The UK funds Bahrain security services with millions, despite torture

The United Kingdom has funded Bahraini security services with millions, despite allegations and reports of human rights violations including torture, drawing more criticism on the UK’s support for Gulf monarchies.

In a report by the Telegraph newspaper yesterday, it was revealed that a freedom of information act request confirmed that the UK has been continuing a controversial fund by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) which is aimed at promoting the rule of law and human rights in the Gulf Arab region.

Through that fund, named the Gulf Strategy Fund (GSF), London has provided millions in taxpayer money to States like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) over the past five years in a £70 million package.

While the fund has long been contentious and British MPs have urged the government to scrap it, the freedom of information act request now reveals that the government even failed to host ministerial consultation over any funding provided to Bahrain in the financial year 2020/2021.

The extent to which it supports Bahrain’s security services is also the focus of greater controversy, particularly following a joint report published yesterday by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), which found that Manama committed serious human rights violations by recently sentencing eight men to death based on “forced” confessions extracted through torture. Those methods reportedly included electric shocks to the genitals, attempted rape, beating, and sleep deprivation.

The Director of Advocacy at BIRD, Sayed Ahmed AlWadaei, told the Telegraph that the UK and the FCDO may have broken their own rules by not properly assessing the fund’s financial support to Bahrain’s judicial system, especially with its use of capital punishment.

Under the UK’s own guidelines, he said, the government should either seek assurances that defendants will not face the death penalty or it should seek additional ministerial consultation regarding the continuation of funding. “In my belief, the government is breaking its own rules when it comes to providing assistance to Bahrain,” AlWadaei stated.

In response to the HRW report’s allegations, a Bahraini government spokesperson claimed that it “has a zero-tolerance policy towards the mistreatment of any kind” and that “allegations of mistreatment are fully investigated and public reports are issued with recommendations based on the findings”. That statement also insisted that the Gulf State’s “criminal justice system operates in full compliance with international law. The UN’s human rights principles, including the right to a fair trial, are enshrined in the country’s Constitution and legislative instruments.”

According to the paper, an FCDO spokesperson told it that “All projects on justice and security issues with partners overseas are subject to rigorous risk assessments to meet our human rights expectations.” It did not say whether it had received assurances from the Bahraini government or security services on human rights issues, but stated that “While we recognize challenges remain, stepping back from supporting reforms would be counterproductive.”

One example of its funding and cooperation has helped in the field of human rights, the spokesperson said, includes the fact that “our work to introduce alternatives to prison sentences has benefitted 4,300 individuals and reduced the prison population by over half.”

Those assurances, however, will likely do little to counter the “credible” allegations made in the HRW and BIRD joint report, which urged the UK to “Suspend funding, support, technical assistance and training for security services and the judiciary until Bahrain enacts and complies with the recommendations in this report, including a standing invitation to, and a visit by, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture.”

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William Black

There are two kinds of people in this world… And I don´t like them. These are my opinions.