Hasan Shafaei to the BHRM:

Human Rights has Suffered because
of Political Disagreements

In order to have a clear picture on the recent crisis and to find solutions, the BHRM interviewed the human rights activist Hasan Moosa Shafaei:

Hasan Moosa Shafaei

National human rights organizations were absent during the current crisis, including the Bahrain Human Rights Society, the Bahrain Human Rights Monitor and the National Institution for Human Rights. Can you explain why?

Yes, I agree. The performance of these organizations was weak, especially with regards to issuing statements, monitoring the violations or guiding the human rights situation in general. Also, the voice of human rights organizations was ignored because of the quick development of events. This has left these organizations in a very difficult position with regard to monitoring the developments and following them up with officials.

The quick development of the political crisis had side-lined all the other issues. ِAll parties without exception committed human rights violations. Casualties included protesters, and some security forces were kidnapped and imprisoned. In addition, there were many attempts to run over protesters. Many horrendous acts took place and it was difficult to follow all of them up with statements, which at the time appeared meaningless. No one wanted to listen to the voices of wisdom and reason, especially at a time when public institutions were brought to a halt, sectarianism had increased and the extremists had controlled the situation.

At the time our priorities were to absorb the daily human rights violations. We monitored some violations and issued statements in this regard, but were unenthusiastic about it because it had a limited effect. Our main concern was not to take part in any political polarization.

Human rights violations are still taking place because of the continuing political crisis. The political problem should be solved through dialogue, agreement and by controlling the street. Unfortunately that has not happened.

But international human rights organizations were very active in issuing statements. Is this true?

Indeed, but they only covered individual cases and were not concerned with the general situation of the country. In times of crisis it is easy to use human rights statements in political bickering. Unfortunately, the statements of international organizations had little effect on the political parties who did not pay attention to what was being said both inside and outside Bahrain. The parties were more concerned with consolidating their political positions than anything else. In summary, human rights is still suffering because of the political disagreements.

The situation has calmed down but political complications still exist. Where are human rights heading ?

I hope that we return to the principles of the National Action Charter. We need stability, law and order. I hope that we continue to adhere to human rights standards and the legal principles stated in the Charter and Constitution. I also hope that the human rights violations come to an end so that the human rights institutions become active once again and we can maintain our decade long accomplishments. Moreover, I hope that human rights is taken more seriosly and that matters are dealt with wisely in the future.

Politics is dominating our lives and we are still receiving many complaints regarding detentions, sacking from employment, cancelling scholarships of students, and deaths in unusual circumstances.

The current political crisis has led to daily human rights violations, which can be solved by reaching a political consensus and adhering to the principles of the National Action Charter

The Government is primarily responsible for investigating violations, revising its policies and emphasising the adherence to law and order. Human rights issues need to be dealt with responsibly and in a transparent manner. No one can hide or ignore the recent events, which were recorded and then viewed by us and international organizations. The Government should investigate immediately the human rights violations, take the necessary actions in order to prevent them from recurring, and hold those responsible to account.

Respecting human rights should be given priority by all members of the executive apparatus, both official and unofficial. It is not our intention to defame or polarize the country when we demand an investigation into human rights violations. We look at the problems from a human rights perspective because we want local legislations implemented, which would guarantee the protection of human rights. We search for solutions in accordance with human rights standards, local legislation and internationally signed agreements.

What is your opinion regarding the casualties among the security forces who were performing their duty? What is your reaction to the footage showing vandalism, kidnapping and citizens being run over?

These incidents are viewed from human rights perspective and not from a political perspective. Any person who violates the rights of citizens deserves to be punished. We take all human rights violation very seriously regardless of whether the victims were civilians, security forces or foreign workers. Respecting and defending human rights is our duty regardless of the identity, religion, sect, ethnicity, tribal or social status of the victims. We do not want to lose years of hard work to sectarianism or inaction or political interests or politicization.

Do you believe that the political societies played a part in the deterioration of the human rights situation?

Yes, the political societies failed to control the street and to raise awareness on respecting the rights and properties of others. The size of the protests was bigger than tha ability of the political socities to handel, but at the same time they bear some responsibility for not doing enough. Condemning some acts here or there is not enough, especially since they encouraged the protests in the first place. Ultimately they are responsible for the violations.

It is unacceptable to condemn human rights violations committed by the Government and hold it to account, whilst turning a blind eye to the violations of the societies’ followers. The amount of responsibility between the Government and the societies does differ, but at the end of the day both parties are responsible for the crisis.

Political parties felt that they had underestimated the value of human rights organizations; especially when they were too busy consolidating their political positions

Did international human rights organizations refer to violations committed by individuals and groups who are associated with the opposition?

Generally, international organizations monitor the practises of countries since most human rights violations are committed by governments. The only exceptions are cases where there is war, or armed conflict between the government and its opposition. Based on my reading of Bahrain’s case, the international organizations were affected by initial information about the crisis, which had a lasting impression on them and their statements. Their analysis was incomplete in that it ignored the political context of the events and the breaches of some parties who are associated with the hard core opposition.

