Sunday, 15 April 2012

The Politics of Human Rights...

Recently there has been a lot of Justified controversy in Human Rights circles over Bahrain. This has brought the recent decision of FIA , the Formula 1 governing body into firm media focus as the world has started to unite against their decision to continue with the Bahrain Grand Prix this year. The sport has been propelled, along with the Bahraini cause, into the public eye and centre of the world stage.

I have followed this continuing pressure, not closely enough I admit to my shame, as a result of being both a Formula 1 fan and having a general interest in the world around me. Certainly, the accusation of abuse and repression by the Bahraini Government against their own population stands up to scrutiny. It is doubly tragic as the ruling regime appears to show nothing more than disdain for public opinion and pressure. However, I feel that the decision to go ahead with the race bears further scrutiny... It could even be a diplomatic master-stroke...

Heartfelt pressure from the world's human rights organisations and the slow, but ever increasing pressure from the political community, have so far, essentially fallen on deaf ears. Unfortunately, the formal process has been unable to make any significant progress on behalf of the people we all wish to be justly protected. 

See this article from The Human Rights Watch that discusses the FIA decision. 

It discusses the public-relations benefit and validation of the regime by FIA's decision to go ahead with the race, this despite the regime's ongoing record. They make a good and reasoned argument. It makes sense and is undeniable. However, far from obscuring their record on human rights, in my opinion, it will actually highlight it further. I feel that the article overlooks the unique opportunity for diplomacy that only an event like Formula 1 could provide to a situation of this nature... That of the back-channel discussion.

Here is where I feel the decision to continue with the Bahrain Grand Prix may very well be an intelligent master-stroke of diplomacy. To explain this, I need to give you a very brief overview on the profile of Formula 1.

Formula 1, at it's core, is a very large financial industry (in recent times, often at the expense of the sport itself) and that draws the attention of the famous, wealthy and powerful, as well as the world's press, cutting across social demographics, race, religion and culture. The prestige of being seen and associated with this sport is immense, especially from within a host country. Without doubt, the most influential of Bahrain's ruling elite and political leaders have, for some time now, been ensuring that they are there. A chance to show off their wealth and "status" to the rest of the financial elite of the world, as well as the very validation the Human Rights Watch so correctly says they need and are chasing, will be hard to deny for a country that is not particularly welcome anywhere in the world just now.

Added to the status profile of the sport, is the additional media coverage that even now is publicising not only the event, but also the cause of the average Bahraini and the country's human rights record. This will prove a powerful voice and is being made even simpler and more effective by the regime itself, in it's continuing abuses, providing all the fuel needed to continue feeding this media attention. In this continuing and open repression, even now with the world looking on, news reports, chat shows, discussion and politics shows the world over, will all be carrying the story, some in minute detail. The world is already being educated to the plight and once large scale public opinion gets moving it can be hard to turn. The trick is getting that opinion moving in the first place... and in the right way.

Even if the regime itself chooses to ignore the message, the minds of the outside world are now focused on the issue in a way they have not been before. In addition, the added controversy of 'sport' once again going against both local and public opinion, raises this discussion above the limits of Bahrain alone, to the cause of human rights globally.

Win, win I say.

In it's decision to proceed, FIA and Formula 1 in general, has provided a stage on which the right people can quietly discuss one of the greatest issues of humanity today. That of the oppression of the masses at the hands of a few (certainly not exclusive to Bahrain or dictatorships). I am not talking about a conference table and aids, but of a quiet, relaxed chat between two key policy makers over drink and good entertainment. Never a bad way to create a conducive atmosphere.

Publicity like this could not be bought with the deepest of pockets today, certainly not with the same 'global conscience' that the media is currently generating and will, I am sure, continue to direct at Bahrain over the next few weeks. By direct association, it will also focus minds and attention on all such behaviour, the world over.

The opportunity for world governments to take advantage of this forum to discuss the issues at hand is hard to deny. History has frequently shown that the best progress on the biggest issues has been gained from the informal meetings where opinions can be more freely expressed whilst the world focuses on something else. Lastly, all sorts of influential people have their justifiable public reason to be present without raising undue attention. In addition to this, the event provides a reasonably safe, neutral environment that both sides need in order to justify mingling openly.

To me, Formula 1 and the Bahrain Grand Prix has, in proceeding with the race, created the chance of being a perfect venue for an opportunity of seeing progress.
Now lets hope that the people who need to be there, are...
Thank you for reading and please feel free to comment.

It's time we stand back and look at what we prioritise in society today.