British Foreign Ministry’s Report:

Bahrain is ‘A Case Study’

When it comes to dealing with the Middle East and the Arab world in particular, Britain has the advantage over other Western countries which is its close and thorough knowledge of the characteristics of the region. For due to its history of colonisation, Britain has a wide understanding of the region’s cultural, social and religious heritage.

Britain has maintained a great deal of political influence in many countries including the Gulf States even during the periods of post- colonialism, World Wars and the Cold War.

As part of its foreign policy, the British Foreign Office pays a great amount of attention to human rights and democracy in the region and issues annual and periodic reports which focus on human rights and democracy.

The British Foreign Office’s report discusses the challenges facing democracy and human rights in the entire world as well as the position of the British Government. The report also discusses specific countries whose human rights files represent a major concern for Britain. This report could result in Britain taking a specific position in term of its mutual relations with these countries or adopting certain decisions during international and regional conferences.

The British Foreign Office’s report takes into consideration the opinions of international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and HRW as well as the media which plays an important part in forming British public opinion. The opinions of British MPs are also considered especially as the Foreign Office’s report is usually discussed with the members of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

On December 2010, the Foreign Secretary William Hauge established the Advisory Group on Human Rights which consists of representatives of international human rights organizations, international institutions, academic institutions, research centres and the media.

The 2011 Foreign Office’s report which was issued in April 2012, allocated a whole chapter on the changes facing the Middle East and North Africa and discussed the reasons behind them and the ways that the British Government should deal with its new position. The chapter also highlighted the issues of major concern with regards to human rights.

The report highlighted 28 countries as source of concern, seven of which were Arab countries (excluding Bahrain) which was placed under a new category entitled ‘a case under study’. The Foreign Secretary explained this new categorization in his report introduction speech. He stated that this categorization concerns countries which do not have a very bad human rights record. Hague also announced that his Ministry will adopt the new strategy of issuing periodic reports in order to evaluate the progress made by both categories (a case under study and source of concern).

The fact that Bahrain was not ranked under ‘source of concern’ was condemned by human rights organizations, the media and Parliament. Some went as far as accusing the British Government of sacrificing principles for the sake of interest. The British Government, on the other hand, believes that the establishment of the fact finding committee by the King and his acceptance of its findings and recommendations, reflects Bahrain’s serious intention towards improving human rights. Britain encouraged further reforms instead of resorting to harsh criticism; this was clear in the heated debates of the House of Common on Bahrain. The Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, Alistair Burt, defended his Government’s policy towards Bahrain and was optimistic of the possibility of improving the political and human rights situation through the implementation of Bassiouni’s recommendations. Based on this attitude, the British Government stressed during the thirteen sessions of the UPR in May 2011, that it will continue encouraging the Bahraini Government and will provide it with the help and advice if needed. This was made clear by Alistair Burt’s visit to Bahrain during the second week of June and the two other visits of the Bahraini Minister of Interior, Sheikh Rashid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa, and the Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs, Sheikh Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa. During these meetings the discussions revolved around: the importance of an immediate implementation of all of Bassiouni’s recommendations and the willingness of Britain to provide all possible help in this field. It was also clear that Britain stresses two issues: national reconciliation and constructive dialogue as the only ways of achieving stability and prosperity in Bahrain.

On July 2012, the British Foreign Ministry issued the follow up report which evaluates the performance of the countries which were categorised as ‘source of concern’ and ‘under study’. According to the report progress was made in some human rights aspects and contained several comments and recommendations:

The report called upon the Bahraini Government to follow correct legal procedures and conduct trials in a transparent manner;

The importance of continuing prosecution of those responsible for human rights violations; and

The report expressed concerns over the use of sectarian discourse in the state media and the media affiliated to the opposition. It believes that the authorities should introduce media restrictions which eliminate extremism and incitements to violence and sectarianism.

It is clear that the British Government is interested greatly in the progress of human rights in Bahrain and believes that the condemnation policy is not beneficial in improving the human rights situation. Building on Bassiouni’s report and implementing its recommendations, as well as providing help and technical expertise will have positive effects in the future. Hence, Bahrain needs more encouragement in dealing with human rights in Bahrain and should:

Continue implementing Bassiouni’s recommendations seriously and benefit from the technical and professional help and training provided by the British Government;

Provide detailed information with relation to implementing the recommendations and state the obstacles if encountered with all transparency to the concerned bodies in the British Government. This will be beneficial to these bodies in responding to any criticism regarding human rights in Bahrain; and

Review their relation with international human rights organisations especially with regards to allowing them to visit Bahrain and conduct their activities. This should promote trust between both sides and will give credibility to the Government’s efforts and enable it to benefit from the expertise of these organisations.