Interview with His Excellency Mr Yusuf Abdulkarim Bucheeri, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Bahrain

23 April 2012

Mr Ambassador is a highly educated man, dedicated and eloquent, who speaks perfect English. Dr. Bucheeri was Trained as a lawyer and if there is one issue close to his heart it’s Human Rights and International law, H.E. has always aimed to put all his passion and knowledge acquired during his long years study for the benefit and in service of his country. Before his arrival in Geneva, his Excellency was in charge of Human Rights issues at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bahrain. We had the chance to meet him and to hear more about his country, the recent events there and, last but not least, his visions for what he would like to achieve during his tenure as the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Bahrain in Geneva. So Mr Ambassador, we leave the floor to you…

Q: Mr Ambassador, what is your background?

I’m actually a new Ambassador, Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International organizations based in Geneva and Vienna. I have a Ph.D. in Public International Law from the Faculty of Law, University of Edinburgh, where I studied from 1997 to 2001. I have joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1993, where I served as Director of the Human Rights at the Legal Affairs Directorate, for more than ten years. I have had considerable experience at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the territorial question over the Hoary Islands between Bahrain and Qatar. The historical case was presented before the ICJ and was completed in 2001. I’m very proud to have been part of the legal team at the ICJ who represented my country. Most of my experiences have been in practising public International Law, the principle of Human Rights and International Organizations. This is my first posting as an Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Office.

Q: What are your feelings about the international community in Geneva?

It is actually a great experience. The people I deal with have a professional background, especially in the field of international law. I’m so happy to represent my country in this field. Actually, a large number of issues require the attention of the International Organizations. Due to the present situation, the United Nations have much to deal with, especially in the field of human rights. Bahrain is a firm advocate of the promotion and the protection of human rights, and attaches great importance to this issue; we are, as usual, willing to use peaceful measures to resolve any kind of conflicts, at national or international levels

Q: Since you are a specialist in human rights, are you enjoying the work of the Human Right’s Council?

This is an issue that is very close to most of the Ambassadors here in Geneva. Human rights are in the mandate of the United Nations, and always come at the top of the priorities. Among the crises or difficulties facing nations everywhere in the world is the human rights issue in their countries. So, yes, human rights issues are always in focus.

Q: Your country has been criticized recently in the Human Rights Council. What is it like to have the finger pointed at you and to hear that the human rights situation in Bahrain is not good?

I have to start by saying that we feel very sorry about what happened in our country during February and March 2011 when some very unfortunate events took place. Frankly, we have not experienced such a situation since the independence. It was a difficult moment, not only for the Government, but for the whole society.

What happened in Bahrain is typical of what is happening in the region –– what we call the “Arab Spring”. Bahrain was facing more or less the same social movement. People were asking for more space to exercise their freedom. This kind of uprising hurt everybody and was moving in the wrong direction. The Government tried to control the situation.

Q: What did these people really want?

In the beginning, what they were asking for was to exercise more rights, and to exercise them in the Parliament. Our constitution system is based on two chambers. One is directly elected by the people and the members of the other one are appointed by the King. In 2001 each Bahraini was invited to say whether they wished to see a new constitution. These people were, in fact, asking that the second chamber should also be elected–– in other words, the King would be deprived of his legitimacy.

Furthermore, they were asking to redistribute the elective constituencies. They claimed that the geographical areas were not balanced. They said that a large part of the population was electing a small number of Members of Parliament (MP). They asked for the redistribution of the geographical elective zones in order to have better representation and a fairer “part” for their MP. The problem was that these people did not have the consensus of the whole nation. It is indeed a very respectable demand, but it should take place within the channels that we call the national dialogue, rather than taking place in the street, where those with the loudest voices confronted the police forces. This is unfortunately what happened.

His Majesty the King asked His Royal Highness the Crown Prince to lead the national dialogue and to listen to every single voice in society. He asked all sectors of society to participate seriously. Unfortunately, some of the parties chose not to take part in this national dialogue which lasted for forty days –– it was indeed a very critical time. The security situation has forced the government to take relevant measures as to protect civil society and citizens and to preserve the safety of public and private properties.

