UK officials say Gulf kingdom has made 'genuine progress' but rights groups suggest British position may be linked to 'trade and security deals'
The British government has refused to back a joint United Nations statement criticising Bahrain over its deteriorating human rights record, Middle East Eye can reveal.
The Gulf kingdom has been on the receiving end of fierce international criticism after it resumed executions earlier this year, amid warnings the country was on the brink of a “human rights crisis”.
Human rights groups have described prisoners being burned with cigarettes, given electric shock and burned with irons, among other forms of torture, but to the dismay of campaigners, officials from the UK Mission to the UN in Geneva have refused to back a planned statement condemning the country's actions.
Britain signed the last joint-resolution on Bahrain in 2015, but a foreign office source told MEE that it would refuse to back a new joint motion on the country being proposed by the Swiss government this week.
“The UK considers the proposed Swiss statement does not recognise some of the genuine progress Bahrain has made. Instead, we will be issuing a UK National Statement that includes Bahrain," said the official.
Britain’s failure to tackle Bahrain at the Human Rights Council (HRC) meeting this week will go some way to watering down criticism of the kingdom, which London sees as a key ally in the fight against Islamic State (IS) group and is home to a major Royal Navy base.
It has also prompted rights group to accuse Britain of giving a signal to Bahrain and other Gulf states that the international community has given them a free pass to resume executions.
Moya Foa, a director at international rights group Reprieve, told MEE: “It is appalling that, weeks after Bahrain resumed executions, the British government is trying to block criticism of the Kingdom at the UN. The UK says it supports reform in Bahrain - but despite this, torture, forced confessions, and the use of the death penalty are rife. Instead of trying to whitewash Bahrain’s shocking human rights record, Britain should work with other countries to urge an end to these terrible abuses.”
Bahrain has faced international criticism since it violently put down pro-democracy protests in 2011 but the draft Swiss statement is expected to include the strongest UN condemnation of its rights record in recent years.
Human rights groups and Bahraini activists have also balked at the suggestion by British officials that the country has made "genuine progress" on human rights.
Speaking in Geneva earlier this week, Bahrain’s assistant foreign minister, Abdullah bin Faisal bin Jabr Al Dossari, said Bahrain was making progress in the face of “substantial challenges” including “foreign interferences and increasing acts of violence, terrorism and vicious extremism”.
The UN meeting comes after Bahrain executed three Shia Muslim men convicted of killing an Emirati police officer and two Bahrain police officers in a 2014 bomb attack.
The death sentences, which prompted international condemnation, were the first to be carried out in Bahrain since 2010, amid claims that confessions in the cases were extracted under torture.
The execution of the three men by firing squad sparked protests to which the authorities responded with excessive force and increased arbitrary restrictions on the media, according to Amnesty International UK.