Posts Tagged ‘Human rights’


Parliamentary committee produces damning report

Report by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee accuses China of genocide towards the Uyghurs in Xinjiang province. The report is entitled: Never Again: the UK’s Responsibility to Act on Atrocities in Xinxiang and Beyond. It does not pull its punches. It is perhaps one of several events which are leading to a reappraisal of our relations with China. The previous Conservative administration was keen to see an improvement in our relations and with it, increases in trade and development. The treatment of the Uyghurs, the repression in Hong Kong, threats to the integrity of Taiwan and the poor behaviour in the early months of the Covid pandemic, is slowly forcing countries to think again.

The crimes being committed against the Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) are truly horrifying. The Chinese government is responsible for the mass detention of more than a million Uyghurs, for forcing them into industrial-scale forced labour programmes, and for attempting to wipe out Uyghur and Islamic culture in the region through forced sterilisation of women, destruction of cultural sites, and separation of children from families. It is altogether a gruesome picture and shocking behaviour from on the UN’s Security Council members.

The Committee heard that under the guise of counter-terrorism, the Chinese government is committing mass atrocities and human rights abuses against the Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in Xinjiang. Reports include the use of forced labour programmes, arbitrary detention in internment camps, cultural erasure, systematic rape, forced sterilisations, separation of children from their families, and a high-technology surveillance system – all endorsed by the Chinese government’s central leadership. Thousands of mosques have been demolished.

One element of the report relates to cotton. It is estimated that some 570,000 people are forced to work picking cotton 84% of which comes from Xinjiang. Satellite imagery shows the use of surveillance equipment, factories surrounded by barbed wire and watch towers. The report notes that ‘virtually the entire’ UK textile and clothing is linked to the abuses.

Virtually the entire UK textile and clothing industry is linked to the abuses in Xinjiang

The UK government has adopted a low profile in this matter although there are signs of a stiffening of attitudes. The Committee argues that guidance is insufficient and that ‘stricter methods’ are needed.

The problem for the public, many of whom are horrified by the stories emerging from Xinjiang, is that action is difficult. How does one know, when buying a cotton T shirt or blouse, whether it has Chinese cotton in it produced by Uyghur slaves? We have to rely on firms applying due diligence in their supply chains. Undoubtedly, some retailers will take this seriously – not just as a matter of morals but because of the risk of reputational damage – whereas others may not do so. A representative of the Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI) thought that voluntary action would not be enough for some retailers. We rely therefore on government to take the lead.

The government is financially supporting the Australian Strategic Policy Institute ASPI, which produces analysis of Chinese actions. A report on the Uyghurs is available here.

To see in more detail what the Ethical Trade Initiative says about the Chinese situation follow this link.


Investigators using a range of modern technology to keep track of human rights violations

Looking at the scale and extent of human rights abuses around the world, it is hard not to feel in despair. The ‘never again’ optimism after the Second World War seems to have melted away with wholesale abuses taking place in Syria, Egypt, China, Myanmar and many other places. China executes more of its citizens than any other country in the world and is incarcerating a million Uyghurs in a form of ethnic cleansing. The treatment of Rohingyas in Myanmar is another massive tragedy. Egypt is on an execution spree – 16 in one day – and abuses are evident in nearly all the Gulf states.

It seems that nearly all the perpetrators escape justice. Evidence is difficult if not impossible to obtain. Western governments are more than willing to look the other way. The countries concerned are major buyers of weapons – Saudi Arabia is the UK’s largest customer for example – which makes them complicit in the crimes.

But it seems as though there may be cause for optimism with an organisation using a range of modern technology to track down the perpetrators and collect evidence with a view to a future trial. Soon to be launched Investigative Commons will be acting as a kind of hub to enable this work to be done. People are familiar with Bellingcat which used similar methods to track down the two Russian GRU agents who came here to Salisbury in an attempt to murder Sergei Skripal.

