Foreign AffairsWritten evidence from the Bahrain Justice and Development Movement

About Bahrain Justice and Development Movement

We have been campaigning for political reform in Bahrain since June 2011, working with leading opposition figures, both inside and outside the country. We aim to promote democratic reform through working with western politicians, media channels, NGO’s and others, by bringing awareness of the situation in Bahrain and helping to establish lasting relationships with advocates of human rights and democracy.

Summary of Submission

UK foreign policy of promoting democracy and human rights in the world is currently failing with regards to Bahrain.

UK foreign office needs to be tougher with Bahrain and be prepared to shift from the soft diplomacy, currently in use.

Violations are ongoing in Bahrain and reform is non-existent with hardliners blocking any attempts at reform.

UK Government needs to work with the moderates inside the country, more clearly, in order to push for reform. Only reform will bring about long-term stability.

Full summary of recommendations at the end.

1. Introduction

2. This submission to the Foreign Affairs Committee Inquiry into UK policy in Bahrain will argue that the UK’s interests are not currently being met. The United Kingdom is trying to balance between its long standing relationship with the ruling family and the people of Bahrain, by maintaining the rulers while achieving the ultimate goal of democratic reform in Bahrain, but the strategy being used is weaker than is necessary in order to influence the Bahraini Government into doing this.

3. The UK is giving a lot to Bahrain government whilst receiving little in return. The promises that Bahrain itself has made, from the King, Crown Prince, and other officials have not been kept to, including those to implement the Bahrain Independent Commission, to begin reform and to end excessive violence against protesters. To this extent the UK cooperation with Bahrain should be conditional, meaning UK should support Bahrain on initiatives only if certain pre-conditions are met that should include respect for human rights, opening dialogue etc.

4. The first few months following the protests of 14 February 2011 saw a much-needed critical and public voice from the UK. However since then the rhetoric has changed, although the action of the Bahraini Government has not. They have continued to crackdown using the same methods and techniques as during the emergency law. UK was not successful in making the governement of Bahrain even respect freedom of expression and assembly; peaceful protestors are being brutally supressed, while the UK turns a blind eye.

5. The British Government urgently needs to return to the position it took during the early part of 2011, in which criticism was public and open use of Army and force was not tolerated and demanded to stop. At the same time they need to do more to support moderate voices for democracy, across the political spectrum. Advocates for democracy are a majority in Bahrain and exist both within the opposition as well as the royal family. More should be done to empower those voices and this dynamic needs to be understood by the UK Government. We have not seen clear statements that reflects UK clear support for the right of Bahrainis to have their elected goverment and other legtimate demands like they are said clearly for Syrians, Egyptians, and other countries.

6. Unless the UK policy is more assertive, changing from soft diplomacy to active diplomacy, with timeframe for reform milestones from government of Bahrain, they are in danger of being seen by the people of Bahrain as collaborating in the violations they are facing. This would have a wide-reaching bad impact in the long-run as the future generation of Bahrainis will view UK only in a negative light, as a force that supported the suppression of democracy.

7. Background

8. Britain has a longstanding and complex relationship with Bahrain owing to Bahrain being a former protectorate of the UK. This will no doubt underlie any relationship. As a result of these historical ties the Bahraini people look to Britain in a way unique to any other country in the world. This makes the actions and the role of the UK in Bahrain incredibly important as no other global player can boast the same level of understanding, closeness historically and political influence.

9. Of course Bahrain also is of strategic importance to the UK with regards to its geographical position within the region. A friendly relationship with Bahrain’s rulers can and indeed does provide for some British interest.

