Friday, July 08, 2011


Back to the second of the two meetings I chaired this week in the Palace of Westminster, on the political and human rights situation in Bahrain. In my introductory remarks I said that the situation now was worse than in the nineties, when also there had been widespread detention without trial. Now, there were soldiers shooting people on the streets, a foreign occupation force, show trials and arbitrary imprisonment of the whole leadership of the opposition. Although the King was trying to create an artificial dialogue, the situation had gone beyond the point of no return. Referring to the Foreign Secretary's letter, I said it was disappointing that ministers were still talking about reinvigorating a dialogue after the thousands had been arrested and many had been tortured, the opposition had been emasculated and their supporters and suspected supporters in the professions including doctors, engineers and nurses had been sacked.

Then we had a good conversation with Nabeel Rajab, the President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, about the deteriorating human rights situation in Bahrain. He said:

"I hope to be able to speak without being disconnected by the government as they have always done. Bahrain has witnessed crimes against humanity, including systematic torture, people fired from work, students dismissed from universities, doctors, nurses, bloggers and athletes. The government was practising sectarian cleansing against the Shi'a by targeting them in their work place and places of worship. Mosques were destroyed and houses raided. The government does not depend on its own people for security but on people from Syria, Yemen and Pakistan. In the past few weeks more mercenaries came from Pakistan. Thousands of people have been targeted either by sacking or arrest".

"We believe that the dialogue is an attempt to mislead the international community. The ruling family is not represented in this dialogue. The participants are groups created by government to look like human rights or political groups. Opposition parties represent less than 15 percent. No positive outcome is expected from these meetings. A fact finding mission by the International Commission for Human Rights is needed. The committee formed by the king to investigate torture and unlawful detention is going to Bahrain in July, including Nigel Rodley and Sharif Bassiouni as chair. I have been told that they would be given total access to victims, would have unmonitored access anywhere without supervision by security forces. But also I believe that if they saw any attempt to interfere they would abdicate. This is a high stakes game. The King plays for time, as he has done before. Last year he agreed to allow a delegation from UK to visit Bahrain to investigate human rights abuses but when the pressure went away he stopped the delegation. The team would have included Lord Ramsbotham, the former Chief Inspector of Prisons who was a distinguished military officer" .

"The committee formed by the King is an attempt to distance himself from responsibility. He is the one who had given orders. The Committee hasn't contacted us but we will be happy to give them information about all the cases we have".

Other speakers were Finnian Cunningham, an Irish freelance journalist who was expelled from Bahrain by the Al Khalifa regime in June; Hussain Abdulla, a human rights activist from the US, and Noor from Sweden, formerly Elisabeth Hjordis, who was working as a volunteer at the Salmaniya Hospital when the attack by the Saudi and Al Khalifa forces occupied it.

A fuller account of the proceedings will be produced in a few days' time.

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