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Bahrain — [Siobhain McDonagh in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:04 am on 11th September 2018.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 10:04 am, 11th September 2018

We are not waiting 700 years for change in Bahrain. I have the utmost respect for the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but this issue has to move faster than that. We, our children, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren will all have passed before it happens if we have to wait for so many years. We cannot wait that long. That is why this debate is important.

The Minister will hopefully respond to our requests. I ask him—I have the highest regard for him—whether he feels that we have used our friendship in an adequate fashion to bring about change. Although it is certainly true that we are not our brother’s keeper and can never be held accountable for the actions of Bahrain, can we morally claim to have done all we can to highlight and push for human rights in that nation? In May 2017, the UN Committee Against Torture stated that Bahrain’s oversight bodies such as the ombudsman and the National Institute for Human Rights—both recipients of UK training—are ineffective and not independent, even after the training we have given them to help them move in that direction. We must ask why they are ineffective and not independent.

In June 2018, the European Parliament condemned the NIHR for having

“repeatedly justified the human rights violations undertaken by the Bahraini Government”.

In July 2018, the UN Human Rights Committee reiterated that the NIHR

“lacks sufficient independence to perform its functions”.

I ask the Minister whether the Foreign and Commonwealth Office agrees with the assessment by the UN and the EU of UK-funded oversight bodies. That is the question they ask. We need to ask the Minister that question today.

The fact is that the Government have never acknowledged any wrongdoings by these bodies, despite significant evidence, including a report published by the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy and Reprieve. My concern is that that appears to show an acceptance of torture, which I truly hope is not the case. I hope the Minister will respond to that.

I press the Minister for an answer to that question, and I ask about the Department’s assessment of the aforementioned report. What steps are being taken to address the appearance of what some have labelled in conversations with me as complicity with the methods used? There are very serious allegations about indiscretions and human rights abuses, and we have a duty in this House to take them up on behalf of those people through the Minister.

I understand that we no longer rule Bahrain—that ended almost 50 years ago—but we do have influence and some sway, and I remain unconvinced that we can morally hold our hands up and say we are doing all in our power. We have spent £5 million since 2012 on a package of technical assistance to Bahrain, largely to improve the Gulf monarchy’s poor human rights record. That is to be applauded, but it could and should be argued—indeed, it has been presented to me—that in six years, millions of pounds-worth of UK technical assistance to Bahrain has failed to reform that country’s human rights as much as would be hoped or could be expected.

I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response. I also look forward to the shadow Minister’s speech, because he always makes very balanced and helpful contributions.