New Report Accuses UK of Complicity in Funding HR Violations in Bahrain

2018-05-28 - 11:29 p

Bahrain Mirror- Exclusive: The Guardian reported that human rights organization "Reprieve" has accused the Foreign Office of being complicit in abuses in Bahrain and failing to be transparent about its £5m security and justice reform program in the kingdom.

In its report, Reprieve said that despite the training of prison officers, police and other officials by British companies in the kingdom since the Arab spring, the number of inmates on death row has tripled, torture in detention has continued, and executions have resumed for the first time since 2010.

Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, called on Britain to require Bahrain to take basic anti-torture steps as a condition of further assistance, and to be more transparent about funding.

She said: "A global Britain should be proudly promoting human rights and the rule of law, not undermining them in secret," adding that "the only way for the British public to be confident their money is not leading to abuses abroad is for the government to publish a full and transparent account of projects we are funding and the human rights assessments for each."

Reprieve, said that, by providing training to groups that later backed the executions of dissidents - and because of its failure adequately to investigate torture allegations - the British government was complicit in human rights abuses in Bahrain. The report was co-authored by Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy.

The report comes after an aid watchdog criticized the conflict, security and stability fund (CSSF) recently for serious shortcomings in the way it operates, including that it had been insufficiently rigorous in applying safeguards to prevent collaboration with foreign entities with suspect human rights records.

Training on Cover Ups, Human Rights Situation Deteriorating Rather than Improving

The British "Daily Mail" newspaper stated that among the UK groups working in Bahrain are HM Inspectorate of Prisons and Northern Ireland Co-operation Overseas (NI-CO), a non-profit owned by the Northern Irish government. Aid money also went to Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons and the Causeway Institute (Causeway), a private Belfast-based company chaired by the Democratic Unionist Party's chief whip in Parliament, the Sir Jeffrey Donaldson.

The newspaper pointed out that the report raises concerns about the involvement of NI-CO, which it said helped set up an ombudsman project that is supposed to investigate allegations of abuse by prison officers and police. Instead, the charity claims, this ombudsman has covered up forced confessions and abuse. In addition, protesters were raped and tortured in a prison receiving NI-CO training

Reprieve said the fact that the British government was funding the scheme ends credibility to the brutal [Bahraini] regime.

The report by Reprieve said: "Much of the Foreign Office funded assistance aimed to train Bahrain's police and prison guards on human rights, as well as establish new bodies to investigate torture allegations." It added "However, over the course of this UK reform program, Bahrain's human rights record did not improve but rather deteriorated dramatically."

"During the period of the reform program, five men - Mohamed Ramadhan, Husain Moosa, Abbas Al-Samie, Sami Mushaima, and Ali Al-Singace - were arrested, tortured into making false confessions, and sentenced to death," it went on to say.

The report further stated that "In January 2017, following some £4million of UK reform spending in Bahrain, the Gulf Kingdom executed Abbas, Sami, and Ali in secret by firing squad, ending a seven-year moratorium on executions. Now, Mohamed and Husain face imminent execution."

Professor Juan Mendes, former UN special rapporteur on torture, said: "The profile of Bahrain's torture reforms has been bolstered by public endorsements from global allies, including the United Kingdom, which has trained these institutions for years. There is a danger that the anti-torture bodies are used to create the veneer of compliance with the Convention Against Torture, whilst deflecting global attention from the dire state of affairs that persists in Bahrain."

Open Democracy has pointed out that Causeway was hired by the FCO to work with non-governmental organizations and Bahrain's National Institution for Human Rights. The company facilitated a number of visits for Bahraini delegations to Belfast to "learn the lessons from Northern Ireland". But Reprieve's report has found that Causeway trained groups that have publicly endorsed the executions of anti-government protesters.

Northern Ireland Overseas Co-operation (NI-CO), which is owned by the government-funded development agency Invest NI, was paid around £1.5m to train Bahrain's police and prison service and to help establish the kingdom's state-run torture investigation unit.

Al-Singace, Mushaima and Al-Samie: Victims of British Justice and Security Reform Program

The training NI-CO delivered included instruction on how to tell grieving family members of individuals killed by police in custody that officers accused of involvement in their deaths will not be prosecuted. In January 2016, NI-CO brought Bahraini officers to Belfast, to give them "difficult message training", including "how prosecutors handle media contacts in difficult cases", according to Freedom of Information requests cited in Reprieve's report. During a study visit to Belfast in the lead-up to a republican parade, officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland briefed a Bahraini delegation on community intelligence-gathering and on how to use dogs and water cannon. Just weeks later, Bahraini police located, arrested and tortured Ali Al-Singace, a teenage protester who had been in hiding. He was later executed.

Reprieve has called for the Northern Irish assembly to establish an inquiry into what the Northern Irish organizations did in Bahrain. "Serious questions remain about the activities of NI-CO and Causeway staff in Bahrain, including whether they were present inside of specific detention facilities at specific times when torture is known to have taken place," said Reprieve director. "It is crucial that Stormont and the public know precisely what mistakes were made and how they can be avoided in the future."

Bahraini Regime Enjoys Impunity while Britain Helps Whitewash Manama's Record

Human rights groups say that the involvement of NI-CO and Causeway amounts to whitewashing the Bahrain regime. "The principal outcome of NI-CO's work has been to whitewash Bahrain's brutal crackdown on dissent and deflect international attention from the kingdom's human rights abuses," said Maya Foa.

For his part, Sayed Ahmed Al-Wadaei, the director of advocacy at the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, stated that "UK government training to Bahrain, carried out by NI-CO and Causeway, has done nothing but provide the regime with another layer of impunity. With help from the UK, the Bahraini government is now better positioned to whitewash its human rights violations."

"Bahrain has been emboldened and is now sentencing more people to death than at any time in its modern history. It is critical that the UK and Northern Irish governments stop providing cosmetic assistance that achieves nothing beyond deflecting crucial international scrutiny from Bahrain's abysmal - and worsening - human rights record," he further stated.

New Sources for UK Funding

The Guardian highlighted that however that this year, the UK's contribution to the project will come from two new sources, the Global Britain Fund and the Integrated Activity Fund, which Reprieve say is more opaque.

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: "We regularly raise concerns on specific issues at a senior level with the government of Bahrain, but it is not good enough just to criticize countries from the sidelines. Only by working with Bahrain can we bring about the changes we would like to see in the country."

The spokesman welcomed a recent decision by Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the king of Bahrain, to commute four death sentences.

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