On the sideline of a conference held in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, BJDM interviewed Yousif Al-Muhafda, the Vice President and Head of the Documentation Unit at the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), and asked him about the human rights situation, its challenges and future plans to ameliorate the situation. Al-Muhafda unveiled the new techniques his organization is following to bring those involved in human rights issues accountable.
Following is part 1 of the interview:
BJDM: Do you think that the international organizations are playing effective role with respect to the Bahraini case?
Yousif Al-Muhafda: The international non-governmental organizations are doing a good job, for example: Amnesty, FIDH, Human Rights Watch and Reporters without Boarders and many others. They are doing good job when it comes to awareness, advocacy, issuing statements, lobbying and contacting foreign governments, the European Parliament, Human rights council and many other ministries of foreign affairs in different countries. However, we are facing hypocrisy from the western governments. I think we need more effective mechanisms that enforce the government of Bahrain to respect human rights. Right now there are recommendations in the human rights council to the Bahraini government and the government is to decide whether to accept or ignore them. There are no mandatory forces. We ask the king for new mechanisms in order to prevent Bahrain from proceeding in violating human rights. I think this is the main advocacy and this is what we want from the international organization: to support us. We don’t need statements; we need mechanisms for the government of Bahrain to respect human rights and stop human rights violation. The situation is deteriorating now; the authorities are deporting activists from Bahrain and nobody is stopping this crime.
BJDM: Have the activism of your organization changed after it headquartered in Berlin? How did it change?
Yousif Al-Muhafda: We have recently played a different role, which we haven’t done before. After we registered our organization in Berlin, our work changed not only in Berlin but in Europe as a whole. We started advocacy work in Europe. We used to contact human rights organizations only, and these organizations would only issue a statement. I think now we are looking for different mechanisms, we are daily contacting Members of Parliament in Berlin and updating them with the situation, meeting them and asking them to write letters to the king of Bahrain. We have involved in the political work, because we know that the political support from MPs and governments is more effective than the human rights organizations. We are contacting MPs in different countries, Copenhagen, Geneva and Brussels. We succeeded to get a resolution from EU parliament about Bahrain and death penalty. We are also filing cases against different companies that sell weapons or surveillance technology to Bahrain. Before we only used to release statements, now we are working on ground. There is a torture case against Prince Naser in London and in Switzerland there is a case against the Bahraini public prosecutor Ali Fadhel Al-Buainian who is responsible of hiding torture crimes in Bahrain. However, the judiciary process takes time. We realized that statements are not enough; we want to sue the perpetrators and bring them accountable. The message we want to send is that in Bahrain there is no law or independent judiciary system unlike Europe. We want to make use these laws, because suing the perpetrators is the only way that may stop human rights violations.
BJDM: You talked about suing the perpetrators and contacting the MPs and EU. Do you have any other plans in this regards? What are your future plans?
Yousif Al-Muhafda: Our strategy now is to continue what we are doing. There is a case against a formula 1 group that is coming to Bahrain and a legal case against them in London. In the meantime there are no new ways. We may proceed in these ways for a couple of years, but we may develop them. We are planning to sue any Bahraini official coming to Europe. This is our message to the perpetrator: Yes, there are no laws and no independent judiciary system in Bahrain, but we, as activist in exile, are going to sue you when you visit any European country and protest against you. We will chase you.
BJDM: Human rights defenders have been recently subjected to great pressure. How do you evaluate the human rights situation in the past years, especially after the lack of human rights defenders’ representation in Geneva and after the arrest of Zainab Al-Khawaja?
Yousif Al-Muhafda: The human rights situation is deteriorating in Bahrain. There are more than 3000 political prisoners in Bahrain and 1000 in exile, many are killed and torture continues on a daily basis. We are still receiving allegations of torture and people subjected to enforced disappearance and ill-treatment. Today, Taiba Darwich was sentenced to 5 years in prison. We are sure that the Bahraini government intended to arrest Zainab Al-Khawaja at that time because there was a session about Bahrain in the human rights council. Al-Khawaja was sentenced to 3 years in prison 7 month ago, but the government did not implement the sentence before. Her arrest was a message to the international and Bahraini community that we are going beyond that. This is the nature of dictator; however, this does not make us feel that we have not done anything. We need to do more work. The human rights work is a cumulative work and it needs time. It is the same as the political work and they both need time. We have been ruled by dictatorship for 230 years and we can’t change these 230 years within 5 years, especially because we are protesting peacefully. We admit that we are not only facing Bahrain only as it is, along with the Gulf States, against democracy. The Gulf States are afraid that such movements would reach their countries and we all know that these states are monarchies with absolute powers. On the other hand, Britain and USA only care about their military interests in Bahrain and they are happy that Bahrain and KSA are buying their weapons. We know that we are facing these complications; the US, UK and Gulf States are against our struggle in Bahrain, but that does not make us feel depressed. We are very optimistic that we will succeed one day. Our aim is to bring these people to justice. There are more than 100 persons killed by the government and police and none of the criminals was held accountable. Our responsibility as human rights group is to bring them to justice. This is our principle.