My Presidency of the National Human Rights Commission is a mere Rumour

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 this respect?

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 received?

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 bad.

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.