“Bite the Bullet”: A Year On from the Foreign Affairs Committee Report on the UK Relationship with Bahrain

The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) is releasing its report Bite the Bullet: A Year On from the Foreign Affairs Committee Report on the UK Relationship with Bahrain. The report marks a year since the release of the UK Foreign Affairs Committee’s (FAC) recommendations to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) on its relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

In 2013, the FAC conducted an investigation in to the UK’s relationship with Bahrain amidst severe human rights concerns. It found that greater urgency was needed to press Bahrain to implement serious reforms and made important recommendations for the FCO following rising criticism over the its policy regarding Bahrain. It recommended that the FCO designate Bahrain as a “Country of Concern” in its 2014 Human Rights Report, if Bahrain made no significant progress in human rights and political dialogue. The FAC also made recommendations for the UK to re-think its public response to the situation in Bahrain behind concerns over the criticism directed at them from NGOs and Bahrainis. They noted that British support for Bahrain, both in diplomatic and military terms, should not be unconditional to the human rights situation.

The FCO failed to list Bahrain as a country of concern in its 2014 human rights report leading NGO’s and civil society the brandish the report as whitewash. As other state and NGO annual reports notably criticised the human rights situation in Bahrain, the FCO instead noted improvements and a ‘positive trajectory’. In its 2014 assessment of the FCOs human rights work, the FAC condemned the decision not to list Bahrain as a country of concern arguing:

We see little or no evidence that Bahrain has made enough progress in implementing political reform and safeguarding human rights, and we believe that the FCO should have bitten the bullet and designated Bahrain as a country of concern”.

Bite the Bullet finds that at a time when Bahrain has made no significant progress to protect human rights and implement reforms, the FCO response has nonetheless remained unchanged. Criticism of the FCO policy has risen in 2014 with Bahraini activists and NGOs seeing the UK as an obstacle to positive change in Bahrain. Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at BIRD, said, “In the last two years particularly, the Government of Bahrain has institutionalised human rights violations. Even voicing a critical opinion of the King will get you sent to prison. The situation has only gotten worse.”

The Report discusses the FCO’s classification of Bahrain as a “Case Study” finding that the UK has allowed political factors to colour its decision not to list Bahrain as a country of concern. It also discusses the UK’s seeming unconditional support to the government of Bahrain, despite its involvement in severe breaches of international human rights conventions, and calls for a reassessment of its policy. Finally, the report analyses British defence relations with Bahrain, which the FAC expressed concerns over.

BIRD calls on the FCO to reassess its relationship with Bahrain and orient itself towards promoting substantial human rights reform in the country. BIRD re-asserts the FAC’s recommendation that Bahrain be designated a “Country of Concern” in the upcoming 2015 Human Rights Report.

Read the full report: Bite the Bullet

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