A significant advance is made possible by Forensic Architecture who are able to match events to individual arms firms. This is truly ground-breaking and in the case of Yemen, they are assembling evidence which may enable individual politicians and others to be put on trial for breaches of International Human Rights.

Up until now, human rights work has depended on people working in the country concerned which of course is extremely risky. Many human rights defenders, lawyers and other activists have been arrested or executed during the course of trying to look into violations.

A potential game changer

This relatively new method enables information to be collected from a wide range of sources and can be put together for a trial. This represents a major leap in the ability of human rights organisations to keep track of what is happening around the world and may in addition, act as some kind of deterrent to abusers.

The organisation is based in the same office block in Germany as the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, ECCHR which has had some success in Syria. The use of open source information and assembling it into a potential case for the International Court does look like a potential game changer.

No doubt we shall be referring to this organisation in the future.

Source: The Observer 27 June 2021


Amnesty International celebrates its 60th anniversary this year and the local group braved the inclement weather to take a group shot to mark the occasion. The Salisbury group was established a few years after AI was formed and is still going strong. The need for human rights organisations is even stronger than ever with many examples around the world of people’s rights being infringed.

In Yemen there is the continuing war and bombing of civilians continues unabated; the genocide of Rohingya in Burma (Myanmar); Syria; wars in the Horn of Africa are just some examples.

In the UK we remain concerned at government attempts to stifle freedoms of assembly, the Judiciary and their long term desire to curtail or abolish the Human Rights Act.

If you live in the south Wiltshire area and would like to join us, you would be very welcome.


Aspect of the annual report detailing the UK government’s actions regarding human rights of UK subjects

The government response to COVID-19 raised human rights concerns, including in relation to health, immigration policies, domestic abuse and housing. Instances of racial discrimination and excessive force against protesters by the police were documented. Northern Ireland made progress on same-sex marriage and abortion, but full accountability for past violations remained unrealized. New licences for military exports to Saudi Arabia resumed. Bills on counter-terrorism and overseas military operations endangered  human rights.  Extradition proceedings against Julian Assange threatened the right to freedom of expression. The full report can be accessed from this link (pdf).

BACKGROUND

On 31 January, the UK left the European Union and began an 11-month transition period.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, parliament granted far-reaching emergency powers to the UK and devolved governments for up to two years, subject to parliamentary renewal every six months. Lockdowns implemented to slow the spread of the virus severely restricted freedom of movement, freedom of peaceful assembly and the right to privacy and family life.

At least 74,570 people died in the UK as a result of COVID-19 in 2020. The economic impact of the pandemic caused widespread hardship, particularly for those in insecure employment and people subject to immigration controls.

In May and June, Black Lives Matter protests drew attention to systemic racism and discrimination against Black people.

RIGHT TO HEALTH

The UK death toll due to COVID-19 represented one of the highest death rates from the virus in Europe. Health and other essential workers reported shortages of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) to minimize their risk of contracting COVID-19. By 25 May, 540 deaths involving COVID-19 had been registered among social care and health workers. The authorities violated the right to health and right to life of older people resident in care homes, including by failing to provide adequate PPE and regular testing, discharging infected or possibly infected patients from hospitals to care homes and suspending regular oversight procedures.

In June, an official investigation found that people of Black and Asian ethnicity were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. In particular, Black and Asian health workers were significantly over-represented among COVID-19 related deaths of health workers.

The government resisted calls from over 70 organizations to immediately launch an independent public inquiry into its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, stating that an inquiry would take place at an unspecified time in the future.

DISCRIMINATION

In March, a review of the so-called “Windrush scandal” was published. The review identified serious failings in the government’s treatment of the Windrush generation, who settled in the UK as British nationals from the Caribbean and other Commonwealth countries before 1973 but who, along with some of their descendants, were later treated as if they had no permission to be in the UK. Although the government promised to act on the far- reaching recommendations of the review, the proposed changes failed to address the root causes of the scandal, including the racism embedded in nationality and immigration laws and policies.

