Shafaei: We are Worthy of Reforming the Human Rights Situation
Technical Cooperation with the OHCHR a Necessity
Bahrain’s Al-Ayam newspaper conducted an interview with the President
of Bahrain Human Rights Monitor (BHRM), Hasan Moosa Shafaei, on
the latest developments of the human rights situation in Bahrain,
particularly with regard to the technical cooperation with the Office
of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR):
Let us begin, brother Hasan, with the issue of
the technical cooperation between Bahrain and the OHCHR. What does
this technical cooperation agreement actually mean? What benefit
or additional value does it provide for Bahrain?
The technical cooperation is a long-established United Nations
programme dating back to 1955. It is provided by the UN for countries
seeking assistance in the process of establishing national infrastructures
and strengthening the structures that have a direct impact on the
public observance of human rights and preservation of the rule of
But this programme is fairly new to the Arab region, which is
lagging way behind, politically and in terms of human rights. In
recent years, several Arab countries have requested this type of
support from the United Nations, through the OHCHR. These include
Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Iraq among others.
In serving Arab countries and others, the technical cooperation
programme generally contributed to the incorporation of the international
standards of human rights in national laws and policies, as well
as to the building or reinforcing of national institutions capable
of promoting and protecting human rights and democracy. The programme
has also contributed to drawing up national action plans to promote
and protect human rights. It further provided education, expert
advisory services, training courses, workshops, seminars, information
and documents, as well as evaluation of the local needs of each
Therefore, Bahrain is not the only one in this regard, and it
actually needs such services, expertise and programmes. Success
in this area will render a great service to the political reform
and social stability projects. However, it should be emphasized
here that cooperation with OHCHR in these projects is by no means
a substitute to the role the state plays and the projects, current
or future, it undertakes. It does not preclude the state’s primary
responsibility in the development and protection of human rights.
All this is very general. What will the OHCHR actually
do here in Bahrain, and what does it seek to achieve?
The final step which the OHCHR wants to accomplish through the
technical cooperation programme with the government is to develop
a comprehensive national plan for the advancement of human rights
in Bahrain. Such a national plan will engage the participation of
the OHCHR with Bahraini government agencies and the Bahraini civil
society. The plan under consideration shall touch upon all the key
axes of the human rights issue and Bahrain’s basic needs, whether
in capacity building, training, education or assistance in the fulfilment
of international human rights and other obligations.
The OHCHR held consultative and educational workshops that was
attended by all relevant parties and where discussions and deliberations
touched on various topics such as the role of the National Institution
for Human Rights (NIHR) , the role of the media and the role of
civil society organizations in promotion and protection of human
But why couldn’t Bahrain play this role by itself?
Does every country need foreign assistance? Why couldn’t the states
themselves develop their own comprehensive national action plans
for human rights involving all spectra?
I do not think that there has ever been a state that did not
need OHCHR assistance in a matter pertaining to human rights affairs.
Some countries need little assistance, while others need more, depending
on the availability of competent and experienced local capabilities
or even the availability of material resources. There are countries
which cannot provide both. As for Bahrain, it requires OHCHR assistance
not financially, but in respect of experience and advice. This should
not be regarded as a defect, since it is a common practice worldwide,
let alone in the Arab and the Gulf (GCC) countries. Bahrain has
done the right thing by requesting technical assistance from the
Moreover, there is another advantage. The OHCHR assistance lends
international credibility as well as recognition and appreciation
to the state in question, and will boost the latter’s confidence
that it is heading in the right direction, and demonstrating a sincere
desire and strong political will to promote the human rights conditions,
according to international standards.
It is no secret to you, as you follow the local
press, that several parties are sceptical and critical of the role
played by international human rights organizations in general. Such
parties are also critical of this new role undertaken by the OHCHR.
Perhaps you are aware of the statement that was issued to denounce
and boycott the programmes initiated by the OHCHR in Bahrain. Are
the fears and doubts of such parties really justified?
Let me analyse the positions of the parties directly concerned
with OHCHR programmes:
Firstly, as far as the Bahraini government is concerned, it has
found that the programme of technical cooperation with the OHCHR
involves the participation of unregistered or unlicensed Bahraini
human rights organizations. Therefore the Bahraini government rejected
the participation of those institutions that were not legally registered.
This, in addition to other reasons pertaining to the approach and
methodology previously adopted by Bahrain in relation to the OHCHR,
has resulted in a two-year postponement of the cooperation project.
