14 September 2017 – Turning a blind eye to human rights in trade and security deals in the Gulf engenders violence and instability, warns a London-based rights group in letters to four political party leaders.
Urging the parties to adopt stronger human rights values in their policies towards repressive regimes in the region, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) wrote to Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, Vince Cable and Nicola Sturgeon ahead of party conference season, which starts this Saturday.
BIRD has condemned current government policy in the Gulf as “fundamentally wrong” and called on Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party to work for the suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia and technical assistance to Bahrain until key conditions and guarantees have been met, and to scrutinise government policy in the Gulf.
The rights group called on the Conservatives, as the party in government, to enact these same suspensions, and asked all parties to give specific commitments and support to human rights defenders and civil society activists facing reprisals in the Gulf.
Addressing particular policies on Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, BIRD criticises the Prime Minister’s visits to both countries in the past year for failing to raise the issue of human rights, stating: “long-term security and stability in the region, an often-expressed goal, can only be achieved if the human rights of the Gulf’s people are genuinely respected and protected.”
BIRD continues: “Commitments made within the National Security Strategy to expand Britain’s military presence and cooperation in the Gulf and trade cyber security to the autocratic countries, which may use such technologies against peaceful dissidents and threaten long-term stability, rather than improve it.”
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, said: “The UK’s post-Brexit foreign policy in the Gulf is disastrous. It hinges on unconditional support for dictatorships and the provision of the means of managing repression. This approach fosters a culture of impunity and has led to the world’s most severe humanitarian suffering in Yemen. It has shredded any hope of stability in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
“We are looking forward to further scrutiny and stronger challenges from the party leaders to end the human rights abuses in which the UK is complicit.”
BIRD sets out the failure of government policy towards Bahrain, stating that it has endangered human rights in the country. Bahrain is a strategic ally to the UK, with its monarch having paid for the construction of a new Royal Navy base in the Gulf country.
Over £5 million of UK taxpayers’ money has been spent on a technical assistance programme “which has gone nowhere”. The government has refused to share details of the five-year programme, stating “the Government of Bahrain has requested that the information remain confidential”.
These millions of pounds have been spent training Bahrain’s violent police and bodies that whitewash illegal executions, even as Bahrain’s human rights situation continues to deteriorate. BIRD cites recent UN condemnation of Bahrain’s democratic “shut down” and “increasing reports of torture”. This rise in human rights abuses has been described by Amnesty International as “Bahrain’s year of crushing dissent.”
Bahraini security forces have blackmailed and threatened UK-based protesters demonstrating against visits of King Hamad, in May detaining family members in Bahrain as an attempt to halt protests at the Royal Windsor Horse Show. BIRD criticises the UK for providing “political aid and cover for a monarchy which shows no respect for the British value of free speech even when on British soil.” This targeting of activists and their families even in the UK is “wholly unacceptable”, BIRD writes, stating the UK has provided no support for the victims.
BIRD hits out at the UK Government for prioritising arms exports and trade deals to the detriment of human rights in Saudi Arabia. The rights group points to arms sales to the oil kingdom as helping accelerate “the worst man-made humanitarian crisis in the world” in Yemen.
The letters criticise the government for failing to answer journalists on whether Saudi forces used British equipment in the violent repression of Awamiya, a town in the oil-rich Eastern Province. The UN condemned the Saudi government’s demolition of Awamiya’s historic quarter, a devastating campaign that has allegedly seen two-thirds of the town’s population flee and at least 23 civilians killed.
BIRD writes: “British security relations and arms exports to Saudi Arabia need to be held to a higher standard to prevent abuses and complicity in them.”