Discrimination in the exercise of police powers continued to be a concern. Data on fines issued for non-compliance with the COVID-19 related lockdown revealed that Black and Asian people were disproportionately fined. In May, during the first national lockdown, police in London conducted a record number of stop and searches: 43,644, of which 10,000 targeted young Black men. Racial disproportionality specifically against Black people continued to feature heavily across various policing issues, including the use of force and of Taser. Police figures published in 2020 showed that Black people were up to eight times more likely to have Taser used against them than White people in 2018/19. High-profile cases of Taser use against Black people in London and Manchester, including one case in the presence of a child, highlighted this issue.

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

In June, police used excessive force against Black Lives Matter protesters in London, including the confinement of people to a narrow space (“kettling”) and the use of horses to disperse crowds. Police issued approximately 70 infringements of COVID-19 restrictions to peaceful protesters at Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Belfast and Derry-Londonderry and initiated criminal investigations against the organizers, relying on COVID-19 related enforcement powers that came into force on the eve of the protest. In December, the Northern Ireland Policing Board found policing of the protests to have been “potentially unlawful”, while the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland found it to have been “unfair” and “discriminatory”.

REFUGEES, ASYLUM-SEEKERS AND MIGRANTS
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government failed to adequately modify immigration policies and practices to safeguard public health. People continued to be held in immigration detention for the purposes of removal from the UK, despite the heightened risk of infection in detention and obstacles to effecting removal. Asylum claims were required to be made in person.

Statutory exclusions or restrictions on access to employment, welfare, accommodation and health care for people subject to immigration control undermined their ability to protect themselves from the virus and maintain an adequate standard of living. The government resisted widespread calls to suspend the “no recourse to public funds” policy, which restricts access to benefits for many migrants, during the pandemic.

Parliament passed a new immigration law in November which granted exceptionally broad legislative powers to the Home Secretary and ended free movement rights under EU law. Children entitled to British citizenship continued to be prevented by government policy and practice from registering their entitlement. Children of EU nationals became particularly at risk because of their loss of free movement rights in the UK.

RIGHT TO HOUSING

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government introduced some measures, albeit only short-term, to protect the right to housing. It suspended court proceedings for evictions in England and Wales from 27 March until 20 September and temporarily increased the minimum notice period prior to eviction for most tenants.

By September, 29,000 rough sleepers and other vulnerable people had been supported into accommodation during the pandemic, according to official figures. Homelessness charities reported a sharp increase in demand for their services since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

RIGHTS OF LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL, TRANSGENDER AND INTERSEX (LGBTI) PEOPLE

In February, the first same-sex marriages took place in Northern Ireland after the success in 2019 of a long-running campaign for marriage equality. Religious same-sex marriages were permitted from September, and the conversion of existing civil partnerships was allowed from December.

Amid growing transphobic rhetoric and fear-mongering in the media, the government’s proposed amendments to the outdated Gender Recognition Act in England and Wales fell short of human rights standards. A second consultation to reform gender recognition law in Scotland ended in March.

WOMEN’S RIGHTS

There was an increase in reported cases of domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. The government lacked a fully coordinated plan to tackle the foreseeable risk of domestic violence during the pandemic and failed to provide sufficient and timely emergency funding for frontline services. None of the additional funding was ring-fenced for specialist services for ethnic minority women, despite an increase in referrals to these services. Migrant women whose immigration status excludes them from most government benefits faced compounded challenges in obtaining support for domestic violence.

The Domestic Abuse Bill lacked provisions to ensure safety and access to justice for migrant women. The bill did not meet the government’s stated intention of bringing domestic legislation in line with the Istanbul Convention, which the UK had yet to ratify.

The criminalization of sex work and denial of sex workers’ labour rights meant that they were particularly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and related measures. The government maintained a five-week waiting period for social security payments, despite previously acknowledging that it was a factor in some women resorting to sex work.

SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS

After the decriminalization of abortion in 2019, regulations governing the provision of abortion services in Northern Ireland took effect on 31 March. The government allowed both abortion pills to be taken at home during the COVID-19 pandemic in all regions of the UK except Northern Ireland, where a local temporary service providing early medical abortions began in April, allowing one abortion pill to be taken on health and social care premises, and the second one at home.

Whilst abortion services in Northern Ireland were legal and running to varying degrees, by year’s end the authorities had yet to formally commission abortion services that were adequately resourced, sustainable and fully accessible to all who need them.

NORTHERN IRELAND – LEGACY ISSUES

In March, the government issued proposals to address the legacy of the conflict in Northern Ireland which were not compatible with human rights standards and departed from commitments made in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement and subsequent government statements and agreements. The proposals would limit prosecutions of those suspected of criminal responsibility for crimes under international law and human rights violations and abuses during the decades-long conflict.

The government refused to launch a public inquiry into the murder of Patrick Finucane, a Belfast lawyer killed in 1989, despite a 2019 Supreme Court ruling, which found that his murder was not effectively investigated in line with human rights standards.

IRRESPONSIBLE ARMS TRANSFERS

The UK resumed issuing licences for military exports to Saudi Arabia in July, after a court ruling in June 2019 required the government to suspend new licensing of military equipment to Saudi Arabia.

In response to the excessive use of force against US Black Lives Matter protesters, members of parliament and several organizations, including Amnesty International, called on the UK to suspend exports of crowd control equipment, such as tear gas and rubber bullets, to US law enforcement agencies. In September, the government stated that it had re-assessed export licences of such equipment to the USA in response to these events and concluded there was “no clear risk” of misuse.

STATE OVERREACH

The Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill proposed a major overhaul of the sentencing regime for counter-terrorism offences, including the removal of some key safeguards on the use of already concerning administrative control measures known as Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIMs). The proposed changes included lowering the standard of proof for the imposition of a TPIM.

IMPUNITY

In March, the government proposed a new law which would seriously restrict prosecutions for offences committed by British soldiers overseas, including torture and other ill-treatment as well as other crimes under international law. The proposed law would create a “presumption against prosecution” after five years.

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Hearings to consider a US extradition request for Julian Assange began in February and resumed in September. Assange remained detained at Belmarsh prison and faced prosecution in the USA for the publication of disclosed documents as part of his work with Wikileaks. Amnesty International called on the USA to drop the charges and on the UK to halt his extradition to the USA where he would face a real risk of serious human rights violations.

Annual Report


Bahrain Grand Prix puts motor sport in the spotlight again

Listen to the podcast of this post.

One of the countries which consistently ignores human rights is the Kingdom of Bahrain in the Gulf. The list of infractions is rather long: trials are unfair and confessions extracted using torture; there is no freedom of speech and the last independent newspaper was closed three years ago; women do not have equal rights; the death penalty has been reintroduced and prison conditions are exceedingly poor. Reports by Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations set these out in some detail.

The UN report notes:

The Committee is concerned about reports that acts of torture and ill‑treatment are often committed by law enforcement officials, including as a means of eliciting confessions, that, despite the prohibition in domestic law, confessions obtained under duress have been used as evidence in court and that allegations made by defendants in this respect have not been adequately investigated. The Committee is also concerned about reports of torture in prisons, particularly in the Jau prison. It notes with concern the lack of information on investigations carried out and convictions handed down vis-à-vis the number of complaints of torture and ill-treatment (arts. 2, 6, 7 and 14).

United Nations Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner 2017

For some years, human rights groups have asked FIA, the Grand Prix organisation to adopt human rights policies but it’s website does not appear to have any such policy.

The Formula One champion, Lewis Hamilton, has spoken out about the human rights situation in Bahrain prior to the race starting tomorrow (28 March 2021). He said:

I don’t think we should be going to these countries and ignoring what is happening in those places, arriving, having a good time and then leave. Human rights I don’t think, should be a political issue. We all deserve equal rights.

