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The Guardian: Human Rights Organizations Urge UK PM to Raise Human Rights Concerns on Gulf Visit

2016-12-07 - 8:59 p

Bahrain Mirror: British newspaper "The Guardian" reported that "British Prime Minister Theresa May has been urged to confirm she will put human rights reform on her agenda when she meets Saudi and Bahraini leaders on Tuesday, after announcements on her two-day trip to the Gulf were squarely focused on trade and security."

Rights campaigners in Bahrain argue that although the UK has been assisting Bahrain with judicial and police reform since 2012, current levels of engagement on rights issues have not prevented crackdowns on journalists and pro-democracy activists in the country, The Guardian reported.

On this level, May said, "I think the UK has always had the position, and we continue to have the position, that where there are issues raised about human rights, where there are concerns, we will rightly raise those."

"I already have done in some of the meetings I've already had in my time as prime minister, and we will continue to do that. But I think what's important is that because we have the overall engagement, we are able to raise those issues around human rights," May further noted according to the UK-based newspaper.

When asked about Saudi Arabia's record in the Yemen conflict, May - who was due to meet King Salman on Tuesday - said: "If any allegations are raised about breaches of international humanitarian law ... we're very clear those should be properly investigated and encourage the Saudi Arabians to investigate those, and to ensure that any lessons are learned from those investigations."

The Guardian also said that before her speech on Wednesday at the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit, "May announced the establishment of the first joint UK-GCC counter-terrorism working group, with a focus on border and airport security and blocking terrorist financing. The UK will advise on more effective screening at airports in the region, with the aim of improving the tracking of potential terrorists."

On her first morning in Bahrain, the prime minister spoke to 900 British troops on board HMS Ocean in Khalifa bin Salman Port in Bahrain.

On their part, Labor and Liberal Democratic MPs called the trip "the shabby face of Brexit" and said the prime minister must not let the desire for greater co-operation override concerns about crackdowns on journalists and protesters, as well as the conflict in Yemen, The Guardian wen on to say.

Fabian Hamilton, shadow Middle East minister, said in this regard, "I am not convinced that concerns for human rights will be prioritized over a trade deal, given the government's obsession with having to show that the UK can cope on its own once it leaves the EU. I am concerned at the seeming complacency shown by Boris Johnson's comments on the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen on Sunday."

On another hand, MP Tom Brake, Liberal Democrats' spokesman for foreign affairs, echoed the concerns. "The PM's desperate drive to boost UK exports must not come at the expense of the UK's commitment to upholding human rights around the world," he said. Turning a blind eye to human rights abuses in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia or Yemen will do long-term damage to the UK's international standing."

Speaking before her visit to HMS Ocean, the prime minister said the security of Gulf countries and the UK were intertwined. "Now more than ever, Gulf security is our security," she said. "And it's not just about military power - we also need to work together to respond to new and diversifying threats. So, on my visit here, we are agreeing new cooperation to do more to prevent radicalization and to tackle terrorism.

"In all of these ways, I am determined to step up our defence and security partnership to provide greater confidence and stability to the region and to keep our people safe in an ever more dangerous world," May also said.

Over last weekend, rights groups including Reprieve, Human Rights Watch, Index on Censorship and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy wrote to May asking her to change her tactics for engagement with Gulf leaders.

May has been urged in particular to call for the release of the pro-democracy campaigner Nabeel Rajab, who faces 15 years in jail for criticizing Bahrain's role in the war in Yemen and for an article he wrote in the New York Times about the country's crackdown on activists, which led to him being charged with defaming the state.

The US government has called for Rajab's release, but the British Foreign Office has not, saying simply that it is monitoring the case.

It is worth mentioning that three UK cybersecurity experts have been appointed to advise Gulf institutions and training on countering terrorist financing. Their first workshop will take place in Qatar next week, The Guardian also indicated.

Arabic Version


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