Bahrain: Human Rights - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:14 pm on 13th March 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Stern Baroness Stern Crossbench 8:14 pm, 13th March 2019

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, on securing this very important debate and on his powerful contribution. I declare my interest as an officer of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights.

Following the recommendations of the 2011 Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry report, a number of mechanisms were put in place by the Bahraini Government to demonstrate their support for international human rights. For many of those involved, this was a very encouraging and exciting time. They set up the National Institute for Human Rights, the Ministry of Interior Ombudsman and the Prisoners and Detainees Rights Commission. These bodies are doing some positive work. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights has had much positive contact with the ombudsman, and we are currently in correspondence with him about failures in detainee treatment—particularly on inadequate provision of healthcare.

However, welcome as these developments are, the existence of these mechanisms cannot disguise the Bahraini Government’s obvious lack of political will for the more substantive political, institutional and legal reforms needed to ensure that Bahraini citizens enjoy their fundamental rights and that human rights defenders and members of the political opposition are no longer persecuted.

The FCO has been funding human rights institutions in Bahrain for a number of years. During that time, the level of criticism of Bahrain for human rights violations has increased. There has been criticism from the United Nations Human Rights Council and Dr Agnes Callemard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, who described the 2017 executions of three people in Bahrain as “extrajudicial executions”. A number of respected NGOs have been very critical, as have many UK parliamentarians.

This raises difficult questions that need answering about the role of the FCO in Bahrain. I therefore ask the Minister, whose commitment to human rights is beyond doubt, whether the FCO has recently reassessed whether its continuing financial support for human rights work in Bahrain is appropriate. The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, said there should be an independent review. Will the Minister consider that, and, bearing in mind the fact that the abuses of human rights in Bahrain would most likely trigger further radicalisation, polarisation and conflict in what the noble Lord, Lord Soley, has already explained is a difficult arena in which to work, does she agree?

The FCO is valued throughout the world for the support UK diplomats give to human rights NGOs and activists. Is the Minister satisfied that human rights activists in Bahrain are well supported by our diplomats there?