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Bahrain: Human Rights Abuses

Volume 813: debated on Thursday 15 July 2021


Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the Prime Minister discussed human rights abuses in Bahrain when he met the Crown Prince of Bahrain on 17 June.

My Lords, with the permission of my noble friend Lord Scriven, and at his request, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

The Prime Minister and the Crown Prince discussed a wide range of measures, as outlined on the GOV.UK website. We regularly raise human rights priorities and any areas of concern with the Government of Bahrain, including at senior levels. The Foreign Secretary raised social and justice reforms with the Crown Prince during their meeting on 17 June, and the UK continues to engage with the Government of Bahrain to support their reform agenda.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. The UK has a close relationship with Bahrain but is pressed on what it raises on human rights. I flagged to the noble Lord last night the case of human rights defender Dr Al-Singace, who has a PhD from Manchester University and who was arrested on his return to Bahrain in 2010 and sentenced to life imprisonment for his peaceful opposition to Bahrain’s Government during the Arab spring. He is currently on hunger strike. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and others have called for his immediate and unconditional release; the UK has never done so. Can the noble Lord tell us whether the Government will now do this before it is too late?

As the noble Baroness says, our relationship means we are able to raise cases directly with Bahrain. We continue to monitor the case of Dr Al-Singace. We have raised the case at a senior level with the Bahraini Government, and we urge anyone with concerns over a particular case to raise those with the oversight bodies in Bahrain. We continue to encourage the oversight bodies to carry out swift and thorough investigations into any such claims.

My Lords, of course, there are proper concerns about human rights in Bahrain, as there are in all Middle East countries. Does the Minister agree that these concerns should be put in the context of the continuing efforts by Iran to destabilise the country by propaganda and by shipping vast quantities of arms, including explosive devices, to the country, and in the context of the very positive role that Bahrain has in the Middle East, particularly in respect of the Abraham Accords?

My Lords, we remain committed to the promotion of universal freedoms and human rights, and are more likely to bring about change through engagement, dialogue and co-operation. Our strong relationship with Bahrain has flourished for more than 200 years; we co-operate on defence, security, trade and regional issues, such as those the noble Lord mentioned.

My Lords, a year ago this week, Bahrain’s courts upheld the death penalty for Mohamed Ramadan and Hussain Moosa. Following commitments made in the other place by the Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, what representations have Her Majesty’s Government made to the Government of Bahrain on the death penalty?

The UK remains opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances and all countries as a matter of principle. The Government of Bahrain are fully aware that we are firmly opposed to the death penalty, and our good relationship allows us to have honest dialogue and raise points on that. We raise the matter regularly, both at ministerial and official level, publicly and privately, including during the Minister for the Middle East and North Africa’s most recent visit to Bahrain.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister will agree that influence can often be exerted through the interchange of culture and sport. Amnesty International has identified the Grand Prix in Bahrain as being a huge event through which we should try to put pressure. Are efforts being made in this direction with, for example, Formula 1?

I will have to double-check the point that the noble Lord raises about Formula 1 and write to him to confirm that, but he is absolutely right to highlight the role that cultural exchange—sport, music and the arts—plays in strengthening our relationships and standing up for our fundamental values.

My Lords, earlier this year I raised with the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, the detention of children in Bahrain, following reports of their physical abuse and forced confessions. What assessment have the Government made of the Bahraini authorities’ response to these reports of alleged human rights abuses against children? Will they make further representations to ensure this does not happen?

My Lords, if the noble Lord will bear with me, I have an answer on that point. There are many pages and a lot of information and I want to make sure the noble Lord gets an answer.

In response to the recommendations in the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry report and by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Bahrain has undertaken reforms of its juvenile justice system. We have consistently promoted and supported Bahrain in adopting a whole-system approach to youth offending, from diversion and prevention through to rehabilitation and resettlement of young people. We welcome the recent ratification by His Majesty the King of the corrective justice law for children and will be monitoring its implementation.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister is aware of the recent report of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Democracy and Human Rights in the Gulf on the Integrated Activity Fund and the Gulf Strategy Fund—I declare an interest as an endorsee—which concludes that Her Majesty’s Government have been deceptive and misleading about the £50 million in funds, putting the UK at risk of complicity in human rights violations in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Will he respond to the report, consider its recommendations and tell this House why the Government refuse to be transparent about how this money is spent?

My Lords, the FCDO’s international programme and, within it, the Gulf Strategy Fund, is a vital tool in promoting positive change and reforms across the world, including in the Gulf. We now publish an annual summary of the GSF work on GOV.UK. We will not publish further information where doing so presents risks to our staff, programme suppliers and beneficiaries, or where it may hinder our relationships with our international partners and therefore our ability to influence their reform efforts, but we will provide annual updates.

My Lords, do the Government accept, informally, double standards applying to human rights in the Gulf versus the UK?

My Lords, if we want to bring about change in the world, we have to engage with those we wish to see improve their records on human rights. We do not shy away from raising human rights concerns with other countries, and we make this point very clearly in public and in private.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, referred to the plight of Dr Al-Singace, and 73 year-old Hassan Mushaima is in an identical position. Both are political prisoners, obviously, and have been detained for 10 years for their peaceful political opposition to Bahrain’s dictatorship. Both, in fact, participated in an event held in this House in 2010, and in 2012 the Foreign Office said it was “very disappointed” over a decision to uphold their life sentences, due to the court’s reliance on torture-tainted confessions. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the European Parliament have called for their immediate release. Why have our Government failed publicly to call for their release? Is the Minister willing to do so today? Did the Prime Minister raise our continued disappointment—presumably—at their continued unjustified detention with the Crown Prince when they met?

My Lords, we continue to monitor the cases of Mr Mushaima and Dr Al-Singace and, where we have concerns, we have raised them at senior levels with the Bahraini Government. The policy of Her Majesty’s Government on torture is clear: we do not participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture or mistreatment for any purpose. We urge all allegations of this nature to be reported to the appropriate national oversight body, whose duty it is to carry out a full and independent investigation. We will continue to raise concerns about human rights with the Government of Bahrain wherever we have them.