Promoting Human Rights the British Way
The international human rights community - including states,
official international organizations, NGOs, as well as academic
and research centres- adopts various approaches and methods with
regard to promoting and improving human rights, and protecting them
in the face of violations in various parts of the world. However,
the dominant feature of the trends of these human rights entities
is the tendency towards vehemence and sometimes confrontations with
perpetrators of violations and sharp criticism and calls for strong
international actions against the perpetrators that may include
the threat of military intervention.
There are some, however, who believe that pressure and confrontations
may not yield fruit, and that the quiet diplomacy is more capable
of reaching the shore, by safely navigating the raging seas of thorny
human rights issues, than the vessels of vilification, threats and
Britain is largely inclined to favour this quiet diplomatic approach
and believes that it is the best way to develop and promote human
rights. Perhaps this is due to the fact that its history -the ‘colonial
era’ – had allowed it the opportunity to come into direct contact
with various cultures and civilizations throughout the globe, and
to become more familiar with the characteristics that distinguish
different peoples and races, whether in terms of emotional composition,
or intellectual and spiritual convictions. Britain continues to
manage its interests through a diplomatic approach that often takes
into account the characteristics of the opposite side, while avoiding
the pitfalls of provoking its sensitivities or doubts.
Such has been the British approach to dealing with political
issues and human rights dossiers in the gulf region, underpinned
by a deep understanding of the geopolitical and social peculiarities
of the situation in the Gulf region in general, and in Bahrain and
Saudi Arabia in particular. While severe condemnations of human
rights violations echo with calls for intensifying pressure against
Bahrain, Britain has adopted a pragmatic approach. It has engaged
in dialogue with Bahrain, providing the latter with advice and assistance
in various human rights aspects, in order to establish a strong
human rights structure capable of protecting these rights in the
future. Britain is undertaking this through multiple joint projects,
with no need to raise a voice or to accentuate denunciation and
As a reflection of this policy, Britain has its own method for
classifying countries worldwide in the periodic human rights reports
issued by its Foreign Office. For instance, Bahrain had previously
been classified as a country under the category of ‘countries of
concern’, but in a later reports Bahrain has been classified under
‘Country case studies’. The latter category implies a recognition
of tangible progress in the country in question; the existence of
evidence that indicates prospects for further future improvement
and readiness to respond to any sincere external efforts for assistance
in this regard.
Needless to say, the British government’s position has been faced
with criticism both domestically and from abroad. But the British
Foreign Office has remained committed to its position and approach
in addressing human rights situations in the countries concerned,
responding to criticism by offering explanations and clarifications
inside the British Parliament; while resisting the pressures applied
by major international human rights organizations (NGOs), as well
as those by local and international press.
Recently, the British Foreign Office (FCO) has revealed documented
information concerning its diplomatic engagements within the human
rights arena in Bahrain. This information was revealed under the
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2000, which requires government
agencies and institutions to provide those interested, with all
the information requested, except in cases where its disclosure
poses a threat to supreme British interests, whether security-wise,political,
economic or commercial.
During the period extending from March to October 2015, the British
Foreign Office (FCO) had to respond to several inquiries made by
four entities, which might have included major international human
rights organizations. Those inquiries centered mainly on the degree
and scope of the FCO’s dealings with the human rights dossier in
Bahrain. The information revealed by the British government in that
respect, offers an opportunity to view its efforts and the assistance
it is providing for the improvement of the human rights situation
in Bahrain, and the benefits and successes it is hoping to achieve.
UK’s Human Rights Assistance to Bahrain
We present below the questions submitted to the British government,
and the FCO’s responses to them; which shed some light on the British
way of dealing with human rights issues in the countries concerned.
Q: Please confirm whether the UK Government currently
provides training or any other form of assistance to the military,
police and/or security services in Bahrain?
A: In order to support of the Government of Bahrain’s reform
programme, the UK Government is providing a package of technical
assistance, including training to the police and security services
in Bahrain. This package includes two projects, centred on sharing
best practice in line with international standards on neighbourhood
policing and creating awareness of international best practice and
providing an introduction to human rights to support recruits who
are going to be prison officers. All projects have an accompanying
Overseas Security and Justice Assistance (OSJA) instrument in place.
Q: Please confirm whether the UK Government currently
provides any form of torture prevention training to police and/or
security services including prison officers, members of the Ombudsmen
and Special [Interrogation] Investigations Unit[s] in Bahrain. If
so, please supply the details of this training including its nature,
form and purpose. Are any external human rights bodies used to facilitate
the training of security services in Bahrain?
A: The UK is providing a package of technical assistance to support
the Government of Bahrain’s reform programme and implementation
of the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of
Inquiry and the UN Universal Periodic Review. Information about
the UK’s government’s assistance programme is detailed in the Foreign
and Commonwealth Office’s annual human rights report, which is updated
every six months. Part of the UK’s assistance is focussed on strengthening
the oversight mechanisms responsible for investigating allegations
of torture and mistreatment and supporting the reform of detention
procedures in Bahrain. The UK’s current work in this area includes:
- Supporting the establishment of an independent Ombudsman’s
office to deal with any complaints made against the Ministry
of Interior. With UK funding, Northern Ireland Cooperation Overseas
(NI-CO) has been providing capacity building and mentoring support
to the Ombudsman’s office.
- Supporting the establishment of a Prisoners’ and Detainees’
Rights Commission (PDRC) through Her Majesty’s Inspectorate
of Prisons (HMIP). HMIP have provided exposure to UK best practice,
training and mentoring on carrying our prison inspections and
reporting. The PDRC is a national requirement for ratification
of the Option Protocol for the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT).