10. However, British foreign policy should not be, and indeed isn’t, solely based on interest.

11. On 1st July 2010, William Hague UK Foreign Secretary, outlined the vision of the UK foreign policy.

12. “Our new Government’s vision of foreign affairs therefore is this: a distinctive British foreign policy that is active in Europe and across the world; that builds up British engagement in the parts of the globe where opportunities as well as threats increasingly lie; that is at ease within a networked world and harnesses the full potential of our cultural links, and that promotes our national interest while recognising that this cannot be narrowly or selfishly defined. What I call instead our enlightened national interest requires a foreign policy that is ambitious in what it can achieve for others as well as ourselves, that is inspired by and seeks to inspire others with our values of political freedom and economic liberalism, that is resolute in its support for those around the world who are striving to free themselves through their own efforts from poverty or political fetters. It is not in our character as a nation to have a foreign policy without a conscience or to repudiate our obligation to help those less fortunate. Our foreign policy should always have consistent support for human rights and poverty reduction at its irreducible core and we should always strive to act with moral authority, recognising that once that is damaged it is hard to restore.”1

13. The understanding of this vision is that British interests are no longer narrowly defined in a “narrow or selfishly defined” economic sense and that political freedom and human rights should be of a chief concern.

14. Therefore, according to the UK Foreign Secretary, UK’s global interests are intertwined with supporting democracy and human rights.

15. Achieving British interests of democracy and human rights promotion.

16. In this aspect UK is failing in Bahrain. Despite some efforts there has been no progress in this regard and UK policy has not been strong enough to influence Bahrain into making the necessary reforms in order to be understood as in anyway democratic.

17. The policy of quiet diplomacy has failed to make any substantial changes, and the Government of Bahrain has proven that they will only respond to public pressure.

18. Bahrain spends millions of pounds annually on public relations and relies heavily on their support.2 This is clear evidence that Bahrain has a strong awareness of its image internationally and is very concerned about any negative impact in this regard. With this in mind it is clear that any public criticism of Bahrain will force its leadership to reconsider their actions.

19. Public statements.

20. The most common practice of the UK Government, in response to major violations by the Bahraini authorities, has been statements of concern. Such statements always fall short of public condemnation.

21. By contrast, the one occasion when the Foreign Office made an explicit condemnation of something related to Bahrain, was the recent alleged bomb attacks in the country.3 Whilst strongly condemning violence is appropriate, the question is raised why violence from the authorities is not strongly condemned? Especially considering it is a regular occurrence in Bahrain, that has caused a large number of deaths.

22. This imbalance gives the impression to the authorities in Bahrain that they have a large level of impunity for their actions and that they will not receive any major criticisms when they commit crimes. This gives confidence to those committing crimes to continue to do so and indeed we have the strong belief that the authorities have been emboldened in this sense.

23. The authorities arrested human rights defender Nabeel Rajab a number of times before sentencing him to 3 years in prison. The lack of condemnation of his arrests led to the decision to sentence him for 3 years. In some ways the authorities “tested the ground” before imprisoning him for a long time. This silence encourages the governemnt of Bahrain to repress more activists, and uphold harsh sentences against medics and political and human rights activists.

24. In addition to there being space to make stronger public statements, there is also the need for an increase in their frequency. An example of this is the shocking decision taken by the authorities to revoke the nationalities of 31 opposition figures, including two former MP’s from Al Wefaq, withought even a due process.4

25. On this occasion there was no public statement from the United Kingdom, despite the measure clearly being unfair and draconian. This lack of protestation sends a signal to the authorities that it would be ok for them to continue this policy and widen it to other figures and activists.

26. Conditional support.

27. Another area of change that the UK Government should consider is making their support of the Government of Bahrain conditional. There are a number of initiatives that the UK Government has taken with Bahrain and one important way to bring about a change in Bahrain’s attitude to reform would be to make these initiatives conditional on certain actions being met.

28. For example the UK has offered help to Bahrain in the following areas:

2012 Bahrain Grand Prix.

2012 Bahrain Air show.

Bahrain media work.

Policing—Appointment of John Yates as well as exchange programs.

Visit of Scotland Yard to Bahrain to help with investigation over discovery of bombs.

UK refusal to sign UN Human Rights Council joint statement on human rights in Bahrain.

UK support for Gulf Security Conference (Manama Dialogue) in Bahrain (with International Institute for Strategic Studies).

29. These are just a few examples of areas in which Britain has offered concrete assistance to Bahrain. But we fear that Britain is not receiving anything in return and this is becoming a one-way relationship.

30. We believe that these areas of assistance can be conditional and therefore can be used as leverage to achieve the political settlements that Britain is hoping for in Bahrain.

For example:

Support for Grand Prix = full and open dialogue with opposition.

