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UK police reject calls for openness over Gulf training projects

Police body says revealing details of training delivered in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar would 'damage relations', despite torture concerns
British police officers on duty during anti-capitalist protests in central London earlier in November (AFP)

British police have refused to release details about training provided to officers from countries including Saudi Arabia and Bahrain despite having already “erroneously” released information about possible human rights concerns relating to the work.

Responding to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request from Reprieve, a human rights campaign group, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said that releasing details about the nature of the police training provided to countries, including Qatar and Sri Lanka, would “be damaging to international relations”.

The FOI request related to forms submitted to the International Policing Assistance Board (IPAB), which approves international projects submitted by the UK College of Policing, the police professional body responsible for delivering the training.

“In this case, the release of information relating to international policing assistance could harm our relations with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and Sri Lanka,” the NPCC response said.

It added that disclosing information could lead to a “collapse in relations which ultimately could end the deployment”.

“The disclosure of the information would be damaging to the trust and confidence which has been built between the UK and these countries. Any disclosure of information which would interfere with the development and deployment of officers to an overseas region would be exempt from disclosure.”

Reprieve passed on a copy of the NPCC’s response, dated 5 October, to Middle East Eye on Tuesday.

The NPCC also admitted that the previous publication of an IPAB project form relating to a police training project in Saudi Arabia had been an “erroneous disclosure”.

That document, published in June, revealed that police recognised that forensic skills being taught to Saudi counterparts could be “used to identify individuals who later go on to be tortured or subjected to other human rights abuses”.

'Exposed to British policing methods'

However, it also stated that one of the strategic objectives of the project was to “promote equality, diversity and human rights”.

“The officers who are trained will be exposed to British policing methods and culture at various key times during the programmes, thereby reinforcing the democratic policing and human rights messages,” it said.

But human rights campaigners and members of parliament have raised concerns about policing methods in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

In June, parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee said in a report that current safeguards against the risks of human rights abuses following training courses provided by the UK College of Policing may not be “fit for purpose".

The report also said that the college had been pressured by the government to increase revenues from overseas training.

“The provision of training on the basis of opaque agreements, sometimes with foreign governments which have been the subject of sustained criticism, threatens the integrity of the very brand of British policing that the college is trying to promote. It simply smacks of hypocrisy,” the report concluded.

Last month, Reprieve accused British trainers of training Bahraini police to “whitewash” deaths in custody. Police in Bahrain have been accused by rights groups of using torture to extract confessions from detainees.

Saudi Arabia faces accusations of human rights abuses, including sentencing juveniles to death and using torture on detainees.

“This secrecy over what Britain’s police teach repressive regimes is simply outrageous. There is a serious risk that British training is helping to arrest and sentence to death people accused of protesting against authoritarian governments in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and elsewhere,” said Maya Foa, director of Reprieve.

“The government needs to stop trying to sweep this under the carpet, and come clean on the training it provides and what steps – if any – it takes to protect human rights.”

The FOI request confirmed that 10 project approval forms had been submitted to the IPAB between the beginning of 2015 and mid-2016, including three applications for work in Saudi Arabia, two in Bahrain, two in Qatar, and others in Ukraine, Taiwan and Sri Lanka.

A National Police Chiefs’ Council spokesperson told Middle East Eye: “The NPCC considers all Freedom of Information requests on a case by case basis. We make decisions about releases in line with procedures set out in the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

“The NPCC received requests for information about College of Policing training projects in other countries. As part of the consultation processes set out in the act, we received information from the College of Policing which led to these requests being denied under Section 27 of the Act, on the grounds that releasing this information would likely prejudice international relations of the United Kingdom.”

A spokesperson for the College of Policing told MEE that all proposed international work was assessed by the IPAB against "British values and interests".

“The IPAB comprises policing representatives and those of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Home Office, Ministry Of Defence, Department for International Development and devolved administrations," the spokesperson said.

"A referral to IPAB involves completing a detailed outline of the proposed work including consideration of human rights issues. This referral is then circulated extensively between partners who all have the opportunity to comment on whether the proposal is in line with government objectives, on any particular risks and on any human rights implications.”

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