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Volume 740: debated on Wednesday 21 November 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they will make to the Government of Bahrain regarding the deprivation of citizenship imposed on 31 persons on 7 November 2012.

My Lords, we have told the Bahraini Government that revoking citizenship, which leaves individuals stateless, is a negative step and, ultimately, a barrier towards reconciliation. I understand that those affected have the right of appeal, but we regularly express our concerns about human rights abuses in Bahrain.

My Lords, I noticed that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary had been cosying up to one of the hereditary oligarchs of a regime that regularly kills, tortures and arbitrarily imprisons any of its opponents, and has now taken to depriving them of their citizenship. Would my noble friend agree to meet me with brothers, Jalal and Jawad Fairooz, former MPs of the al-Wefaq Party, who were deprived of their citizenship and are now stranded in London without visible means of support, without any citizenship, and separated permanently—as far as I can see—from their families in Bahrain? Will she also bear in mind that, if you are going to have a dialogue that will solve the constitutional problems of Bahrain, it can be done only if you free the political prisoners who are the leaders of the opposition and who are at present incarcerated for very long periods in prison?

My Lords, I understand that officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are in touch with, and have had some contact with, the two specific cases to which my noble friend refers. I know that he has strong views in relation to this matter, but I would take exception to the description given to my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. Indeed, earlier this week I myself met with Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, who is the Foreign Minister, and indeed the individual to which my noble friend refers. It was a robust and frank exchange, and a conversation in which human rights were openly and frankly discussed.

We are all aware of the influence of Iran in this area, but how much have we discussed with the Bahraini authorities the difficulties that they face as a result of the two branches of Islam—Shia and Sunni—and involving that in the constitutional discussions that are taking place? It is very important, and there are ways of addressing it. Have they discussed it? I should declare an interest as the chairman of the Good Governance Foundation, which operates in the region.

Certainly, we have these specific discussions regularly around freedom of religion. I spoke with the Foreign Minister when he was here this week specifically about that issue, and we had a lengthy conversation about the Shia-Sunni dynamic in Bahrain. We also spoke about historic coexistence between these two theologies within Islam. Indeed, we had a lengthy conversation about my own history when I explained to him that I was half-Sunni and half-Shia.

While acknowledging the importance of the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, would the Minister give some credit to the Government of Bahrain for setting up last year a very distinguished international commission on human rights, which at the end of the year made over 170 recommendations, of which the Government have so far decided to implement 140? Should we not give some credit to the Government of Bahrain for that?

The noble Lord makes an important point. Indeed, today is the anniversary of the publication of those first ambitions set out in the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. He is right when he says that 143 of the 176 recommendations were accepted—and, indeed, a further 13 were partially accepted. Bahrain is trying to make progress on these matters, and we are supporting it in doing that.

My Lords, given her recent discussion with the Foreign Minister, would the Minister tell the House what progress has been made, in her assessment, between the Bahrain Government and opposition parties? In asking this question I declare my interest as a member of the UK-Bahrain All-Party Parliamentary Group. Alongside the discussion that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is asking her to host, would she also engage with the all-party group?

An amount of progress has been made, both politically and in relation to governance. Some underlying concerns, of course, need to be addressed before progress can be made politically. Much of that has been set out in the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. I know that progress has been made on a special investigations unit, for example, which looks into the particular disturbances that led to the current concerns. Some progress has also been made in relation to constitutional amendments that will form the basis of reconciliation.

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that while some of the recommendations of the Bassiouni commission have indeed been accepted and enforced, the principal recommendation—which was about reconciliation and talks to resolve the differences between the two sides—rested on there being an opposition with whom to have talks about reconciliation? When so many members of that opposition might have been freed but then deprived of their citizenship and are, in other words, stateless, it is impossible to have discussions with them. What are the Government doing to speak directly to the Prime Minister, rather than the Foreign Minister, of Bahrain to ask that the revocation of these peoples’ citizenship be readdressed?

We have discussions at all levels in relation to this matter, including with the Prime Minister. The specific issue regarding the revocation of citizenship has been raised and our concerns have been registered. There is a right of appeal. We are pressing the Bahraini Government to consider these matters seriously during that right of appeal.

My Lords, I share the concerns expressed in the central proposition of the previous question. There has been progress but, on the most fundamental issues, the progress is woeful. It is against a background of a grim record and, if anything, Bahrain’s record is getting worse, rather than better. We have called for a dialogue but, for reasons that I understand, that dialogue has been limited. I noted that, at the end of October, the United States Navy Fifth Fleet was anchored off Bahrain, not because I think it intended to intervene but as a show of support. Can the Minister tell us whether a co-operating force of the United Kingdom and the United States—a diplomatic force, not a military one—might, if it took a sufficiently firm and determined view, have more impact than all of us trying to do it separately?

That is something that I will take back. However, I can assure the noble Lord on our bilateral relationship. Earlier this week we set up a joint working group and political and diplomatic reform and assistance with human rights are central to it. We hope that we can use that working group as the basis for some of these more serious discussions.