Support for air show = opening up of freedom of expression.

Support for Manama Dialogue = release of political prisoners.

31. Positive steps taken by the British Government should be conditioned by positive steps by Bahrain. The UK Government has the ability to do this and it would send an important signal that Bahrain cannot continue to do as it wishes and at the same time keep a strong relationship with Britain.

32. Empowering the moderate forces in the country that want to achieve reform.

33. Democratic reform is the goal of the vast majority of the country, and is not confined only to the opposition movements. There are also those within the royal family who support the idea of reform but need to be empowered internationally. However, UK diplomats and officials are dealing with the hardliners in the Bahraini regime with no differentiations. This leads the hardliners to believe that they are not needed to change.

34. In a speech in Kuwait on 22nd February 2011, just days after the beginning of the movement for change in Bahrain, Prime Minister David Cameron said:

35.“If people’s hunger for a job and a voice are denied there is a real risk that the frustration and powerless people feel and the resulting lack of connection with the way their country is run can open the way to them being cut off from society or worse drawn to more violent and extremist responses. That’s why I think political and economic reform in the Arab world is not just good in its own right but it’s also a key part of the antidote to the extremism that threatens the security of us all.”

36. This is absolutely a central point to this discussion and its importance cannot be overstated. For more than a year we have been arguing exactly this point that the longer the crisis continues without a resolution, the likelier extremists on both sides will become stronger.

37. This concern is being proven as completely valid at the moment in time, with an increase in the number of violent acts from protesters and a major crackdown from the hardliners in the Government. Bahrain has become increasingly polarized society and this is extremely dangerous for the long-term future of Bahrain.

38. A stable country is in the interests of all, including the UK. There will be no stability without political reform. This needs to be well understood by the Foreign Office, therefore making the need for a political solution all the more important. There is a branch of hardliners in the royal family who wish to ride out the wave of protests and will not make any political reform at any cost. This group currently has a large hold on power and needs to be isolated, in order to strengthen the moderates.

39. Strengthening the moderate opposition.

40. Al Wefaq National Islamic Society is the largest opposition party in Bahrain and is well respected as the voice of moderation. They call for a constitutional monarchy and do not support the dismantling of the state. Equally they hope to foster strong international relations and trade, including with our friends in the United Kingdom.

41. Their demands are as follows5:

42.An elected Government representing the will of the people rather than an appointed Government. Through their elected representatives, people can elect their Prime Minister and other Ministers, whilst having the ability to withdraw their confidence should officials fail in their duties.

43. Fair electoral districts that guarantee political equality amongst the people and meet the universal principle of one person, one vote.

44. A parliament comprising of a single chamber with sole legislative and regulatory powers to replace the current bicameral arrangement of an elected and unelected chamber with equal powers.

45. An independent judicial system, free from the executive branch, both financially and administratively. The judiciary must be a transparent and impartial body that shows willingness to investigate all cases against all citizens and royal family members alike.

46. Security for all through the participation of all citizens in the army and other security apparatus. These bodies must be trained to show respect for human rights and serve the people rather than the wishes of the Government, participating in suppression of the opposition.

47. Furthermore there are three critical issues that must be addressed in parallel with the mentioned political reforms:

48. Political naturalization: This can be addressed through the creation of a committee mandated to study cases of granted citizenship over the last 20 years, the use of malpractices to distribute passports and the ability to correct wrongful cases, in accordance with human rights.

49. Discrimination: It is vital to rid the country of all forms of discrimination, whilst addressing the consequences of the current discriminatory policies.

50. Official media: Agreeing on a new media policy that encompasses all views of the country’s population.

51. It should be clear from the above principles that the opposition are seeking a modern and fair democratic civil state that upholds the rights of all citizens, protects minorities and works within an international framework. This programme stands in line with the “7 principles” laid out by the Crown Prince in February 20116. This would have provided a good remedy to the crisis but before it could come into fruition Saudi troops entered Bahrain and launched a brutal crackdown.

