United Nations Coordinator and UN Resident Representative in Bahrain:

It is necessary to amend laws in order
to fulfill international obligations

Sayed Aqa

■ Masters degree in Business Administration.

■ 23 years in voluntary humanitarian work.

■ Founder of two national organizations in Afghanistan: the Mine Clearance Planning Agency (MCPA) and the Afghan Campaign to Ban Landmines(ACBL)

■ Worked in a number of countries such as Yemen, Chad and Thailand.

■ Joined the United Nations in 2001to work in Azerbaijan.

■ Served as an advisor to a number of international and inter-governmental organizations.

BHRM interviewed Mr. Sayed Agha, U.N. Resident Co-ordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, in which he highlighted many relevant issues such as the fulfilment by Bahrain of most of its obligations under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process and the obstacles facing the implementation of some recommendations related to the process, including the politicization of human rights and the need for legislative amendments. He also discussed the positive relationship between the UNDP and Bahrain, and UNDP’s continuous support to national institutions and local NGOs. He further addressed the important role of citizens and private sector in promoting human rights, sustainable development and the empowerment of women politically and economically.

Since your presence in Bahrain, how do you value the cooperation with the Kingdom of Bahrain to endorse sustainable human development strategies?

The U.N. and Bahrain have always enjoyed strong partnership. Building on this, I have tried to further strengthen the UN’s relations with the government of the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Civil Society Organizations and the business community. The Government has been particularly supportive in facilitating the UN’s work. Being a high income oil producing country, Bahrain has specific characteristics as a Small Island State that has a large number of expatriate workforce. Bahrain requires careful development choices to remain sustainable. Sustainable human development is a basic human rights of the citizens. Instruments such as the reform agenda, Government’s achievements in education and health care, and the launch of Economic Vision for 2030 provide enabling environment for sustainable human development. The U.N. has made major contributions in Bahrain’s development. Most recent examples of our successful partnership are promotion of entrepreneurship, microfinance initiative, parliamentary development, economic and political empowerment of women, addressing environmental challenges, supporting the preparation and implementation of Bahrain’s human rights commitment of the UPR process, NGOs capacity development, and the list goes on. All these have had direct positive impact on human rights in the Kingdom. We owe it to the strong support of the Government and people of Bahrain.

Many key national institutions have received your technical support, do you have any collaboration with the local NGOs?

His Majesty the King stated during his meeting with the UN Secretary General in May this year in Bahrain, that we know Bahrain cannot prosper without contribution of the NGOs in our human development. Similarly, the U.N. believes that NGOs have important role in the socio-economic development of any society. We have, therefore, partnered with the Ministry of Social Development to implement a number of initiatives. These include the establishment of the national NGO centre, training and capacity development for NGOs, and a micro finance project, through two NGOs, that has now reached thousands of families. We have also directly supported women, youth, human rights, environmental and other NGOs through provision of funds, expertise, as well as moral support.

Your core effort is to encourage respect of human rights and foster thriving civil society, what are the measures and instruments used by your office to achieve this goal?

Decent living standards, provision of basic services, rule of

Sayed Aqa: We have provided expertise and financial support to NGOs working in the fields of women, youth, human rights and the environment etc.
law through effective governance, and participation in decision making are basic human rights. We believe that while Government has a huge responsibility to ensure enabling environment by adopting and implementing legislation, human rights are not fully realized without actions by individual citizens. Citizens and the private sector should hold themselves responsible to respect, promote and protect human rights, especially those of their employees and domestic workers. The U.N. has a very successful project with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to help Bahrain meet its UPR pledges and voluntary commitments. This project is implemented in collaboration with civil society as a number of NGOs are members of its Steering Committee. In addition, we have trained all our staff and most government counterparts on Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA) to development.

According to the Arab Human Development Report 2009, the Kingdom of Bahrain recorded a significant change in the institutional quality in the period from 1996 to 2007, in certain areas such as representation and accountability but has not progressed much on women’s empowerment. What are your observations on this?

The Human Development Report (HDR) is an independent report facilitated by UNDP. Its content does not necessarily reflect UNDP’s views. For the sake of comprehension, I would say that in terms of independence, HDR is like the report of Audit Bureau or Human Rights Institution of a country. For calculation of Human Development Index (HDI) the report assess four key areas of human development– life expectancy, literacy rate, education and GDP. All figures included in the HDR are from official sources only.

Resulting from wise leadership and truthful development choices, particularly in the areas of education and health care, Bahrain has made steady progress as recorded by HDRs standing a par with OECD countries. The other significant achievement of Bahrain is that Bahrain’s human development standard is equal for men and women. However, what you are referring to is women empowerment - that is number of seats occupied by women in senior government, and private sector organizations as well as in the parliament. We all know that political and economic empowerment of Bahraini women is a priority. The U.N. and government aim to address this through the project we signed in the presence of the U.N. Secretary General and HRH Princess Sabeka with the Supreme Council for Women. The programme has already started its activities. We hope to contribute to political and economic empowerment of Bahraini women in collaboration with other government institutions, the NGOs and the private sector.

The follow-up report for the implementation of the Bahrain’s Universal Periodic Review 2008- 2009 indicates that some of the recommendations are fully met while others are in progress and few are not yet completed, what is your explanation to this advancement?

What you are referring to is voluntary progress report that Bahrain presented this year. It is not a required report like the formal UPR review, which occurs every four years. As noted in the progress report, a great deal has been achieved in the scope of one year. This undertaking is a four year process, and I am confident that Bahrain will meet most of its pledges and commitments by its next UPR review. The recent establishment of the national Human Rights Institution by His Majesty is another major step towards realization of all human rights for all in Bahrain.

Were there any obstacles in implementing these recommendations on the ground?

A major obstacle is lack of awareness of people about their rights and obligations. Most people look to the government to do it all. However, individuals can and should take responsibility to first make themselves aware of their right and then respect, promote and protect the rights of others. Bahrain may also need to amend some of its existing laws to meet its international obligations under various conventions and treaties. A second major obstacle is that some try to advance political agendas under the pretext of human rights. This is simply wrong as it harms fulfilment of human rights. Credibility cannot be overemphasized, particularly when talking about human rights. Politics should, therefore, not be mixed with human rights.

Your recent joint study with the Supreme Council for Women on empowerment of women have come up with many recommendations such as providing the best environment for women candidates and the reduction of the financial barriers faced in the elections. Has there been any effort by your team to assist in meeting these recommendations?

As already mentioned, we have an ambitious programme with the Supreme Council for Women to address this and other recommendations of our study. Planning is underway to train and support women candidates for the 2010 national elections.

In cooperation with the Ministry of Education, a Scientific and Cultural training workshop, entitled «Rights of the Child», was held on 26 October 2009, what was the purpose for this event ?

As part of the UPR project implementation plan with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a number of capacity development activities have taken place targeting law enforcement, health care and education personnel. As part of series of these activities this workshop was organized to train teachers and workers of the Ministry of Education on how to adapt a human rights based approach to their work, as well as how to promote awareness of human rights among the students. The goal is to address the challenge of public awareness, I referred to earlier.