Bahrain – time for Britain to take a lead

On November 5, thirty-one Bahrainis were deprived of their citizenship arbitrarily, without notice and without judicial process, contrary to customary international law. Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that everyone has the right to a nationality and no-one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality. The victims can appeal these decision, but there is no point. The king has absolute power to grant or rescind citizenship, and the courts wouldn’t dream of overturning his decisions.

No wonder that hundreds of Bahrainis demonstrate against the government every day. Even after a total ban on meetings they continue to turn out after Friday prayers. The ruling family’s assault on the rights of the people provokes their hatred, and they are calling for regime change.

The ancestors of the royal family came from Zebara in the 18th century, so the chant on the streets is;

Your visit is finished – go back to Zebara

In Arabic it rhymes:

Intahat Ziyara, Oodoo illa Zebara

The US State Department repeat their call to the government of Bahrain to create a climate that is conducive to reconciliation, to meaningful dialogue, to reform, to bring peaceful change. Britain also calls for peaceful dialogue, but many of the leaders of the opposition are serving life sentences in prison, among them Hassan Mushaima, leader of the Haq movement and Abduljalil al-Singace, the head of its human rights bureau; Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a leading human rights activist.

Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, is imprisoned for three years for a remark he made on Twitter.

The Bassiouni Commission, which examined hundreds of human rights abuses following the uprising that began in February 2011, recommended that political prisoners should be freed and compensated for the torture they suffered.

Prince Salman, the Crown Prince, gave the Foreign Secretary William Hague a personal commitment to an inclusive political dialogue. This can’t happen while most of opposition are behind bars. Now the provocative and unlawful deprivation of these people’s citizenship, with the threat of more to come, makes it harder than ever to start a dialogue.

Our Government needs to tell the hereditary autocrats of Bahrain that the long-term peace and stability of Bahrain can’t be achieved by killing, torturing and arbitrarily imprisoning human rights and political activists. Bahrain and the other Gulf monarchies need fundamental reforms that transfer power from permanent autocrats to the people, as in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and soon we hope, Syria.

Britain should line itself up with the future, and not with anachronistic family oligarchies.

* Eric Avebury is a Liberal Democrat Peer, and the former Liberal MP for Orpington. He has campaigned on minority rights across the globe over many years.

* Eric Lubbock, Lord Avebury, is a working peer, and Vice-Chair, Parliamentary Human Rights Group. He blogs here.

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7 Comments

  • Geoffrey Payne 23rd Nov '12 - 1:31pm

    In addition our government should stop selling arms to Bahrain as well.

  • Richard Dean 23rd Nov '12 - 2:24pm

    The Bahrani establishment probably face a conceptual difficulty that is bound up with self-interest and reinforced by religion and history, and is widely experienced outside Bahrain, including in our own establishment.

    This difficulty is the idea that the people who are not part of the present establishment are ignorant and largely selfish, and need be guided in a paternalistic way in their life experiences and choices. This largely erroneous idea is sometimes reinforced by the establishment effectively refusing to provide adequate educational and social infrastructure for all but themselves. But this idea does have some basis in fact, as indeed we should learn from the mixed results of our previous attempts to liberate the peoples of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya.

    Stopping selling arms may be a start, but it just lets other arms sellers into the Bahrani market. Getting out of the oil dependency might have a similarly limp effect. So I suggest that providing challenges in terms of ideas, information, and reasoned evidenced argument should also be a major part of our strategy.

  • Eric,

    It is good to remind us all of what is happening in Bahrain. News of events there, tend to get lost in the wider turmoil of the middle east and the Arab spring.

    This principality is caught in the Shia/Sunni tussle for hegemony between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Fear of Shiite Iran projecting its power and influence in the region, that might result in large Shiite minorities throughout the Gulf rising against their current Sunni rulers (Shiites dominate the oil rich Saudi province of Hasa) keeps the Saudis and fellow sheikhs in the Gulf states awake at night.

    If the Sunnis are victorious in this struggle, that might bring down Hezbollah’s power in Lebanon and end Syria’s alliance with Iran and its grip on Lebanon. Disastrous as such sectarian conflict in the region is, a resolution of this internecine conflict may be the only way to create a political and economic rational for Sunni cooperation with Israel as well as an Islamic political, religious, and economic renaissance.

    You conclude that “Britain should line itself up with the future, and not with anachronistic family oligarchies.”

    We would have been wise to heed the words of T.E. Lwarence before embarking on the Iraq war:

    “The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honor.”

    My view is we should steer well clear of trying to tell feuding Arab states how to govern themselves and concentrate our efforts on promoting international human rights and economic development in the region.

  • It would be wonderful if Britain were to take a lead on Bahrain, but it’s not going to happen. As long as that part of the world is happy to use its credit card extensively in companies such as BAE Systems, we will whisper words of discomfort, and no more. The Serious Fraud Office learned long ago (06), to their bitter experience, not to tackle with politics, defence contracts, and the oil rich zones of the middle east. Human rights are all well and good, but let’s not get silly, and jeopardize £63million armament contracts.?

  • John Lubbock 26th Nov '12 - 12:51am

    I worry about our priorities as Liberal Democrats when I hear people saying that ‘human rights is all well and good but let’s not jeopardize our arms contracts’. What has happened to our sense of fairness and social justice when dirty money from dictators is more important than peoples’ lives? That is the height of sort-term thinking and cynicism. There’s another party for people who think like that, and it’s the one we’re so unfortunate to be in coalition with.

  • John Lubbock,

    I think John Dunn was using irony in his comments and not actually advocating ‘human rights is all well and good but let’s not jeopardize our arms contracts’.

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