President of BHRM to Al Ayam Newspaper:

Our Goal is not to Please the Government
and much of what we say is not Welcomed.

On 3 February 2010, and on the first anniversary of the establishment of the BHRM, Al Ayam newspaper interviewed its President Hasan Moosa Shafaei and discussed issues concerning the activities of the BHRM and the human rights future in Bahrain:

The Bahrain Second Strategic Report for 2009 states that the BHRM is ‘more understanding of the Government’s position’, and also described the BHRM newsletter of being more ‘understanding of the circumstances of Bahraini society’. It can be understood from both statements that the BHRM is biased towards the Government’s analysis and position. Is this accurate?

No. Initially we are not an opposition party aiming to expose the faults of the Government’s apparatus. We are a human rights organization, which assesses the general situation of Bahrain comprehensively. The term ‘human rights’ is intertwined with many other complicated issues. In some aspects we have found the Government’s performances correct and in others we have detected laziness, carelessness and deficiencies rather than deliberate shortcomings. No newsletter of the BHRM has been free from criticizing the Government. However criticism is not intended for criticism’s sake, as much as it is aimed at drawing attention in order to correct the situation. After all, correction of mistakes and developing human rights in Bahrain is our important goal, and we choose the best method to express our opinions and positions. The human rights problem does not lie in the deliberate attempt to hide human rights violations or in failing to inform local and international public opinions about them. Our media enjoys a wide margin of freedom as well as active civil society organizations, so nothing can be kept hidden from the public. The real problem lies in how we deal, diagnose, highlight and solve problems. Sometimes the problem is the lack of legislations, mechanisms and the lack of experience and training, and not because an official made a mistake here and there.

In other words the problem is not in the absence of a political will which pushes and publically announces the importance of developing human rights, but rather it is in translating these statements and implementing them on the ground by those concerned in the state apparatus, particularly the executive and legislative ones.

But does this mean that you are getting closer to the Government position?

As a human rights organization, our main concern is civil society organizations, especially human rights ones. These organizations, which we ourselves are part of, are our primary concern and we do not really care whether the Government approves of this or not. Much of what we say is not accepted by some officials and they do not welcome many of our analysis. The most important thing, which could be the reason behind this misunderstanding, is that our vision of the political and social situation contains a considerable amount of precision in pointing out the roots of the problems from different aspects. The Government is just one of the parties involved, even if it bears the biggest responsibility. Thus you find us presenting some solutions and proposals. The politicization of human rights will only make the Government a target for criticism. Human rights activities require searching for political and social problems and a degree of self criticism which means the responsibility is shared in the development or decline of human rights activities. Therefore, our human rights discourse and analysis oblige us to have a comprehensive and balanced vision, not against the Government even if we criticize it, and also not always in support of civil society institutions, even if we praise them. Professional and objective analysis determines whether we are close or far from the official position. Hence we criticize what we see wrong and we have no reservations in praising any steps we think are in the right direction and promote human rights.

It is noticeable that the discourse of the BHRM, whether directly through its publications and sometimes from inference of its analysis, contains messages directed to the Government or to local civil society institutions and even international organizations. Have these messages been received as you had wished and how responsive did you find these parties?

There are indeed messages, some of which are frank and others hidden. We live in an exposed political atmosphere which pushes us to deliver our messages clearly, professionally and without hurting anyone as much as possible. What we want is clear and in each subject we tackle there is a message to some party with the purpose of achieving our goals. We wanted the Government to be transparent and to cooperate with us in order to promote more trust with international organizations as well as local human rights organizations in order to enable them to carry out their mandate. Also, we did not want the Government to feel that any criticism against it was a conspiracy even if the information on which the criticism was built was wrong, and that the Government should deal with the roots of problems be they legislative, technical or related to public services. We want the officials to toughen up and become accustomed to criticism, to deal with it in a positive spirit and feel that they are standing on firm ground, and that the path they are taking despite all its difficulties is in fact the right one for the continuation of the reform project. We want the Government to be ruled by laws and legislations and to have the courage to admit its shortcomings, faults and mistakes. In this regard, the Government has understood our messages, some of which have been delivered directly and not only through the media. The Government understands what is being said, but no practical or realistic action has yet been taken as we had hoped.

But what about other messages?

Our message to international organizations in particular was well received and we have received encouraging responses in understanding the reality of the Bahrain human rights situation as well as the social and political situations. During our meetings and in our newsletters, we found that international organizations did not have a clear picture of the situation in Bahrain, and that their assessments were based on small details here and there. We explained this to them and highlighted the needs of Bahrain in the field of human rights and expected contributions of these organization . Moreover, we encouraged them to share their expertise with Bahraini civil society , strengthen their ties with local organizations and verify their information in a professional and credible manner.

Finally, there are some important messages for Bahraini civil society institutions; it was important for us to make these known internationally through our publications or meetings with other international organizations. We have expressed our willingness to cooperate with these local institutions and tried to draw their attention to some shortcomings in order to develop our work. We understand the reasons for such mistakes such as the exposure to a new experience, lack of expertise and the short lifespan of the reform project, but this does not prevent us from criticizing ourselves and our colleagues with good intention and with the sole purpose of developing ourselves.

There are those who say that the BHRM is misleading international human rights organizations and hiding Government violations?

I hope this criticism is not politically motivated; ‘misleading’ and ‘hiding information’ are two unrealistic accusations and whoever made them should present evidence and tell us whom do they think we are misleading and when and how and in which subject? It is difficult to hide any information at present time - this is what I have said before and will repeat - Bahrain is an open country and international organizations are present most of the time. Furthermore, advances in technological communication e.g. mobile phones and internet as well as the prevailing margin of freedom of expression make it difficult to hide any incidents.

What is interpreted as ‘misleading’ is merely referring to our explanation of incidents. Is our analysis misleading and where exactly is the ‘misleading’ part? ‘Misleading’ comes into play when you present some information and hide the rest; thereby you can explain the issue as you want. On the other hand, the BHRM provides exclusive and often exposes ‘hidden’ information, presents explanations and analysis of any incidents in their political and social contexts. What we do is exactly the opposite of ‘misleading’. Our reading of events is in fact closer to reality, and this is what we hear from those who follow our activities.

According to the latest international reports there have been setbacks in human rights, transparency and public freedom levels. Do you think the future of human rights in Bahrain will improve?

I do not think that there are setbacks in public freedoms. We have to understand that the term ‘human rights’ is built on social and political reforms; it is a chain which can only develop through the general development of the state apparatus, both executive and legislative. The Government has acceded to a number of international agreements and established the National Foundation for Human Rights and mechanisms in each ministry concerned with human rights. The Government is adjusting these agreements practically with local legislations, indicating a turning point in the human rights field. For example, developing the performance of the House of Representatives in monitoring and accountability and the speedy ratification of new legislations will give a positive boost in other human rights issues. We have before us the Press Bill which has still not been ratified. The development of the performance of MPs in the use of the available constitutional mechanisms will also give a positive boost to many human rights issues, including transparency, monitoring and combating corruption. There is also the performance of public services ministries. The more they improve their services, the more having a better human rights situation. People have the right to enjoy a decent life in education, health, housing and employment among others. This reflects on the general political atmosphere and public freedoms and releases any existing tension in certain groups. This is in addition to the need to support civil society organizations, especially financially. The development of these institutions and supporting them financially will have a positive impact on the future of human rights.