14 September 2018 – On 11 September, the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) published its “Global Britain: Human Rights and the Rule of Law” report, the thirteenth of the 2017-19 session, which assesses the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)’s human rights work.
Prior to the compilation of the FAC report, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) made its own submission to the FAC, analysing the human rights work conducted by the FCO with regard to the Kingdom of Bahrain, as a component of the UK’s strategic agenda within the Gulf. In particular, BIRD’s submission sought to provide a factually thorough analysis of the ways in which the alliance between the UK and Bahrain has contributed to the regression of the protection of human rights and civil liberties in Bahrain.
The information BIRD provided to the Committee was then used as part of their final report. Paragraph 35 of the FAC report, in particular, states:
‘Written evidence also expressed concern about continued FCO assistance to Bahrain on human rights and the rule of law. Since 2012, the FCO has provided more than £5 million of funding for technical assistance to train Bahraini police and prison guards on human rights and investigate allegations of torture. This includes £400,000 for a public order project, despite crackdowns on public protest in Manama. Very few details of the spending, which is funded predominantly through the CSSF, have been made public. The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy states that the FCO is “denying the severe violations perpetrated by the Bahraini government; as well as the failures of UK funded oversight bodies”. Since the commencement of the UK support programme, capital punishment has resumed, with 14 individuals sentenced to death in 2017. The FCO has assessed the situation in Bahrain as a “mixed picture”. Murray Hunt suggested that rule of law programmes should have clear performance markers: “We need to have agreed mechanisms in advance for scrutinising rule of law performance on the basis of agreed values that are spelled out in detail.’
In relation to the negative human rights impact of the technical assistance programme to Bahrain, paragraph 36 continues:
‘The FCO should outline clear mechanisms for measuring progress in its rule of law and democracy programmes. Whilst the door to negotiation with states must always be kept open, the FCO should respond firmly to countries that fail to make sufficient progress in these areas in order to underline the importance of international standards and rules on human rights. States that fail to make progress, or that regress, should be subject to repercussions, including the suspension of support. For the most extreme cases, such as the ongoing serious and systematic abuse of the Rohingya from Rakhine province by the Burmese government, the FCO should create a measured and graduated set of responses to human rights catastrophes. The FCO should review the current situation in Bahrain and Myanmar/Burma and report its findings to us to further consider whether funding should continue to either country.’
The report further states that ‘some evidence accused the UK of shielding allies such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain’ from criticism before the UN.
Finally, the Committee concludes at paragraph 26 that: ‘The FCO should be clearer about how all such funding is allocated and used and what it achieves, and should inform us in its response to this report how it plans to increase transparency in this respect’.