Bahrain is a part of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and they sent troops to sensitive areas. There were no consultations between the so-called uprising and these troops, and since troops were sent to strategic areas, such as the International Airport, the oil wells, the refineries, the large aluminium plant and other strategic places in Bahrain.

H.M The King set up a fact-finding mission in order to find out what had really happened, in the true style of the United Nations. Unilaterally, An Independent Commission of Inquiry was established, by a Royal Order, to investigate and report on the events occurring in Bahrain in February/March 2011, and any subsequent consequences arising out of the aforementioned events, and to make such recommendations as it may deem appropriate.

The BICI, was composed of internationally recognized human rights lawyers and experts, such as Professor Bassiouni who chaired the commission. Other prominent members, where Sir Nigel Rodley, Professor Badria Al-Awadhi, Philippe Kirsch and Mahnoush Arsanjani. In order to collect their data, they were given free access to all sources with complete immunity. His Majesty asked the Commission to present its report within four months, giving recommendations to be implemented, as well as its observations. This shows in what way the Arab Spring is different in Bahrain.

On the 23 November 2011, the Commission presented its report of more than 500 pages which relates the beginning of the event. The last chapter of the report gives twenty-two recommendations and observations to the Government. The report does criticize the Government for having used force, but it also criticizes the opposition for not having accepted the invitation for dialogue and for not sitting at the negotiation table.

When the report was presented, his Majesty the King announced that we are committed and pledged to implement all of the recommendations listed in the report without any exception. He started immediately by setting up the National Implementation Commission. By 29 February 2012 all of these recommendations should have been implemented.

As we are a small nation, we would like to see our society and our country return to normal. His Majesty actually mentioned this in a historic speech on the 23 November 2011. He said: “We do not want, ever again, to see our country paralyzed by intimidation and sabotage. We do not want, ever again, to hear that our expatriate work-force, which makes such valuable contributions to the development of our nation, has been repeatedly terrorized by racist gangs. We do not want, ever again, to see civilians tried anywhere else but in the regular courts…”.

Bahrain feels very sorry about the events that happened, but we are a serious and conscious people, very determined to reach our goals and to recover and reconsolidate our society. We are a monarchy, and we wish to continue our reforms on the right path. However, we cannot overnight become a monarchy like the ones you find in Sweden or the United Kingdom. We have traditions and we are moving step by step to reach this goal by again listening to the consensus of society. We cannot just listen to one section of society –– we have to take into account the interests of everybody.

Q: Bahrain is known for its liberty –– religious among other issues –– and has a small population, but when you see the images on TV you have the impression that the whole country was on fire. Do the groups that have been demonstrating represent a minority of the population or the whole population?

Bahrain has and still is recognized as a very open society, and has been recognized for being a good place for foreigners to live, to relax, to visit, etc. We have always had this kind of exchange. The demands made last year do not reflect the opinion of the whole population or even the people’s demands. We certainly have a mixture of people who have different opinions of life, so we cannot say that what happened last year reflects the Bahrainis’ demands.

Q: Bahrain was becoming a very important financial centre, known for its transparency and lack of corruption. What has been the impact of these events on the economy?

I agree that Bahrain is recognized in the region as a hub for the banking and financial sector, simply because we have very strict financial rules and regulations that go back to the 1970s. The Bahraini economy is very strong despite the crisis. Of course, Bahrain was affected by the crisis, but gradually the economy is getting back to normal.

Q: Now that we have talked about your country, can you tell us what you would like to achieve while you are here in Geneva?

I would first of all do my best to give back to Bahrain the same image it previously had as a very advanced country and a good example of democracy in the region –– an open society. Of course, the human rights issues come at the top of the agenda and show again that Bahrain is setting a precedent for the Arab Spring.

Q: If I understand correctly, would it be right to say that you are using this bad experience to improve your society.

Yes, absolutely. As long as we are able to encourage all sectors of society and important elements within the country –– the Government, civil society, the citizens –– to work together to solve problems and to overcome the obstacles peacefully. This is the most important example that can be shown to the international community to be shared by all.