Bahrain: Human Rights - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:26 pm on 13th March 2019.

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Photo of Lord Luce Lord Luce Crossbench 8:26 pm, 13th March 2019

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, was right to put this important debate into a wider context of the very long-standing friendship between the people of this country and the people of Bahrain. If we consider the very significant points made by the noble Lord, Lord Soley, that the region in which the Bahrainis live is sandwiched between Iran on one side and Saudi Arabia on the other, with rivalry between two important regional powers, added to which are the Sunni/Shia tensions, then of course we see that Bahrain is living in difficult circumstances. If I may, I will strongly add to that: Bahrain is living in the shadow of Saudi Arabia, where we have a Crown Prince who is ambitious to reform the economy but is using repressive measures in order to try to achieve it. That has repercussions for Bahrain. I believe that our interests are very strongly in the direction of evolving constitutional monarchies in the Gulf countries and, above all, in Bahrain, if we want stability there—as we do.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, was right to point out that there have been considerable achievements in Bahrain over the last few decades, for example on women’s rights and on freedom of religion. That in itself is striking. I want to focus, though, on one thing. Following the Arab spring of 2011, the King and the Crown Prince were bold enough to establish the Independent Commission of Inquiry, led by Mr Bassiouni, a distinguished lawyer from Egypt. Would any Government in this country set up a completely independent commission to advise us how to run our affairs? I doubt that. It was a bold decision. The commission made important recommendations, to which I think the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, referred. Those recommendations were to set up oversight bodies, which have been established. We have mentioned the National Institution for Human Rights, the Ombudsman and so on; that was important.

The problem and the worry is that, over the past two or three years, there has been a deterioration in standards of human rights in Bahrain. That is damaging both to Bahrain and to our interests and friendship with the country. The question I have for the Minister is this: what is the Government’s assessment of the progress of the recommendations made by the independent commission? How many of the recommendations have been implemented, and how transparent and effective are they? It would be helpful to know from the Government what their assessment is.

The UK’s relationship with Bahrain is singularly important. We have a base there which helps to protect the country, and we give technical assistance on human rights issues. We are therefore entitled to have a free expression of views between each other as to how we can help Bahrain to achieve greater stability. I hope that the Minister will summarise what we are doing to help them in that progress.