02 October 2010 Manama- Amani Almaskati AlWasat News

The Head of the European Union office of Front Line, Mr. Vincent Forest, has stressed that there is a gap between the content of the law to protect society from terrorism acts in Bahrain and its application to detainees due to the security issues in Bahrain. Particularly in regards to not allowing them to meet with lawyers as provided for by law and international conventions which were adopted by the Kingdom of Bahrain, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was issued in Bahrain as law No. (56) for the year 2006.

This was during an interview conducted by the «Alwasat Newspaper» with Forest, who visited Bahrain to meet with Bahraini officials and diplomats in regards to those detained in relations to security issues.

He (Mr. Forest) stated that the targeting of human rights defenders in any country, would restrict the whole of society, and that countries that seek to put themselves in an advanced stage in the field of human rights, must realize that they must not differentiate between legislation and reality and have to work on reducing this gap.

Following is the text of the interview with Mr. Forest:

What is the Purpose of your visit to Bahrain?

- I am an envoy from «Front Line» on a mission for a period of three days to meet a number of senior officials, diplomats and human rights defenders in Bahrain, to discuss the matter of those detained in relations to security issues, and the dissolving of the board of the Bahrain Society for Human Rights as well as the prevention of a number of activists from traveling.

The basic idea of these meetings is to obtain information and answers to our questions by local officials on these issues, especially regarding the issue of the blogger Ali Abdulemam, as well as to express our concern and fears on these issues on the diplomatic level, and in this context, I met with officials in the French , American, German and British embassies. It is a part of our strategy at «Front Line» to exert pressure if anything happens to human rights defenders in any country.

Who are the officials you have met with?

- I met with officials in the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Interior, Justice, Islamic Affairs and Social Development. This came after a formal request we made a week before the date of the meetings through the embassies in Belgium and Britain. I am happy with the consent of the official authorities to these meetings, because it enabled us to raise our concern and our questions on subjects related to these cases.

What was the officials response to the questions you raised?

- In respect to those detained in relations to security issues, I was informed by officials from the Ministry of the Interior that the investigation is still ongoing, and when I asked about the charges brought against them I was assured that the picture was still incomplete, and they are still gathering information in order to obtain a complete picture in regards to the charges.

But we have noticed in «Front Line» that there is a gap between the contents of the anti-terrorism law in Bahrain, which has been applied to those detained in security issues, and what is applied in practice. For example, in the case of Abdulemam, it has been more than a month since his detention and interrogation without allowing him to meet with his lawyer, who asked to meet him seven times without getting any response. The same applies to other detainees, although the law gives the detainees the right to meet with their lawyers after two weeks of their detention.

This is a clear violation of the law, particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was issued in Bahrain as law No. (56) for the year 2006, and this is a negative thing that has us concerned about the mechanism used in dealing with detainees, especially in light of the silence that has been ongoing through the investigation of their cases.

The officials of the Ministry of Interior denied, in my meeting with them, any allegations of the occurrence of any human rights violations of detainees, but I stressed that failure to provide any means to meet with them is scary.

And I think that the detention of human rights defenders under the Terrorism Act is a dangerous thing, especially in regards to the issue of the blogger who has been accused of using his website to incite violence, which threatens state security.

This official silence on these issues is difficult to understand, especially in the absence of clarity of the charges brought against the detainees. It is true that the investigation is ongoing, but that this is done without allowing the detainees to meet with their lawyers is what raises our fears.

What also worries us is that there are human rights activists who have raised their concerns that they may be arrested at any moment, and that the Bahraini Society for Human Rights is being targeted. I view this as an indication that the authorities do not accept criticism of the human rights situation in Bahrain.

Were these observations discussed with the officials during your meeting?

- Yes, I called, during my meetings, for the immediate release of the detainees or their speedy transferal to a just and transparent trial, I also emphasized that the detainees need to be allowed immediate meetings with their lawyers, and that the investigations need to be done independently. These things were also discussed with the detainees lawyers and families.

As you are an organization involved in the defense of human rights defenders, does this mean that your interest in the cases of the detainees in Bahrain comes as the result of them being human rights defenders? And who are human rights defenders according to the definition of «Front Line»?

- We consider a blogger and ten others arrested in security issues are human rights defenders. As for our definition of human rights defenders, it is derived from the United Nations definition, one that is both very simple and wide. A human rights defender is any person working for the realization of human rights according to what came in the Declaration on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations, on condition that they do not do so using violence.

For us, any person can be regarded as a defender of human rights, the process depends on what the person is doing and not who he was.

