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UK MPs call for suspension of 'secretive' Gulf funding initiatives: Report

Members of parliament say programmes put UK at risk of complicity of rights abuses in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, Financial Times reports
The report accused the government of being "misleading" and "deceptive" about the IAF by saying it was not for security matters in Bahrain.
The report accused the government of being "misleading" and "deceptive" about the IAF by saying it was not for security matters in Bahrain (AFP)

British MPs are calling on the country's government to suspend "secretive" funding programmes to Gulf countries that they allege could place the UK at risk of being complicit in human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

The all-party parliamentary group on democracy and human rights in the Gulf said the multi-million-pound programmes, supported by the Integrated Activity Fund (IAF), were run with "absolute minimum levels of accountability, transparency and diligence in spite of being repeatedly implicated in human rights violations".

The groups' report, as quoted in the Financial Times, said that IAF-supported institutions in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain "whitewashed human rights abuses, placing the UK government at risk of complicity in abuses themselves".

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"Government funding to GCC states through the [Gulf Strategy Fund] should be immediately suspended pending an independent inquiry into its implication in human rights and international law violations," it said.

The IAF, which was later replaced by the Gulf Strategy Fund (GSF), was launched in 2016 and was established to provide funding for investment in programmes in the Gulf region.

It has been criticised by rights groups for being "not able to disclose information related to IAF programmes in greater detail", citing a "duty to maintain the confidence and confidentiality of our partners".

The report said the IAF spent £53m ($73m) between 2016 to 2017 and between 2019 to 2020.

After multiple Freedom of Information requests and heavy criticism over the lack of transparency of the British taxpayer-funded initiative, Secretary of State for the Middle East and North Africa James Cleverly promised last year to publish a summary of future activities.

Misleading and deceptive

The Times said the report accused the government of being "misleading" and "deceptive" about the IAF by saying it was claimed to be a fund for health, sports and culture, and not for security matters in Bahrain.

The Foreign Office told the newspaper that all co-operation through the fund was "subject to rigorous risk assessments to ensure all work meets our human rights obligations and our values".

"We do not shy away from raising legitimate human rights concerns, and encourage other states to respect international law," it said.

The all-party report, however, adds the IAF and GSF fund programmes to "bodies in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia that continue to be implicated in serious human rights and international law violations".

Since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, which saw pro-democracy demonstrators take to the streets of the Gulf nation, Bahrain has launched a comprehensive crackdown on opposition groups and human rights activists.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has been deemed as one of the world's worst human rights abusers, according to the Human Rights Measurement Initiative.