Thursday, 17 January 2013

Lord Avebury and others speaking on Bahrain in the House of Lords

The Hansard text is copied here:



3.30 pm
Asked by Lord Avebury
    To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their assessment of the decision by the highest court in Bahrain on 7 January to uphold life sentences imposed on eight opposition figures and human rights activists.
The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): My Lords, we are deeply dismayed by the decision to uphold sentences against this group of political activists. We have previously commented that at the time that these individuals were originally convicted, reports acknowledged by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry suggested that some defendants had been abused in detention, denied access to legal counsel and coerced into confessing.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness and to the Minister Mr Alistair Burt for the expression of concern. My noble friend will recall that the Bassiouni commission of inquiry said that the sentences of political detainees should be commuted and that they should be compensated for the tortures that they endured, and the King said that he accepted those recommendations. Why are we not pressing the King to honour his promises? Do the Government recognise that there is not the faintest possibility of dialogue, reconciliation or peace on the streets as long as the martyrs remain in custody?
Baroness Warsi: My noble friend raises an important point. He will be aware that the BICI-the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry-did not consider the National Safety Courts, the special military courts set up to try people arrested during the disturbances,

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to be the correct method, and therefore recommended a retrial. The current prisoners that my noble friend speaks about were subsequently retried and sentenced. They appealed that sentence but unfortunately it has been upheld. He is right to say that not all the BICI recommendations have been implemented. I met the Foreign Minister in November last year and I can assure my noble friend and other noble Lords that our conversation was frank, robust and honest. I made it very clear that we expect progress to be made in relation to both the BICI recommendations and the recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review.
Lord Campbell-Savours: Will the Minister make it clear to the Bahraini ambassador in London that the sending of hampers from Fortnum & Mason to Members of the British Parliament will have no influence on our judgments on human rights matters? It is not the way that we do business in this country.
Baroness Warsi: These issues are far too serious for anyone-Members of this House, Members of the other place or, indeed, the Bahraini embassy-to consider that matters can be brushed under the carpet or under a hamper.
Lord Deben: Is the Minister sure that the Bahraini Government understand just how seriously we take this? I have a feeling that it will be seen as merely the sort of thing that we do and say because we are that kind of country. I hope that she will enable Bahrain to understand that the future of our relationship depends on its behaving in a civilised way. If it does not, there really must be an understanding that that will change entirely the way that we deal with Bahrain.
Baroness Warsi: My noble friend makes an important point. We have a strong relationship-a strong friendship-with Bahrain. It is because that friendship is so strong that we can have very honest conversations. I assure him that, from the Prime Minister through to the Foreign Secretary and the Minister responsible for Bahrain, and in the discussions that I have had, we do not lose any opportunity to raise these concerns. We get real support from the other side: there is a willingness to move these matters forward. As I said in my recent discussions with the Foreign Minister, the more that can be achieved and the more progress that can be shown in terms of these recommendations from the BICI and the UPR, the better this relationship will become.
Lord Judd: In the Government's negotiations or conversations with the Government of Bahrain, do they take the opportunity not only to raise this issue in human rights terms but to point out forcefully to the Bahrain Government that to indulge in disproportionate action of this kind is to play into the hands of extremists who seek to capture the desire of countless ordinary people for progress and human rights developments within that country, and that the way to ensure security for their country is to avoid like the plague counterproductive action?

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Baroness Warsi: The noble Lord is right that whenever you close down the space for legitimate protest, you start increasing the space where extremism can thrive. Those are the points that we make. But noble Lords may take some comfort from the fact that in the Universal Periodic Review to which Bahrain submitted itself last year, of the 176 international recommendations that came back, 143 were adopted in full and 13 partially. Therefore, progress was made by international concerted action.
The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, will the Minister give assurances that the strength of the Government's ongoing protest at these decisions of Bahrain's highest court will not be compromised or weakened by any other considerations? I am sure that she would agree that it is vital that we are consistent in our speaking up for those suffering injustice, and that we uphold individual freedoms of speech and expression of that, as well as, as has been referred to already, their protection from abuse in detention or anywhere else.
Baroness Warsi: I can give the right reverend Prelate that assurance.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, my noble friend is probably not aware that I raised this matter of Bahraini human rights with the Foreign Secretary as long ago as September 2010, and he assured me that, due to our excellent relations with the Government of Bahrain, these at that point relatively minor human rights transgressions would be sorted out. The situation has only got worse since then. Will my noble friend please go back and suggest that the matter also be taken up with the Saudi Interior Minister, who I understand is visiting the United Kingdom at the moment, and indeed the whole of the Gulf Cooperation Council, because simply talking to Bahrain and hoping that good relations will solve the issue will not do so?
Baroness Warsi: I assure my noble friend that we are not simply talking and hoping, and that some specifics have been put in place. The BICI recommendations are a starting point, and the UPR built on that. We have had some recent progress, in that legislation will be introduced to reduce the ban on associations and assembly. There have also been some specific incidents whereby permits have been given for those protests to take place. So progress is constantly being made; it is not simply a question of our talking and hoping.

This is the actual link.

If you read it carefully you will have seen the reference to hampers!

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