Jerome Pigmire, AP, 25 March 2021

He went on to say that he had hoped to speak to the Crown Prince, Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa after last year’s race. His answer is a little oblique explaining that such matters were best addressed in private without clarifying whether he had or not. In any event, this is progress and for a prominent driver to be highlighting this issue when the governing body itself seems unconcerned is encouraging. Apparently, Hamilton received letters from three survivors of torture in Bahrain giving details of extreme beatings and sexual abuse. This led him to try and educate himself into what was happening there which has included speaking to Amnesty International.

The Kingdom denies denies claims of human rights abuses saying that ‘[the] promotion and protection of human rights [are] an essential part of the Kingdom’s strategy in developing state institutions and national legislation.’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kingdom of Bahrain.

The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy have asked the new F1 CEO Stefan Domenicali to establish a commission of independent experts to investigate the human rights impact of F1’s activities in Bahrain (27 March).

Sport is about money. Despotic regimes have deep pockets with which to host international sporting events such as motor racing, football, boxing or golf. Few questions are asked and the sports pages of newspapers are full of action photos and breathless prose about these events. They rarely sully their coverage with information about the gross human rights infringements, torture and executions taking place in the host country. Blind eyes are turned.

But maybe things are beginning to change. Sporting heroes have huge followings sometimes from people who may not pay too much attention to politics. Perhaps Marcus Rashford and Lewis Hamilton are early examples of greater awareness by sporting stars of what is going on around them. Whereas human rights activists can be safely ignored by politicians, these stars with their huge followings, cannot be.

UK aid to Saudi Arabia

Posted: January 15, 2021 in Saudi Arabia
Tags: , , , ,

UK has funnelled £2.4m to the Saudis to help them comply with humanitarian law

Last year, there was a political fuss when the Department for International Development was merged with the Foreign Office and subsequently, its budget cut from 0.7% of GDP to 0.5%.  David Cameron, when prime minister, had kept to the higher level despite a fierce campaign and a string of exaggerated stories by the tabloid press, principally the Daily Mail.  DFID had a good reputation and with broadly favourable audit reports on how and where the money was spent and its effectiveness.

A number of prominent Conservatives, including Andrew Mitchell, Tobias Ellwood and others, opposed the move.  The pledge to keep the 0.7% was in the last party manifesto.  There were many Conservatives however who were in favour of the cuts saying that the aid was best spent at home especially with the money needed for Covid.  The arguments against the aid were that it was wasted and one example quoted was India which can afford nuclear weapons and has a space programme.

It is more than a little surprising therefore to discover that HMG has been quietly funding the Saudi government to the tune of £2.4m over a 4 year period to help them with meeting international humanitarian law requirements.  In view of the Saudi regime’s continuing activities, it doesn’t seem like it is money well spent.  Opposition to the regime is ruthlessly crushed.  The women who argued for the right to drive languish in prison.  Executions continue apace with a record 184 in 2019.  Torture is routine.  And then there is the bombing of Yemen where there have been 8,758 civilian deaths and 9,810 injured.  During the period of this funding, the regime murdered and then dismembered the body of Adman Khashoggi.

So while aid will be cut – not just the reduction in the percentage itself but the reduction in our GDP because of the pandemic – money continues to flow to one of the richest countries in the world.

Sources: Human Rights Watch; Guardian; al Jazeera; Yemen Data Project

 

 

 

 


UK likely to abandon human rights concerns in its rush for trade deals

News today (3 January 2021) that the government has agreed a comprehensive trade deal with Turkey has set alarm bells ringing about the future for human rights in further deals.  Following our departure a few days ago from the EU, the government is trying hard to secure trade deals around the world to replace any problems which might occur limiting trade with them.

