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May 26, 2011

Bahrain Government Rights Official Speaks Out

by Cecily Hilleary

"We support call for change," says Bahrain, "as long as they reflect needs of population as a whole".

Rights groups continue to raise concern about alleged human rights abuses by the government of Bahrain during anti-government protests.   At least 30 people have been killed in the aftermath of spring protests by the majority Shiites seeking freedom and equal rights from Bahrain’s Sunni rulers.

Abdullah al Doseri is head of the international affairs committee of the government-backed National Institution for Human Rights.  On a recent visit to Washington, he sat down with VOA reporter Cecily Hilleary.  He told her the government Bahrain supports all legitimate calls for reform - or “requirements,” as he calls them, but only if they reflect the wishes of Bahraini society as a whole, not individual segments of the population.

Al Doseri:  There must be involvement, engagement, of all people in Bahrain.   Because the Sunni people have requirements, there [are] Far East people - those people who became Bahraini after three, four generations living in Bahrain - they have also requirements.  So we need to look at all these requirements - at the same level of attention and concern.  And we take them in vote.

Hilleary:  It became very apparent very quickly that Bahrain is different than some of the other countries we’ve seen with protests during this so-called “Arab Spring,” that there was a sectarian division - Shia’a saying that they don’t enjoy all the privileges that the Sunni enjoy.  Is there any basis for their concern?

Al Doseri:  What happened in Bahrain is different totally.  It is a sectarian requirement that people want to take some advantage, and they want to take advantage of the waves [of uprisings] that started from North Africa coming to the Gulf, and they found maybe that this is the proper time to demonstrate and ask for requirement.  At the beginning, people of Bahrain were conscious, they were supporting, and the government - as we raised our concern to the government - were able to listen to the people and give some promises and to do the changes.

Hilleary:  Now, initially, because the protests began on the 4th of February -

Al Doseri:  14th -

Hilleary:  They were Shia’a and Sunni?  Were there Christians, Jews - was it a mixed group of protesters?

Al Doseri:  It was only Shia’a people who started in Bahrain.  And it’s only when the Sunni became proactive, after that, like, two weeks, where the Sunni , under the National Gathering Unity [National Unity Gathering], raised their voices and they felt they were under threat because the Shia’a, under this protesting and this violence, they might receive tension from the government, and the Sunni will not receive the same attention.  So that made  a balance on the street.  There is the Sunni, people who raise their voices also, need to be considered, in addition to the Shia’a people and also to those who are living in Bahrain from different sects.

Hilleary:   But what about the Shia’a who say, for example, that they don’t enjoy the same socio-economic power, the wasta, that you find among the Sunni.  Is there any basis for their concerns?

Al Doseri:  Well, anybody in Bahrain can raise his own concerns, whether this is individual concern or group concern or a big group of people.   If there is anything of that, there are constitutional channels.  They need to raise this one [concern] and they will received attention.

There is a court, there is a Parliament in Bahrain, there is a Shura Council, there is a big majlis for the Emir and for everybody in Bahrain.  I don’t see that door has been closed for a long time.  This is an open door, and we are enjoying this in Bahrain, so even for us human rights activists, every time we have any concern, we have a lot of channels to use.  We have different tools of pressure to pass on our messages, and also, if they don’t listen the first time, we can repeat it a second, third time.  But at the end, this voice will be received.

But if this is being diversified, politicized, or sectarian requirement, or any interference from outside Bahrain - something like regional interference - this will impact negatively on this requirement, and make people seem as if they are not nationalist and not representing the whole country and not receiving the right attention.

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