For example, even security men can be human rights defenders if they had witnessed violent practices against any person and provided testimony as such. As well as the journalists who document human rights violations, and even those who testify in court cases and are under threat because of their testimony.

This definition was not created by «Front Line», but was defined by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and it explains who can be considered as a human rights defender.

There are human rights defenders who work within the framework of human rights organizations, while there are also defenders of human rights in a specific time period, so the definition depends on what happens rather than who does it.

It is also not required, in order to be deemed a human rights defenders, to be working in an organization that is officially registered, for we do not find any difference between the organizations officially registered or unregistered. All defenders of economic, social and political freedom of expression and freedom of association can be considered as human rights defenders, but not all of them are not in danger, so Front Line works on an international level, in order to protect and support the defenders who are at risk because they are doing independent human rights work.

We also support independent human rights organizations which are not supported by the government, as they might be targeted by the government.

What are the basic principles that must be available in any country for the protection of human rights defenders?

- The Declaration on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders has a list of rights granted to the defenders, most notably the right to criticize the government, and freedom of expression, the right to organize meetings in peace and freedom, and the right to send complaints to internal and external entities, and access to economic support and freedom of association and assembly.

This declaration was released with the consent of the Member States of the United Nations, it was a matter of dispute between States, those that wanted to ensure the rights of defenders and others who wanted to restrict them ,until the states at the end decided on a list of minimum rights that must be made available to the defenders of human rights.

It is a document that we closely rely upon and refer to in our correspondence with governments as it was created with their consent and therefore they must abide by it.

Furthermore, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (in Bahrain issued as law No. (56) for the year 2006), stresses in articles «19 and 20» on the freedom of expression and freedom of association, and Bahrain was one of the States to ratify it, which imposes on member states to demonstrate a clear and visible commitment to it.

Do you think that countries, especially Arab ones, are committed to the contents of the Declaration on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders?

- I'm not a specialist in the Arab region, but generally, the declaration is different from the conventions for which there are mechanisms in the United Nations that monitor the obligations of States to implement the agreements signed by them.

Human rights defenders all over the world are in need of protection and support because they are one of the most important means of community development, and at «Frontline», we have a slogan that we are guided by in our work, which is «If you save a human rights defenders, you have empowered a thousand people.».

Therefore, our work is to follow up on each case individually, and we do not issue reports on major topics, we believe that in the protection of one person, the people surrounding that person will be in a better position.

We also believe that human rights defenders play a central role in society, and protecting them means finding a way to grant more freedom to the rest of society, particularly with respect to freedom of opinion and expression.

Therefore, governments seeking to develop their human rights records have to make sure that the situation is positive for human rights defenders. If it targets human rights defenders and does not allow them to operate freely, that means restricting the whole of society, therefore human rights defenders are the means for social development.

Do you think that the legislation in Bahrain provides the necessary protection for human rights defenders in Bahrain?

- Frankly, I do not have enough details in this regard, because our interest in our organization is focused on human rights situations of concern to us, and working on improving the situation. And perhaps legislation is not directly related to our approach but it can support it substantially.

This visit to Bahrain aims to contribute in improving the situation of human rights defenders arrested in relations to security issues. True, it is a simple contribution, but it is important for us, especially in this period, after weeks have passed since their detention.

What should be done by Bahrain in general for the protection of human rights defenders?

- Bahrain, or any other country, should allow for the freedom to establish human rights societies, and this is essential in any society. Human Rights Defenders must be able to work without being subjected to restrictive legislation preventing them from carrying on with their primary activities. They must leave enough space for them to work, as well as allowing them the freedom to express themselves, freedom of assembly and freedom to organize seminars.

If this space is not provided for human rights organizations, and I do not mean specifically Bahrain, these restriction on the formation of these organizations would make the organizations have to work outside the legal framework, and this leads to the formation of a gap between the defenders and the state.

If the State is seeking to place itself in an advanced stage in the field of human rights, it should be aware that it must not leave any difference between legislation and reality, but has to work on reducing this gap. And I think this must be applied by all countries, including the European countries.

After the end of your mission in Bahrain, will you be producing a report containing your observations on the visit?

- It will be limited to the issuing of a statement. We are not like other organizations that issue large reports. But we do hope that the official meetings help in improving the situation.

I must emphasize that it is positive to be able to meet a number of officials in Bahrain, and we hope to continue such coordination with the officials. Especially since my meetings with them enabled me to raise our concerns at «Front Line», and ask them questions. I would have greatly regretted if I had not been able to meet them.

Original copy (Arabic)alwasatnews.com