UK government’s role in the abuse of people in Bahrain revealed
The Observer newspaper on 14 August 2016 contained revelations about the UK government’s role in training the police force in Bahrain which has a reputation for ruthlessly suppressing public protest and dissent. The newspaper has been able to obtain a confidential agreement signed on 14 June this year, by the UK’s College of Policing and Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior.
It is alleged that this is a commercial arrangement between the two organisations which somehow omits any mention of human rights. The College of Policing’s site is full of stuff about ethics and integrity and says:
We are committed to ensuring that the Code of Ethics is not simply another piece of paper, poster or laminate, but is at the heart of every policy, procedure, decision and action in policing.
The code itself is 23 pages long. The College has earned £8.5m from its international word since its formation in 2012. The Home Affairs Select Committee has criticised the College for its ‘opaque’ affairs and it has taken a leak to enable us to see some of the details of what was agreed.
At one level there is an argument that encouraging police officers to work in the country to raise standards is perfectly acceptable. If by a combination of training and encouragement they are able over time to reduce the incidence of poor treatment, people denied lawyers and all the other things the Bahrain government is accused of, so much the better. This is indeed the Foreign Office’s line. However, there is much to improve – in the words of Human Rights Watch:
Bahrain’s human rights climate remains highly problematic. The country’s courts convict and imprison peaceful dissenters and have failed to hold officials accountable for torture and other serious rights violations. There is evidence that the security forces continue to use disproportionate force to quell unrest. Human rights activists and members of the political opposition face arrest and prosecution and dozens have been stripped of their citizenship. Bahrain restricts freedom of speech, and has jailed and fined Bahraini photographers. Migrant workers in Bahrain endure serious abuses such as unpaid wages, passport confiscation, unsafe housing, excessive work hours, physical abuse and forced labor.
If on the other hand, the College is helping the security services in their various activities (with surveiilance and intercept techniques for example) then this is not an appropriate thing for them to do. Their legitimacy has also been queried as they are set up as a company limited by guarantee. DPG Law has queried whether the Home Office can outsource this kind of activity anyway. Certainly, the trend recently by the UK government is to encourage business activities and to play down human rights concerns as it may offend countries which regularly violate them. The absence of a human rights clause or statement in the contract is in line with this commercial approach.
The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy has today [15 August] written to Boris Johnson the Foreign Secretary:
NGO’s today sent an open letter to Boris Johnson, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, raising urgent concerns over the poor human rights record of Bahrain’s ambassador to the UK, and asking him to raise their concerns.
[They point out that] The ambassador, Sheikh Fawaz bin Mohammad Al Khalifa, is a member of the Bahraini royal family and formerly the president of the Information Affairs Authority (IAA), the state’s media regulator and home of state media channels and websites, including Bahrain TV and the Bahrain News Agency.
The full letter can be read here.
This is a country where violence against peaceful protest, torture and other forms of mistreatment is the norm. It appears a British agency is assisting the Bahrainis in their activities rather than seeking to help them reform since the human rights situation there is getting worse rather than better. Even though the activity was commenced when our current Prime Minister Theresa May was the Home Secretary, let us hope that with the new broom in place, this dubious contract is ended.
Sources: Observer; Reuters