- Supporting a review of prison management and detention standards
in Bahrain. This involves UK advisors working with the Ministry
of Interior to introduce policies and procedures in line with
international best practice and ensuring that new prison plans
comply with UN standards.
- Creating awareness of international best practice and providing
an introduction to human rights to support police recruits who
are going to be prison officers.
- Sharing best practice in line with international standards
on neighbourhood policing through NI-CO.
- You also ask how we test the success of the training the
UK provides. It is standard practice to evaluate the projects
that we are providing to the government of Bahrain for their
impact once they have concluded. Officials will do this with
all British assistance projects in Bahrain. The outcome of the
evaluation will be used to inform and improve any future assistance
that we provide.
Q: I would like to ask about the assistance programme
the FCO will provide to Bahrain in 2015/16. This is in reference
to the same assistance which Mr Tobias Ellwood MP stated will cost
£2.1 million in 2015/16. Please could you inform me of: 1) The full
breakdown of the budget including: a) The areas of assistance in
which the money is being spent, b) The organisations employed by
the FCO for its 2015/16 assistance programme and the amount they
will receive, and c) The names and positions of Bahraini officials
that will be taking part in the FCO training programmes?
A: The UK has been providing a range of technical, practical
assistance to the Government of Bahrain since 2012. The range of
assistance supports the Government of Bahrain’s implementation of
the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry and UN Universal Periodic
Of the £2.1 million Gulf programme funds made available for Bahrain
in FY2015-2016, around £2 million will go towards our reform assistance
programme. All our work with the Bahrainis supports strengthening
the rule of law, social reconciliation and governance and includes:
- Capacity-building support to the Ombudsman’s Office through
Northern Ireland Cooperation Overseas (NI-CO) to increase accountability;
- UK-based training to the Prisoners’ and Detainees’ Rights
Commission through Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP);
- Supporting local NGOs and youth societies to promote freedom
of expression through the Causeway Institute for Peace-building
and Conflict Resolution;
- Reforming the youth justice system through Northern Ireland
Cooperation Overseas (NI-CO).
- Supporting justice reform through improvements in the court
administration system through National School of Government
- Improving the effectiveness of the Reform and Rehabilitation
system in Bahrain through Northern Ireland Co-operation Overseas
- Improving NGO governance structures and increasing civil
society engagement on policy making and legislation-drafting
through the Charity Commission for England and Wales.
It is standard practice to evaluate all FCO programmes and project
work. The outcome of the evaluation is used to inform and improve
any future assistance that we provide. Programmes are monitored
on a quarterly basis to ensure that they are on track for delivery.
The FCO provides updates on its programme work through the annual
FCO Human Rights report, in which Bahrain is a case study. There
is no plan at present to publish standalone assessments of the Bahrain
Finally, you also asked for the names and positions of Bahraini
officials who will be taking part in the FCO training programmes.
The information that you are requesting, is personal data relating
to third parties, the disclosure of which would contravene one of
the data protection principles. This states that personal data should
be processed fairly and lawfully. It is the fairness aspect of this
principle, which, in our view, would be breached by disclosure.
In such circumstances, section 40 confers an absolute exemption
Q: In relation to the High Delegation to Geneva
in early September (2015) and working in relation to Bahrain: Who
and what organisations and government comprised the delegation?
How many members comprised the delegation? What was the reason for
the delegation’s visit to the UN? How was the delegation financed,
and by whom?
A: There were five members of the delegation. They were not part
of a larger group. The party comprised of:
- Head of Political Internal and Press & Public Affairs, British
- Head of Programmes Team, British Embassy Manama
- Managing Director, Causeway Institute
- Criminal Justice Development Adviser, Northern Ireland Co-operation
- Inspection Team Leader, HM Inspectorate of Prisons The delegation
visited Geneva to engage with the UK Mission to the United Nations.
The delegation also met with a wide range of interlocutors,
including NGOs, to inform and discuss Bahrain’s progress on
reform and human rights with a focus on the UK’s programme of
This is in line with the UK government’s overarching objective
on Bahrain: to support Bahrain in its return
to a stable and reformist state, with a good human rights record.
They met with: representatives from EU Member States’ Missions
to the United Nations Geneva; representatives from the Swiss Mission
to the United Nations Geneva; representatives from the UN Office
of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); representatives
from human rights NGOs, including Americans for Democracy & Human
Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Cairo Institute, FIDH, Human Rights
Watch and Amnesty [in addition to] representatives from the US,
Canadian, Australian and New Zealand Missions to the United Nations
Geneva. The visit was financed by the UK government’s £2.1m Conflict,
Security and Stability Fund (CSSF) for Bahrain.
Officials in Bahrain and other Gulf States prefer this British
way of dealing with things. The mindset and way of thinking in Middle
Eastern societies, and in the Gulf Region in particular, is the
product of a complex social, cultural and religious heritage, that
set them apart from Western and other societies.
As such only a profound understanding and appreciation of this
fact could help others to find the right approach to tackle issues
in the Gulf Region with the desired degree of success. Human Rights
issues raised by Western governments and Human rights entities constitute
one of the major areas of contention in the dealings of the West
with the Gulf Region, and Bahrain, in particular. It is not the
expression of concerns about such issues by the west is the problem,
but rather the conduit.
Discretion is a treasured characteristic in Bahrain and other
parts of the Gulf. It is synonymous to respect. Complex issues have
a greater chance of being resolved discreetly than if were made
Public. Going public amounts to defamation and a source of shame
and humiliation, and rather than yield settlement it generates defiance,
and further push the other party towards more intransigency.
In this respect it would be far more productive to approach the
Bahraini Government with whatever Human Rights concerns, in a discreet
and private manner, and avoid voicing criticism publicly. This way
there will be a Bahraini sense of gratitude for the respect shown,
and greater tendency towards responding in a positive fashion.