The human rights situation in Turkey is dire.  Journalists and human rights defenders have been jailed on vague charges of the terrorism kind.  Newspapers have been closed.  Torture is common in police stations and there is a culture of impunity for the security forces.  Thousands of people are denied work accused of being terrorists or aiding terrorists.  Essentially the rule of law has all but broken down.

We do of course have to trade around the world and if we only did so with those with clean hands, business would be rather thin.  We do not have to sell them arms however to make the region less stable and enhance the president Erdogan’s ability to control his people.  Liz Truss’s unquestioning enthusiasm for a trade deal seemingly at any cost is to be deprecated.

Does regaining sovereignty mean selling anything to anyone?

 

Will this be repeated around the world with all sorts of regimes who mistreat their citizens, use torture routinely and are indifferent to human rights?  Time will tell but it is to be hoped that the desire to secure deals at any price, no questions asked, does not become the norm.  Is this what ‘regaining our sovereignty’ means?  Freedom to sell arms and other sensitive materials to some of the world’s worse regimes?

Peter Curbishley

 


Newspaper exposes an extraordinary secret deal made between Switzerland and China

Switzerland is a country which has seldom appeared on this site.  It has an image of being a peaceful, civilised country with a close attachment to laws and rules.  Indeed it is something of an example to the rest of the world having avoided wars for centuries.  It never joined the EU.  Several human rights based organisations are based in Geneva.  The only thing said against it is the secret nature of its banking system which enables billions of dollars to be secreted away out of sight of the host country.

So it has come of something of a shock to discover that it has signed a secret deal with China to facilitate the repatriation of Chinese nationals back to that country.  Readmission agreements as they are called are common and Switzerland itself has around 60 of them including one with the UK.  These are published or otherwise available and the personnel involved have to be validated by both countries.  Not so in the case of China.

The Swiss agreement allows officers from the Ministry of Public Security, which is implicated in widespread, systematic and wide-ranging human rights abuses, free and secret access to the country.  Their agents are accused of crimes against humanity.  Yet they roam free in Switzerland carrying out unsupervised interviews and operations in their attempts to track down Chinese nationals and repatriate them to China.  The Swiss do not check on their activities or know who is being sent back.  Of those who have been sent back, their whereabouts are unknown.

Details of this extraordinary story was revealed by the newspaper NZZ amSonntag in August and a fuller story has appeared in Safeguard Defenders.   It was kept secret it has been claimed, because it was ‘an administrative agreement’.  Now that some Swiss parliamentarians have become aware of it, how long it will last we shall have to see.  But it seems to be another example of some western countries craven attitude towards the Chinese despite increasing knowledge of their multiple human rights abuses.

Sources: Swiss Info.ch; Safeguard Defenders; Guardian; NZZ amSonntag


Today, 10 December 2020 is Human Rights Day

IMMEDIATE  Tonight (10 December) at 7:30 (UK time) there will be a special programme on BBC3 to mark this day.

Human Rights Day is observed every year on 10 December — the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).  The UDHR is a milestone document that proclaims the inalienable rights which everyone is entitled to as a human being – regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.   It is the most translated document in the world being available in more than 500 languages,

2020 Theme: Recover Better – Stand Up for Human Rights

This year’s Human Rights Day theme relates to the COVID-19 pandemic and focuses on the need to build back better by ensuring Human Rights are central to recovery efforts.  We will reach our common global goals only if we are able to create equal opportunities for all, address the failures exposed and exploited by COVID-19, and apply human rights standards to tackle entrenched, systematic, and intergenerational inequalities, exclusion and discrimination.

10 December is an opportunity to reaffirm the importance of human rights in re-building the world we want, the need for global solidarity as well as our interconnectedness and shared humanity.

Under UN Human Rights’ generic call to action “Stand Up for Human rights”, we aim to engage the general public, our partners and the UN family to bolster transformative action and showcase practical and inspirational examples that can contribute to recovering better and fostering more resilient and just societies.

