An Interview with the Head of the Bahrain Human Rights Monitor 

I Do Not Polish the Government Image!

Q: Mr Shafaei, it seems that you have surprised many with the establishment of the Bahrain Human Rights Monitor and the publication of two human rights Newsletters. Is there a reason behind the timing of this?

Hasan Shafaei

A: Not at all, the idea had been on my mind for several years, and in fact since my withdrawal from the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, I have not stopped working in this field, and I have also managed to maintain contact with human rights organizations and to expand my activities, although I did not have an umbrella organization to work under. After several delays, I felt it was about time to kick start this project.

Q: Does this mean that the establishment of the Monitor is not connected with the current political and human rights situation in Bahrain?

A: No, there is no connection whatsoever. It was only by chance that the establishment of the Monitor coincided with political and security developments in the country. Human rights work is not bound to a specific place or timing. It is a constant and favourable activity at all times and situations.

Q: So what is the purpose of the Monitor? And why establishing it in London in particular? And who funds its activities?

A: The purpose of the Monitor is clear, and I have pointed to it in issue 1 of the Newsletter. However, its purpose is very much similar to that of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights which I cofounded, and which unfortunately failed to carry out its expected role in accordance with its Statute. The Monitor is concerned with monitoring both positive and negative human rights developments in Bahrain and aims to provide information and analysis as well as visions and consultations to human rights organizations and concerned parties. In addition, the Monitor aims to participate in seminars and human rights activities and to rationalise human rights work in Bahrain, so that the experience can mature and develop.

Regarding the choice of London as a headquarters, this can be attributed to my personal situation. Since my family and I are currently residing in London, it was natural for it to be my preferred work place. With regards to the question of funding, which some have used as an excuse to discredit the Monitor and those responsible for it, I would honestly like to say that the financial factor was one of the main reasons for delaying the project. However, I was able to provide the bare minimum to perform its activities. Until now the primary reliance is on individual efforts, personal funding, and the support of several friends and individuals who shared the same hopes and concerns. The Monitor's activities are still limited and there is a great reliance on technology and voluntary work.

Q: But there are some who say that the Government is behind the establishment and funding of the Monitor and that you are still an employee in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs?

A: There are many accusations. I have read some of them and do not pay them any attention. The work speaks for itself, and governments are not good at establishing such projects. Governments have a different mentality, and I pity those who are eager to accuse anyone of being an agent of the regime, as this is not the language of human rights defenders nor is it the language of matured politicians. The Monitor has no connection with any official body in the state, and I personally chose the name of the Monitor and decided on the nature of the Newsletter, its policy and content. I am the one responsible for all that.

Indeed, I do work as an independent advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs without conforming to regular work hours, and I do not have an office either in Bahrain or London. Also, I am by no means an executive employee or a decision-maker. The advisory role I practice is a well known, acceptable and respectable job among human rights bodies, especially in the West. Many managers and researchers in large international human rights organizations work as advisors to several countries. Moreover, I once worked with Amnesty International for a limited period of time, and was sent on a field visit to Iraq in March 2004, and currently I am an advisor to other human rights organizations including the OMCT in Geneva. Advisory work does not discredit human rights activity. This contradiction only exists in the minds of those who do not recognise the specific definition of human rights defenders. Even during the reform period, I was an active member in the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, presenting suggestions and advices to official bodies. In spite of all this, if my advisory role ever contradicts my human rights activity, then I would always choose the latter over the first.

Q: Allow me to be more frank, some people accuse you of working against human rights activists in Bahrain and of taking a negative stand against them?

A: International human rights organizations have the expertise, knowledge and professionalism enabling them not to easily be misled. They have mechanisms and specific standards which they strictly adhere to, and hence my work in human rights would be comical if it targeted the very issue which I have been striving for. Besides, those who make these accusations lack any evidence, and some even have strong relations with international human rights organizations, as I do. They should also present evidence or point to a specific organization which saw in my work a negative effect on human rights activists in Bahrain.

Again this is a pitiful accusation that no activist should make as it constitutes a violation against the rights of others. My aims are clear and well known among human rights organizations, and it is not to polish the image of the Government or to defend advocates of violence or put down or belittle human rights activists. Our aim is clear, which is to develop human rights in Bahrain even if we disagree on political positions and working methods, and I believe our critics will realise this in due time.

Q: Does this mean that these accusations are politically motivated?

A: Yes, I think so, and I am afraid that political agendas will inevitably cast their shadows on some human rights activities in Bahrain, and will seriously compromise the quality of their work. This is what I have been constantly saying in various published articles. Why else would one human rights activist accuse another of being a Government agent just because they disagree on political issues, opinions and methods of work? I could also insult my accusers in the same way, and ask them similar questions such as who funds you? Who incites you to insult others? And who plans for you? But all these questions are not befitting of a human rights activist or political opponent. This language is low in every sense of the word. In any case, going after others' faults, fabricating stories about them and provoking ordinary citizens against them, as well as creating imaginary enemies - all of these are failed methods, whatever their aims.

Q: But aren't you also making accusations here as well?

A: No, I merely gave examples and said that I could also make accusations against those who accuse me. I have kept silent for too long, and did not wish to preoccupy my mind with such matters. I was also busy with the work I already had. This work is the real field for a human rights activist.

Q: Going back to the Bahrain Monitor, what distinguishes you from other Bahraini human rights societies?

A: We are not looking for distinctiveness. All societies perform their own duty and fill a gap in the human rights field. All efforts are commendable and we are making some efforts like the others. But I truly believe in the necessity of having a comprehensive outlook on human rights just like all international human rights organizations, so we see the positive aspects as well as the negative ones, and to try to increase the first and decrease the latter. We should not turn a blind eye to the disadvantages, faults and breaches. At the same time, we can not accept the claims that no positive changes have taken place at all, and that the whole situation in the country is bad. This is inaccurate and misleads us before misleading citizens and also causes disappointment to us all. It limits the scope for development and justifies and pushes towards radical and violent solutions which we do not believe in, while some others have been involved in it.

Q: Do you have a different approach in dealing with international organizations with regards to internal affairs?

A: What we do in our communications with international human rights organizations resembles the work of others. We receive information in the same way, and our demands might be similar as well. For example, we have asked Amnesty International to send observers to the ongoing trials of Hasan Mushamie', the Hujjaira group and others. We have also criticised the broadcasting of the Hujjaira group's confessions on television, and said that this was against the law. In other words we do criticise and demand the interference of international organizations either for monitoring, supervision, correction or any other purpose related to human rights. However, at the same time we distance ourselves from politicising issues, and we are against the transformation of human rights organisations into political ones. We also present a comprehensive picture of the political and social situation by highlighting the conditions of human rights in the country. The reason for this is that human rights issues can not be separated from society's culture, political and economic factors and legal and legislative structures. For this reason we believe that our vision is more realistic and our analysis is more honest. This is what we believe, and others might have different opinions which we respect.