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Bahrain

Volume 546: debated on Tuesday 19 June 2012

11. What recent steps he has taken to raise the issue of human rights abuses with the Government of Bahrain. (112350)

12. What recent discussions he has had with his Bahraini counterpart on the implementation of the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry report. (112352)

The United Kingdom Government take many opportunities to raise concerns about human rights and the importance of implementing the independent commission's recommendations with the Bahraini Government. I visited Bahrain on 11 June, and had an opportunity to discuss the issues directly with Bahraini Government representatives, members of Opposition parties and representatives of civil society.

Amnesty International’s 2012 report refers to excessive use of force in arrest, unfair trials, torture and deaths in custody in Bahrain, but the FCO’s Human Rights and Democracy report for this year does not even rate Bahrain as a cause for concern. Why is that?

The Human Rights and Democracy report contains a case study examining circumstances in Bahrain. It is true that our process of reporting has tended to mean that that if difficulties arise during the year, they are not always included. Compiling the reports on a quarterly basis will give us more opportunity to include more information. Bahrain is included as a cause for concern, and we have regular conversations with members of all sides there. The picture is very complex.

Will the Minister encourage the Bahrain Government to begin substantive negotiations with the Opposition in order to make the Government more representative—which would include the eventual establishment of a constitutional monarchy?

The truth is that there are elements on both sides of the divide in Bahrain who want to talk to each other, and elements on both sides of the divide who do not. I spoke to representatives of the major Opposition party. It is difficult to engage members of the Opposition in negotiations because they have preconditions which they claim not to have, and the same can be said about some members of the Sunni support side. It is a complex picture, but what the United Kingdom does is encourage both sides to engage. We are using, for example, our experience in Northern Ireland, where good political leadership and a great deal of dialogue led to reconciliation and the bringing together of two elements of society that had been bitterly divided. There is much that we are delivering, and much that we can do.

May I follow up the point raised by the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd)? The Government of Bahrain have consistently held the view that the door is open for a meaningful dialogue with members of Opposition parties, which are, of course, recognised in Bahrain. The Government cannot have that dialogue on their own. The Opposition have a moral responsibility to come to the table and engage in meaningful dialogue with the Government in order to make progress.

My hon. Friend is right. Bahrain is sometimes portrayed as having no Opposition activity, with marches postponed or cancelled, but in the run-up to the grand prix recently Al-Wefaq, the main Opposition party, held authorised demonstrations. However, as my hon. Friend says, if a meaningful dialogue is to take place, there must be two sides to it. We will continue to urge both Opposition and Government to engage in such a dialogue, because the implementation of the commission’s recommendations is just as important as the recommendations themselves.

I welcome the setting up by the Bahraini Government of a Ministry of Human Rights and Social Development, but what is my hon. Friend’s assessment of the progress that is being made? Are the reforms having a real effect on the quality of human rights in Bahrain?

There are developments that make a difference, such as human rights training in the security forces and a code of conduct for the police, efforts to prosecute members of the security forces who may have been involved in offences last year, and a general recognition that the recommendations in the independent commission’s report need to be implemented. A series of reforms are taking place, but, as my hon. Friend suggests, more needs to be done.