The OHCHR’s argument was that it cannot exclude anyone, nor can
it deem it justifiable to deal with Bahraini human rights associations
abroad while refraining from doing so inside Bahrain. The Government’s
argument, on the other hand, was that illegal or unregistered bodies
could not be allowed to operate under the umbrella of the cooperation
project with the OHCHR.
Eventually, however, the Government found that public interest
necessitates its acceptance of the participation of all parties
of the civil society, which would also serve as an illustration,
to the international community, of its flexibility and of its keenness
to promote human rights conditions, and that it is not the party
that is hampering such development.
Secondly, those parties of the community which refused to participate,
when the time came, have backstabbed the OHCHR which had previously
defended their right to participation. Moreover, those parties have
even demanded the exclusion of others from participation. Their
argument for non-participation, at least in the first event pertaining
to the role of the Bahraini NIHR, was to claim that the NIHR lacked
credibility. I believe that this sort of conduct has come as a surprise
to the OHCHR and revealed, to some extent, how the political agenda
of these groups take precedence to the human rights agenda.
Thirdly, some of the other parties have initially doubted the
feasibility of technical cooperation with the OHCHR, on the grounds
that it represents a foreign intervention in domestic affairs. Such
an argument is so weak, because the United Nations does not interfere
in the internal affairs of states, but rather adopts an approach
of cooperation and dialogue with states regarding the implementation
of the development plans required by the governments themselves.
You are closely associated with the official efforts
to promote human rights conditions in Bahrain through the consultations
you provide; and you have direct contact with the OHCHR, and have
participated in the detailed discussions concerning the issue of
technical cooperation. In your view, do you think that the international
community will look favourably upon these government efforts?
I was present at the meeting of the Foreign Minister, Sheikh
Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, with the High Commissioner, Navi Pillay,
in Geneva last January, where the framework and content of the technical
cooperation between the two sides were discussed. I can honestly
say that the High Commissioner extended thanks to His Excellency
for meeting her and for the role he has played in relation to the
agreement of technical cooperation. The High Commissioner praised
his Excellency’s credibility that helped to restore and promote
the confidence between the two sides, which was almost non-existent,
and without which the technical cooperation agreement would not
have come into existence, nor, as she said, would it have been approved
by the Commissioner herself.
The step taken by Bahrain will undoubtedly receive positive endorsement,
particularly since international human rights organizations as well
as states used to encourage and demand this approach. Moreover,
there are many countries which have publicly welcomed this cooperation,
such as the UK, France, Germany and a number of Arab countries,
because this cooperation agreement confirms once again the seriousness
of the Bahraini government in addressing the root causes of international
This does not mean that criticism will stop. It is likely to
abate and decrease further as outstanding issues are resolved. On
the other hand, we should not be afraid of criticism if it is true
and based on accurate information. We should not shy away from admitting
and rectifying mistakes. Our country is not a home of angels, nor
is there any such country in the world that is immune from criticism
and human rights problems. What is important, however, is that we
should have the will to carry out reform, rectification and development.
We should have confidence in ourselves and in our ability to solve
the problems that confront us in accordance with the law and the
conventions to which we have committed ourselves.
In case the criticism is invalid, we ought to address it by responding
to it, using evidence, information and an open, objective, professional
interaction with the outside world.
We should not be preoccupied with what the world says about us,
as much as we should preoccupy ourselves with answering a perpetual
question: How can we continue to develop and reform our conditions
in all aspects?
There seems to be some out there who are not satisfied
with the great efforts and official achievements, particularly with
regard to the implementation of the recommendations of the Bahrain
Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) which have been recently
documented in a report released last February. Why?
What has been accomplished is known to everybody, in the sense
that no one denies it, except perhaps for some of us who are politicized.
However, the international human rights community awaits the provision
of documented information on topics such as the outcome of the political
dialogue; accountability; compensations and the role of human rights
institutions created by the government as well as transparent reports
on their accomplishments. The international human rights community
also awaits information on the development and amendment of some
legislation pertaining to NIHR, the media and civil society to conform
with international standards; as well as information on the extent
of the government‘s openness to international human rights organizations
in terms of establishing closer relationship with them and allowing
them to visit Bahrain.
Any development in these aspects cannot be denied by anyone.
As to the politicized human rights activity, its aim is politics
and political, rather than, human rights gains. Such activity loses
its credibility with time. Unfortunately, there are some entities
which tend to give credence to claims depicting everything in Bahrain
as negative and bad. Such entities base their stance on certain
human rights’ issues that are yet to be resolved, or have not been