52. The British Government can build a strong relationship with Al Wefaq that includes regular meetings, official recognition and support inside the country. Regular meetings have taken place in UK between the FCO and Al Wefaq representatives but more high-level talks are necessary. Furthermore the FCO can acknowledge good intiatives of the opposition including the recent declaration of non-violence that was produced.7 The FCO can also harbour meetings between Government and Opposition representatives in order to begin discussions and confidence building.

53. A key component of empowering the opposition is also defending them. In recent weeks there have been a few incidents in which Al Wefaq prominent figures have been targeted. They include:

54. Summoning of Alwefaq SG, Sheikh Ali Salman to interrogation.8

55. Banning all opposition protests.9

56. Official statements demonizing Al Wefaq.10 , 11

57. Threats and official media attacks on Sheikh Issa Qassim.

58. Summoning Khalil Almarzooq, Alwefaq SG Political Assistant.

59. Revoking citizenship of Jawad Fairouz and Jalal Fairouz.12

60. It is absolutely vital that the Foreign Office takes the threats against Al Wefaq seriously and does everything within their power to stop threats on Al Wefaq. The role that the Society is currently playing in Bahrain is essential to stop a further escalation of violence and the logical conclusion of these series of attacks is the arrest of key figures. This would be disastrous for Bahrain and the FCO should make clear there are red lines that the authorities in Bahrain simply cannot cross.

61. Strengthening moderates in the Royal Family.

62. The UK should see the moderates in the royal family as their allies and the hardliners being against everything the UK stands for. Bahrain’s Government is not elected therefore those leading the country should not be seen as legitimate leaders chosen by the people.

63. Working closely with the moderates is entirely justifiable and needs to be done in order to give this group more power within the country. There is a battle for control at the top of Bahraini society and the UK should see those with similar interests as being the ones worth backing.

64. Summary of Recommendations:

Clear unequivocal support for democratice reform in Bahrain.

Stronger public statements including official condemnations of violations and abuses of human rights.

Making support of Bahrain in initiatives conditional on the actions of the Government of Bahrain.

Empower the moderate opposition and those in the Government.

Demanding definite timeframe and key milestones for reform.

65. Other specific recommendations:

Ask Bahrain to sign the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

There is no excuse for this not to happen, other than Bahrain wants to avoid high-level scrutiny.

Request that Bahrain officially open an office for the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights by September 2012 as part of accepting the recommendations made during the United Nations Universal Periodic Review.

Full implementation of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. Including and paying particular attention to: 1715, 1716, 1719, 1722 a, 1722 b, 1722 e, 1724 a.

Implementnt the recommendations of member states at the United Nations Universal Periodic Review before September 2012.

Many of these recommendations can be done immediately, if there is the political will.

66. If the Bahrain Government refuses to accept the above then Britain can consider the following actions:

United Kingdom can request a special session at the UN Human Rights Council on Bahrain;


United Kingdom can support other member states requesting a special session at the UN Human Rights Council on Bahrain;


United Kingdom can not object if other countries wish to organize a special session at the UN Human Rights Council on Bahrain.

67. Conclusion

68. The United Kingdom is currently failing in its global policy of promoting peace and stability, democracy and human rights, with regards to Bahrain.

69. It has thus far been too soft with the Government of Bahrain and held back from the strong efforts that are needed to influence the country towards reform. The policy of UK continues to be to push for dialogue and implementation of the BICI, yet neither of these things is anywhere close to happening.

70. At the moment the situation is very close to getting out of hand and uncontrollable and all efforts need to be made to create an irreparable situation.

71. Being on the wrong side of history now can seriously damage the future interests of Britain in the region. The people are becoming increasingly disappointed with the positions taken by UK and it is leading to a possibility of anti-UK sentiment. This is not inherent in Bahrain, as the people generally look fondly to Britain as a friend, ally and former protector.

72. We firmly believe that democratic change to Bahrain is inevitable, whether it takes 6 months or 6 years and we hope that when this happens Britain will not be judged as having played a negative role in the quest for democracy.

73. Bahraini people have suffered in the past from negative roles being played by British figures such as Sir Charles Belgrave and Ian Henderson and yet they continue to look to you for strength. This proves they are calling for their support and as an advanced democratic nation; it is the UK’s duty to respond.

20 November 2012













Prepared 21st November 2013