I would like to draw your attention to the fact that these human rights organizations were present in Bahrain at the time of the crisis. They should have received information regarding the breaches when they met with Government officials, representatives of the political societies and the opposition. Some breaches occurred in the Salmaniya Hospital and the University of Bahrain .Also students were prevented from attending their schools and some employees were prevented from going to their work place.

What about sectarian incitement?

Sectarian incitement contradicts the essence of human rights, Bahrain’s laws and the Constitution. Unfortunately, the current political crisis has pushed us into this trap whether we like it or not. Sectarian incitement has reached unacceptable levels, not only in Bahrain but in the whole region. The crisis started off with moderate political demands that went too far and called for overthrowing the regime. This was then followed by intervention from foreign and local media who continued to incite sectarian feelings. It is unfortunate that a number of intellectuals who are renowned for their wisdom, added oil to the fire and made matters worse. Sectarian incitement is a direct call for civil war that could last for years. Anyone who reads history knows that sectarianism results in violence.

Sectarianism is certainly not the solution for Bahrain and human rights will only prosper in a tolerant civil society.

The media plays a dangerous role in inciting sectarian sensitivities. The media should promote national unity instead of being part of the sectarian battle and hence society loses its trust in the media.

You must be aware of foreign media incitement, including Western Media?

Yes, but I believe that the most dangerous source of incitement is internal, since it has a bigger impact and should be under control. Moreover, we must differentiate between political incitement, which is between the people and their governments (some Gulf satellite channels do it), and sectarian incitement in order to achieve political goals. The latter is more dangerous and its social impact more destructive.

Unfortunately, in Bahrain we have both political and sectarian incitement as well as internal and external incitement. The political incitement encouraged the protesters to demand the overthrow of the regime, disrespect the regime’s institutions and symbols, move the protests from the Lulu Square to the Financial District, block the main roads and to protest outside the Royal Palace. The source of the political incitement was mostly internal as opposed to external.

There have been some breaches by the local media, for example the Al-Wasat newspaper. Is this true?

Before talking about the Al-Wasat newspaper, let me say that many foreign reporters complained of restrictions during their coverage of the events including Reuters, BBC and CNN. These restrictions were not expected in a country which is renowned for being open socially, culturally and economically. The restrictions took place in abnormal circumstances both socially and politically. The time has come for us to return back to our normal lives and open our doors to all media outlets including international human rights organizations.

Consensus is necessary for any diverse society. All parties must contribute to building the country’s political future

Al Wasat newspaper is a legitimate by-product of the reform project and was established at the start of the reforms. Bahraini society is in need of a newspaper, which bravely expresses different points of view. In my opinion Al Wasat did not have the same restrictions as the other newspapers because it was established in a different era. Certainly, Al Wasat has raised the ceiling for freedom of expression in the Bahraini press because Al Wasat knows no limits.

Al Wasat’s existence was important for Bahrain democratically, politically, socially and psychologically. There were many mistakes made, probably due to the leniency of its administration, which gave the impression that it was inciting extremism.

What is the solution to the current crisis?

I believe that the crisis started with one mistake and ended with two. The first mistake started when clashes with protesters resulted in two deaths. The Crown Prince described this mistake as a tragedy and a day of mourning was declared. The moderate opposition made a mistake when it wasted time by refusing to enter dialogue with the government. The crisis ended with a catastrophic mistake when the opposition decided to move the protests from the Lulu Roundabout to besieging Government buildings, setting up road blocks and trying to impose civil disobedience.

Investigations should take place and those responsible for the first and third mistake should be held to account. The second mistake can be solved by returning to dialogue, which is based on the principles that were put forward by the Crown Prince. A new political system is required and should be based on three principles: Constitutional∕Consensual∕Monarchy. Consensual solutions bring about justice and will help fulfil the demands of all the parties, but compromise is required. Dialogue alone will not satisfy the demands of all parties.

Why did the opposition reject dialogue, when the Government openly promised more political reform?

There were many reasons for rejecting dialogue including: absence of trust between the Government and the opposition; the opposition’s fear that dialogue will not meet their minimum demands so they set many difficult pre-conditions. Another reason was that the opposition was divided and the extremists took control. The third reason is the emergence of the Sunni street as a new player in the politics of the country. The Sunni street was fearful of the results of dialogue, which could negatively affect its interests. Therefore, there is need for a political consensus with regards to reforms.

What do you mean by a Constitutional and Consensual Monarchy?

It is a political system based on the 1971 referendum and the 2001 National Action Charter, the system is a constitutional monarchy where the Royal Family plays a pivotal role in the political life of the country. The Royal Family should preserve the social and political balance and take into consideration the interest of all segments of society regardless of their affiliation. The royal family should be a neutral force in politics.

Also, consensus should be built around reforming and structuring the political system through dialogue and according to the seven principles laid out by the Crown Prince. The consensus must be between the Shia and Sunni. All diverse societies need a consensus between their major components. The issue is not only about political reform but about the participation of all groups in society. The outcome of the political reform will only succeed if the interests of all groups are protected and they feel reassured.

A stable political system cannot be built when it ignores the concerns of both sects. Parties can make any demands, but at the end of the day all parties must agree on those demands, which reflect interests of the majority of the citizens and illustrate the diversity of society, so that everyone feels that they have contributed in building their future and that no solutions were imposed on them.