Taken from the UN site


Issue of Sportswash has emerged again with two Formula 1 races to be held in Bahrain

UPDATE 26 November

Guardian piece 

Sport and politics have never been too far apart.  During the Cold War, countries like East Germany and Russia spent enormous sums on their sports programmes in an attempt to demonstrate to the world how successful they were.  Recently, we have seen countries like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain use their vast wealth to secure favourable media coverage.  Earlier in the year, we featured the attempt to purchase Newcastle FC using Saudi money.

These countries are also able to pay large sums to public relations firms to massage their reputations.  Before we rush to condemn sporting organisations, sportsmen and women too quickly however, we need to look at the tangled web of influence and connections between a variety of people and the Bahraini regime.  One such is the retired Chief of Defence staff Baron, formerly General, Richards of Herstmonceux.  Despite the unrest,  crackdowns and multiple human rights violations in Bahrain, Baron Richards was able to advise them on a variety of areas using his company Palliser Associates and Equilibrium Global.  There are various connections to the former prime minister David Cameron.  Full details and further links can be found on a Daily Maverick piece.

The human rights situation in Bahrain is extremely poor.  Women do not have equal rights; many people are declared stateless; prison conditions are extremely poor with limited medical treatment for those detained; the death penalty is used and there is no free expression to speak of.  There is no independent media.  Amnesty’s report on the country can be read on this link.  Human Rights Watch’s summary says:

Bahrain’s human rights situation continues to be dire.  Courts convict and imprison prominent human rights defenders and opposition leaders for their peaceful activism.  Security forces ill-treat, threaten, and coerce alleged suspects into signing confessions.  Authorities have resumed executions, many after unfair trials marred by torture allegations, and fail to hold officials accountable for torture.  Courts have stripped the citizenship of hundreds, leaving many stateless, and deported dozens of dissidents, journalists, and lawyers as punishments for offenses that include peaceful criticism of the government.  Authorities in 2017 shut down the only independent newspaper in the country as well as opposition parties.  Members of dissolved opposition parties were banned from running in parliamentary elections in November 20.  Human Rights Watch

A full analysis of the political situation in Bahrain is provided by Freedom House.

Western governments, including the UK, have been extremely keen to establish good relations with the state because of lucrative defence spending.  We have also established a base there. It is seen as a ‘core market‘ for us.  The Daily Mail has published an article, with multiple photos, showing the many meetings between the Queen, and other members of our Royal family, and the King of Bahrain.  Lots of jollity on show. 

Sport and Sports Wash is thus just one part of the picture.  Bahrain is a wealthy and powerful regime well able via offers of money and contracts, to ‘buy’ political influence.  But things may be beginning to stir.  World Champion racing driver, Lewis Hamilton, has made statements highlighting human rights issues in countries seeking to sanitise their reputations.  Recently, he said:

We realise we’ve got to not ignore human rights issues in counties that we go to, not just 20 years, 30 years from now, but now.

In another development is that 30 UK cross party members of parliament have written to the Chief Executive of Formula 1, Chase Carey, to express their disquiet at plans to hold the Grand Prix races in Bahrain.

[They expressed] concern that the Bahrain Grand Prix is exploited be the by the Bahrain government to ‘sports wash’ their human rights record

The role of Marcus Rashford is also noteworthy in this regard.  It was his intervention which was key to changing the government’s position on free school meals.  Maybe we are seeing the stirrings of conscience among some sports people that they do have a role to play in the political arena.  With their vast followings and star status, they are in a prime position to speak to their public and highlight some of the terrible things that go on in countries like Bahrain.

Up till now, money, arms sales, and a cosy relationship with politicians, service people and the Royal family, has enabled these regimes to carry on the mistreatment of their subjects, with human rights organisations merely an irritant, a kind of background noise, who can safely be ignored. But sport has a mass following as the prime minister discovered to his discomfort earlier this month. If more sportsman like Hamilton and Rashford, begin to use their power to focus the minds of their fans onto what is going on in these despotic countries, maybe the political ground will shift.