UK Government Under Scrutiny from Parliament for Supporting Bahrain’s Cover-Up of “Appalling Human Rights Record”.
11 September 2018 - Today, a Backbench debate on Human rights abuses and UK’s technical assistance to Bahrain was held in Westminster Hall, and led by Andy Slaughter MP. Participants in the debate included fifteen Members of Parliament (MPs) from all parties, as well as MENA Minister Alistair Burt MP, who was asked about UK’s policy line towards the Gulf Kingdom.
Overall, twelve MPs expressed different levels of concerns over Bahrain’s human rights record. Individual cases, such as the imprisonment of the country’s leading human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, the inhumane treatment suffered by political prisoner Hassan Mushaima, the torture suffered by death row inmates Mohammed Ramadan and Hussein Moosa, and the targeting of family members of Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, were also raised.
Thank you @hammersmithandy for your outstanding intervention today at the #WestminsterDebate highlighting the ordeal that my family, @NabeelRajab, Hassan Mushaima and other political prisoners in #Bahrain are suffering
— Sayed Ahmed AlWadaei (@SAlwadaei) September 11, 2018
Andy Slaughter particularly drew attention to the whitewashing of the human rights abuses committed by the Kingdom of Bahrain, and the role of the UK Government in “sanitising the regime’s behaviour”. He discussed the failure of the UK’s technical assistance program in reforming the dire situation in Bahrain, and Jim Cunningham MP followed suit in asking the UK Government to caveat that any assistance provided to the Bahrain should not be used “against the population”. Andy Slaughter presented thorough forensic evidence at the debate, detailing the various abuses by the Bahraini Government, including the persecution and imprisonment of peaceful human rights defenders, the neglect and complicity by human rights oversight bodies, and unlawful executions based on fabricated evidence obtained through torture. He pointed out the time-sensitive case of Maher Abbas al-Khabaz, who “faces imminent execution for alleged terrorism offences, despite insisting on his innocence”. The failure of the Bahraini bodies that the UK sees as allies in their fight for human rights reform to address Maher al-Khabbbaz’s case may lead to the death of yet another innocent man.
Multiple MPs pointed out that the UK’s alliance and friendship with Bahrain implies a responsibility to ensure that their Gulf ally uphold the same human rights norms and values that the UK claims to be at the forefront of. Jim Shannon questioned whether the Government was “fulfilling [its] responsibility and duty to freedom as much as [it] could be”. Karen Lee MP further called on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to “acknowledge and condemn” the ordeal that Bahraini female political prisoners are subjected to as well as call for their immediate release, which was supported by Andy Slaughter.
As the Chair of the cross-party APPG on Human Rights in the Gulf, we have been pressuring the govt to acknowledge its complicity in the suppression of basic rights. Today I called on the Foreign Office to condemn the barbaric treatment of Bahraini female political prisoners. pic.twitter.com/ux6vOXhsWx
— Karen Lee (@KarenLeeMP) September 11, 2018
Three Conservative MPs moved instead towards the opposite direction, and proved to be uncritical of the crackdown on human rights and civil liberties occurring in the Kingdom. Statements included Bob Stewart MP staying “It is true that Bahrain has banned some opposition parties from standing in the election, but I think those parties advocated or supported violence. I can understand that.” This statement contradicts the concerns expressed by the newly appointed UN Human Rights Commissioner in relation to the “disturbing” infringement of political rights and freedoms in the country.
Of particular concern for the Bahrain institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) is that BIRD raised serious concerns, as evidence shows how the three MPs who provided misleading statements on Bahrain, in contradiction with what the United Nations and Amnesty International say, have received donations from Bahrain over the past two years.
- Rehman Chishti MP received £2,000 from the Bahraini Embassy in London in 2017
- Leo Docherty MP received £6,159 in donations from the Kingdom of Bahrain in 2017
- Bob Stewart MP received £4, 753 in donations in 2016
This debate, and Andy Slaughter’s speech in particular, allowed concerned MPs to question the FCO on their silence on the rampant human rights violations. It illustrated the extent to which the FCO will defend an authoritarian regime for the sake of trade and military interests. MENA Minister Alistair Burt claimed that “The Government remain committed to protecting and promoting human rights around the world”, while at the same time blatantly ignoring the ample evidence presented against the Gulf Kingdom and justifying its human rights record. Minister Burt explicitly responded to three individual cases, He explicitly mentioned the cases of three prominent human rights defenders, Nabeel Rajab, Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei and his family, and Hassan Mushaima, referring them yet again to Bahraini oversight bodies that have been proven time and time again to be ineffective institutions complicit in the perpetuation of human rights abuses.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy for Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy: “Alistair Burt MP’s responses at the Westminster Debate on Bahrain were robotic and uncritical of the dire human rights record of UK’s close Gulf ally. The UK was given the opportunity to, at the very least, acknowledge what the international community, including the UN, have unanimously condemned. Yet, they prefer to support an abusive regime and fund institutions, with no transparency, that are complicit in torture, for the sake of trade and military interests.”