16 July 2014, London – A group of 29 NGOs have sent a letter to the newly appointed Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Phillip Hammond, urging a shift in U.K. policy towards the situation in Bahrain. The letter calls for a ‘fresh’ approach to be adopted by the new Foreign Secretary in light of the FCO’s failure to heed a Foreign Affairs Committee recommendation that the U.K. should “designate Bahrain as a country of concern” in its 2014 human rights report if the situation had not improved by the start of this year. Despite this recommendation, the FCO subsequently failed to acknowledge Bahrain as a country of concern, and instead, listed it as a “case study” praising specific areas of reform. The letter highlights the inconsistencies in U.K. policy towards Bahrain in recent years, specifically referencing recent statements made by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, who claimed that the human rights situation in Bahrain is a situation of “grave concern” and that recommendations made by the 2011 report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry are in a “state of non-implementation”. The UK more recently co-sponsored a joint-statement on Bahrain at the UN Human Rights Council on Bahrain citing “serious concerns” over the human rights situation; an argument not reflected by the FCO domestically.
The Head of Advocacy for the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, Mr Sayed Alwadaei, stated that the U.K.’s “credibility on human rights has been challenged because of its stance on the serious ongoing human rights violations in Bahrain”. Mr Alwadaei asserts, “putting Bahrain on the list of countries of concern is the first step in ensuring that U.K. foreign policy towards Bahrain accurately reflects the reality of the situation on the ground”.
Despite recently reported encounters between Mr. Hammond and Bahraini government lobbyists, the joint effort is hopeful that Mr. Hammond can consider a fresh Foreign Office response to the ongoing human rights and political crisis in Bahrain.
The full text of the letter with the complete list of signatories is provided below. A PDF version can be found here.
16 July 2014
The Rt Honourable Philip Hammond MP
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street
Dear Mr Hammond,
In your new capacity as Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, we hope to highlight our grave concern regarding the human rights situation in Bahrain and are hopeful of a fresh Foreign Office direction on human rights abuses in the country.
In November 2013, the Foreign Affairs Committee recommended that if there was no “significant progress by the start of 2014”, the FCO should “designate Bahrain as a ‘country of concern” in its next Human Rights Report.1 Despite this recommendation, the FCO did not list Bahrain as a country of concern in the 2013 Human Rights and Democracy Report, but merely as a brief ‘case study’. The human rights report further declared that:
“The government of Bahrain continues to implement the recommendations set out in the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) in 2011, and those set out in the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR)”.2
In stark contrast to these conclusions by the FCO, the Foreign Affairs Committee raised implementation of the BICI as being “disappointingly slow” referring to this as evidence of Bahrain’s “damaged international reputation”.3 In addition, a recent statement by UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Mr. Juan Mendez affirms that, contrary to the FCO’s report, the human rights situation in Bahrain is “a situation that gives reason for grave concern”. Mr. Mendez finds that “the important recommendations made by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry under the chairmanship of Professor Cherif Bassiouni are all in a state of non-implementation”. Furthermore, he expresses concern that “all the recommendations made by the Human Rights Council during the Universal Periodic Review on Bahrain are as far as we can tell not being implemented by Bahrain at this point”.4
Particular areas of concern include, but are not limited to: the use of torture; the passing of death sentences on political dissidents in Bahrain; the erosion of basic principles of the rule of law, such as, the denial of access to lawyers and an independent judiciary; and limitations on people’s freedom to expression – all of which are key priorities of the UK government’s foreign affairs policy.
Although we applaud the UK co-sponsorship of the recent joint-statement signed by 47 member states on Bahrain during the 26th session of the Human Rights Council (HRC), we nevertheless urge the UK government to designate Bahrain as a ‘country of concern’ as recommended by the Foreign Affairs Committee in 2013.5 We note that the UK co-sponsorship of the joint-statement at the HRC commits to a multilateral position on Bahrain that declares “serious concern” for the human rights situation in the country, a position that must also be expressed by the FCO on a bilateral level. We request consistency in the FCO’s policy towards Bahrain and urge the UK to demand accountability from the government of Bahrain for the continuation of human rights abuses against political dissidents and human rights defenders that have been occurring since 2011.
We would welcome your comments on our appeal.
Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
Article 19 (Bahrain)
Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF)
Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR)
Bahrain Human Rights Observatory (BHRO)
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
Bahrain Justice and Development Movement (BJDM)
Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR)
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
European Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights (EBOHR)
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
Khiam Rehabilitation Center (KRC)
Lawyers Rights Watch Canada
Lawyers Without Borders
Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF)
The Gulf Center for Human Rights
Tunisian Initiative for Freedom of Expression
1 Foreign Affairs Committee, House of Commons, The UK’s relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, Fifth Report of Session 2013 -2014, November 2013, p.13.
2 Foreign and Commonwealth Office, “Country case study: Bahrain -progress on reform implementation” in Human Rights and Democracy Report 2013, April 2014.
3 Foreign Affairs Committee, House of Commons, The UK’s relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, Fifth Report of Session 2013 -2014, November 2013, p.19.
4 Mendez, Juan. American University, Washington College of Law. https://media.wcl.american.edu/Mediasite/Play/e97125dd13674476a51b155e83d4551a1d
5 UN Human Rights Council 26th Session, Joint Statement read out by Switzerland, http://birdbh.org/2014/06/un-human-rights-council-issue-joint-statement-on-bahrain-at-26thsession