab world provided an opportunity structure for Bahrainis to protest against failed promises of political and economic reforms.
Using the Genocide Convention’s definition of genocide as the main international legal framework, as well as academic and non-governmental sources to analyze the situation in Bahrain since the Arab Spring, I was able to develop a broader understanding of the inter-communal dynamics that have come to dominate Bahraini politics during this critical juncture. What originally began as peaceful mass protests against government policies instituted under Al Khalifa rule permeated by the monarchy’s reluctance to implement and uphold constitutional reforms that would ensure equal distribution of parliamentary seats, equal political participation and socio-economic development for the country’s majority Shi’i community, spiralled into political violence and the suppression of political dissidents, unarmed protesters, and human rights activists. Moreover, the use of foreign military personnel from other Gulf States, namely Saudi Arabia, to quell the revolution deepened the suppression of Bahrainis, which only served to further delegitimize Al Khalifa rule. The current unification proposal by Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, which would see the geopolitical and military unification of the two countries, has been met with criticism from the majority Shi’i community in Bahrain, other Gulf Cooperation Council countries (namely Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates), as well as Iran.
In sum, as a student of political science and international relations, the internship was an opportunity to understand firsthand the internal policy workings of the United Nations with regard to countries at risk of genocide and other crimes against humanity. In the case of Bahrain, its historical background, coupled with an understanding of the ideological implications that have plagued the country’s political trajectory, demonstrate the complex web of state-citizen interactions. The internship with the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation in conjunction with the Office of the United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide bolstered my knowledge of the multiplicity of variables that can impact a country’s recourse toward the suppression of its citizens, particularly the role of history and ideology in the case of Bahrain.