The man on a mission to danger

A human rights official whose agency focuses on abuses in the UAE is preparing to join the Arab League's efforts to monitor the Syrian government.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Jan 10, 2012 -Mohammed Hussein Al Hammadi, Secretary General of the UAE Human Rights Association, is photographed during an interview at his office in Al Rashidiya.  Sarah Dea / The National
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DUBAI // In a routine now entering its third week, Mohammed Hussein Al Hammadi starts his day with one very important phone call to Syria.

"How are you?" is the first thing he asks his colleague, Mohammed Salim Al Kaabi, deputy chairman of the Emirates Human Rights Association (HRA), who, until this weekend, had been the sole Emirati monitor in the Arab League's observer mission in Syria.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has now sent 12 others to join the controversial mission that has come under fire from the Syrian opposition for not ending the violence that resulted from a government crackdown on protesters.

Soon, Mr Al Hammadi will join the monitoring mission in Syria, relieving Mr Al Kaabi, who will return to the UAE.

"It is dangerous, no doubt about it," says Mr Al Hammadi, the secretary general of the HRA, whose mobile phone never stops ringing with callers in distress, asking for help in human rights-related matters.

"It is only on a family day that I turn off my phone," says Mr Al Hammadi, who is also head of the human trafficking committee at the HRA.

"I have heard and dealt with so many tragic cases."

Having already checked up on his colleague before an exclusive interview withThe National, he says: "He is fine, he is always positive and full of enthusiasm."

Adding to the tensions in Syria, yesterday the Arab League held the Syrian government responsible for not protecting 11 of its monitors who were slightly wounded in Monday's attack by protesters.

"The monitors stay together in a group, wear distinct bullet proof vests and have bodyguards arranged for them by the Arab League in co-operation with the Syrian government," he says.

The league has suspended Syria's membership, and sent the team of monitors to assess whether the regime is abiding by an Arab-brokered peace plan that the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad, agreed to on December 19.

The move is in response to a 10-month uprising against the Syrian regime, inspired by the revolutions sweeping the Arab world, and the regime's crackdown on dissent that has killed thousands and led to international isolation and sanctions.

Mr Al Kaabi is entering his third week in Syria, stationed in Deraa as part of a 12-person observer mission that includes various representatives from the Arab League.

Video clips on YouTube show a monitor, believed to be Mr Al Kaabi, hounded by men as he makes his way into an alley of a residential area.

"We love Dubai, please take us there. Please save us, take us to beautiful Dubai," one Syrian protester could be overheard saying.

Mr Al Hammadi almost flew to Syria with Mr Al Kaabi, but delays in some paperwork caused him to postpone the trip and join the second batch of monitors that will be sent in the first week of February.

"I am very excited to be part of this," says Mr Al Hammadi, who is also a chief prosecutor at the Deira Prosecution in Dubai.

"The UAE is usually working away in the background assisting other countries, and so this is a chance for it to be active in the open and be part of a team that is trying to bring back stability and peace to a sister Arab nation," he says.

Opened in 2006, the HRA has for the first time found itself involved in a regional conflict.

"There has been great criticism of the mission in Syria, but what these critics are not aware of is that the first batch was sent to observe and report back a proper unbiased account of everything they witnessed," he says.

He makes a note of how the United Nations interim force in Lebanon, stationed since 1978 to "monitor" the south of Lebanon, does not interfere in any deadly hostilities that regularly arise between Israel and Lebanon.

A comprehensive report of the findings of the UAE's observer mission will be made on January 19, and whatever it says, Mr Al Hammadi hopes that "it is followed by a bold and daring decision by the Arab League".

When asked for details of what his colleague has observed in Syria, Mr Al Hammadi says: "We are bound by rules of confidentiality, where we can't say anything independent of the official announcements.

"But all I can say, it is not as clear cut as many people claim."

The association itself has had its share of criticisms since its establishment, spending its first two years embroiled in internal conflict.

"By 2008, we have settled and became more active," he says.

"We have had two sets of criticisms, where Emiratis say we only help expats, and then we have expats who say we only help Emiratis," says Mr Al Hammadi.

Common complaints by Emiratis are related to racism and ill treatment they experience in their workplace, while for expats there are similar complaints of racism and work-related issues such as abuse and withholding of salaries.

"This just shows that we are active and working with everyone, with our doors open to anyone with a human rights related issue," he says. "Give our association a chance."

The association is a non-governmental organisation, with more than 700 members of different nationalities and religions. It is open for anyone to apply for help or membership.

The HRA has done national surveys and lectures on human rights, and also released a board game last May called Huquuqi ("My Rights") that aims to teach children between ages nine and 15 their entitlements under law.

"We try to explain to people that besides your rights, you should also know what are your responsibilities," Mr Al Hammadi says.

A father of three who lost his wife two years ago in a car accident, he prepares to leave for Syria next month, missing the woman he says made him who he is now.

"It was my wife who always encouraged me and pushed me to go and investigate any human rights issue, telling me to work hard and make a difference," he says.

"That is exactly what I am doing here, and will do when I go to Syria."