My Presidency of the National Human Rights Commission is a mere
Shafaei: I’m Against Using Human Rights as a Means of Obtaining
a Parliamentary Position
In an interview with Al-Bilad Bahraini newspaper on 25 August
2009, the President of the Bahrain Human Rights Monitor (BHRM),
Hasan Moosa Shafaei denied being nominated to become the president
of or a member in the National Commission for Human Rights. Currently,
the formation of such a commission is being discussed by the decision-makers.
Mr. Shafaei answered a number of questions regarding the human rights
situation in Bahrain as follows:
Why does the BHRM conduct its work in London instead
of Manama, especially as Bahrain is a promising environment for
civil society activities and enjoys a wide margin of freedom in
Undoubtedly, Bahrain as you have just mentioned is a suitable
environment for civil society institutions and there are big opportunities
for human rights activities. And currently, many local and international
human rights organizations have benefited from this. I’m sure that
you are up-to-date with the various activities of the international
human rights organizations in Bahrain; and aware of the presence
of several offices belonging to these organizations which are very
active in the human rights field. And although the environment in
Bahrain has drawn the attention of many activists in the world to
the opportunities available there, the establishment of the BHRM
in London has nothing to do with the freedom available. Rather,
it is to do with the personal circumstances of those responsible
for it, as they reside in London; as well as my personal situation.
However, it is noteworthy that Bahrain like any other countries
is exposed at the present time due to the advances in communication
and hence everything that happens is known to all. Moreover, we
do not have any problem in accessing information or keeping in touch
with local human rights activists. I believe that the BHRM being
in London gives us a bigger opportunity to communicate directly
with international organizations. There are also many human rights
organizations already working and developing themselves in Bahrain.
Our colleagues can learn from our work and we also can learn from
theirs. Additionally, we have received a positive response especially
from the Bahrain Society for Human Rights.
Actually, working away from Bahrain is an advantage as it allows
us to monitor from a better position and most importantly this keeps
us away from political and social problems or being affected by
the local atmosphere. Being away makes us see matters from a different
perspective and allows us to provide evaluations and opinions regarding
various issues away from social and political disputes, as these
narrow the scope of thinking and activity.
Some accuse the BHRM of only revolving around yourself,
what do you think of this?
The BHRM is a new institution that depends on my effort and the
efforts of a number of assistants and hence is not the product of
a single effort. To tell you the truth, the fact that the BHRM depends
on the efforts of a few individuals is not a negative aspect. We
are not a political party aiming to spread and expand and the BHRM,
as well as other local and international human rights institutions,
should not be judged according to the number of their employees
but according to their achievements and the level of influence that
they have on the ground. We are satisfied with our work and impact
in this field and hope that it will grow to serve the human rights
situation in Bahrain. In the end, we are concerned about the end
result and not the number of employees.
There are some rumours that you have been nominated
to become the president or a member of the National Human Rights
Commission in Bahrain, is this true? Have you been offered this?
Most of what has been said are rumours. The establishment of
the National Commission is important to us. And what concerns us
even more is that the Commission creates a radical change in the
situation of human rights. This is what is important, anything else
is a detail. I believe that in Bahrain there are many competent
individuals who can take on this position. Such matters should not
be the responsibility of a specific individual.
What is the BHRM’s plan regarding the expected
council and parliamentary elections? Is the BHRM going to send a
team in order to supervise the election process?
As of yet, this issue has not been discussed and if there is
any effort to supervise the elections, it will be conducted in coordination
with experienced local human rights organizations concerned with
this matter. I’m specifically referring to the Transparency Society
which has supervised local and legislative elections in more than
one Arab country, and as far as I know, the colleagues in the Transparency
Society are preparing themselves for the upcoming elections. As
for our role it will be providing guidance through suggestions and
participating in some activities. But as I mentioned, it will most
likely be with the cooperation of local organizations which are
more competent at doing this work.
What kind of response has the Bahrain BHRM newsletter
The response to the monthly Arabic and English newsletters has
been very positive, and has exceeded our expectations. We all know
that there is a lack of understanding in the human rights situation
in Bahrain, and we have worked to place matters in their political
and human rights context which gives the Newsletter an important
and unique position among human rights activists. We do not suffer
from a shortage in information whether in Bahrain or abroad, but
the problem lies in analyzing this information. We have tried as
much as we can to open the eyes of our colleagues in Bahrain and
abroad to the strategic contexts in which we analyze issues and
also attempt to draw their attention to the defects with some criticism
and corrections. We believe that we have provided something positive
and have agreed on a frame work for analyzing the information relating
to human rights in Bahrain. We want to improve ourselves and focus
on the big issues that affect the general situation of human rights.
What is your assessment of the activity and performance
of Bahraini human rights organizations?
I am not in a position to assess my colleague’s activities as
we ourselves in the BHRM need to be evaluated, guided and corrected.
We should not forget that human rights activism and human rights
institutions in Bahrain are quite new and we all do not claim to
be perfect. But rather, we are honest with ourselves and strive
to improve our human rights situation. We are still learning from
the experiences of others, as well as our own, and could need some
time to assess ourselves as I think that every human rights institution
needs to assess itself before anybody else does.
According to my general assessment, human rights awareness, professionalism
and expertise is increasing and this satisfies me at the present
moment. When we, in the BHRM, talk and write about the shortcomings
of human rights institutions, we are not excluding ourselves and
most of the time we point to general issues without going into details,
because it does not help much. I hope that local human rights institutions
after years of work have learned from past experiences - good and
Do you expect that human rights activists can win
seats in the House of Representatives?
Firstly, I do not support mixing human rights with politics,
or using human rights work in order to obtain a position in the
House of Representatives. However, this does not mean that I personally
do not want human rights activists in the Parliament. All that I
want to say is that when a human rights activist is working in a
human rights institution, I hope that his work is not polluted ‘a
lot’ by politics. This is because the connection and influence between
the two fields is unquestionable. Hence, when an activist decides
to become part of a political electoral campaign in order to become
a member of parliament, this is his right, however he should consider
his organization’s position and make sure that he does not politicize
his organization or use it to secure a place in Parliament by involving
it in political debates or existing political movements. And when
an activist does become an MP I believe that he should sever his
connection with his organization and work solely within parliament
committees and not use his influence in the organization in political
battles in order to strengthen his position and points of views.