UK Minister’s Reply to ‘Reprieve’:
We Continue to Assist Bahrain‘s Reform
Reprieve’s report has provoked several reactions by the governments
attacked or accused by the report, including the British Government,
the Government of Northern Ireland and the Government of Bahrain.
In this regard, the British MP Mark Durkan, asked the British Secretary
of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, for his assessment
and the British Government’s response to Reprieve’s report on the
outcome of the British Government’s cooperation with Bahrain through
Northern Ireland Co-operation Overs?as Ltd (NI-CO) in upgrading
the capacity of the Ombudsman Office staff.
Tobias Ellwood, the British Secretary of State for Middle East
Affairs, responded by saying that “The UK Government continues to
assist Bahrain in their reform agenda including by working with
the Northern Ireland Co-operation Overseas (NICO) programme”.
“Our and NICO’s aims are to assist the Government of Bahrain
to bring its justice system into compliance with international standards.
All of NICO’s work in Bahrain is regularly monitored and reviewed
and continues to comply with rigorous UK human rights standards,
which are in line with international human rights law”, added Elwood
who concluded that “the impact of their work has been and continues
to be positive”.
For his part, Simon, Hamilton, the Economy Minister in the Northern
Ireland Executive, sent a letter to Reprieve group (published in
the North Irish press), rejecting the group’s allegations and its
request to suspend cooperation and aid work carried by the Northern
Ireland Co-operation Overseas Ltd in Bahrain.
The Executive Minister, Hamilton, added that the Northern Ireland
Executive was not in a position to suspend the company’s work in
Bahrain as it didn’t award the contract, which was awarded by the
Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He also defended NI-CO’s work,
stating that it “complied with rigorous UK Human Rights standards”
and that the impact of its work to date had been positive.
The Minister, Simon Hamilton, went on to say that “for as long
as these awarding bodies continue to co-operate and identify the
need for contracts in countries where reform is required, NI-CO
will continue to deliver programmes, sharing the learning and experience
of Northern Ireland to change attitudes, culture and behaviour,
with the ultimate aim of aligning these countries to the relevant
international standards”. In spite of Hamilton’s response, Reprieve
insisted on its position and described Hamilton’s response as “deeply
alarming”, and accused him of “passing the buck”.
Moreover, Reprieve found support from Front Line Defenders, a
human rights organisation based in the Republic of Ireland, which
joined the media controversy. Mary Lawlor, founder and executive
director of Front Line Defenders, responded to the Irish Times article
by the North Irish expert, Pauline McCabe, who said that “the sharing
of experience, best practice and skills” is critical for progress.
Lawlor’s rebuttal argued that “organisations and experts in Northern
Ireland who want to see reform in Bahrain?cannot disregard local
rights experts in the process. Instead of defending the surface
level reforms of Bahrain’s criminal justice institutions, the Northern
Ireland Policing Board ought to be consulting with Bahraini human
Bahrain’s Embassy (London) Reply
On another level, the Embassy of Bahrain in London commented
on Reprieve’s report and its feedback. The Embassy’s reply, which
was published in the Irish Times, said that “In the past three years
with NI-CO’s assistance, as part of the Bahrain-UK technical cooperation
program, Bahrain has been able to reshape its human rights landscape
and strengthen protections and guarantees.”
Tobias Ellwood, British |
Secretary of State
The Embassy added “The technical co-operation programme focused
on areas of police and security reform and also in areas of the
criminal justice system. The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry’s
(BICI) report recommended the establishment of oversight bodies,
such as the Ombudsman Office – a police and prisoner ombudsman –
to which there was no equivalent in the region. As a result, training,
standards of procedure and models to adopt were unavailable in the
region and there was little, if any, Arabic source material from
which to draw”.
Based on that, the Embassy concluded that “the challenges of
establishing oversight institutions are quite significant. These
institutions have had to go through a phase of defining their legal
frameworks, recruiting staff and training them, as well as establishing
and refining standards of practice and procedure. The ongoing work
between NI-CO and institutions in Bahrain is a critical part of
the reform process in direct response to the BICI recommendations.
For Reprieve – or any other human rights group ? to set an arbitrary
timeline for making ample progress is not helpful”.
The Embassy’s statement further added that “disregarding the
challenges of establishing of such institutions, the steep learning
curves, and the complexities of changing social and institutional
cultures robs these institutions of any chance of success. In fact,
it is counterproductive and has to make one wonder what the ultimate
goal is – to seek an end to the shared relationship with parties
from the United Kingdom rather than strengthen human rights protections”.
According to the statement, joint cooperation between Bahrain
and the United Kingdom “has helped to bring about more accountability
and oversight in Bahrain, and it would be a shame to see that come
to an end over the misguided intentions of people who may have a
political agenda that stretches beyond reform. If those calling
for reform in Bahrain really want it, they should join in the process
and support the efforts of collaboration, retraining and the institution
of best practices that result from the c?-operation between the
UK and NI-CO, and the Kingdom of Bahrain”.
The statement concluded by admitting that “there is an acknowledgement
that more needs to be done, but, at the same time, there is demonstrable
evidence from the reports of these entities that a lot of progress
has been achieved”.