House of Commons Middle-East Debate – All Bahrain comments

Below are all the comments in yesterday’s House of Commons debate, as published by Hansard, that discuss Bahrain. It is the first time in a long while that Bahrain has been discussed in such length in Parliament.

Statement – Foreign Secretary Rt. Hon William Hague MP:

Members on both sides of the House will have concerns about events in Bahrain, including the use of military-led courts to try civilian defendants, including doctors and nurses. We welcome the announcement by the Bahraini Attorney-General that the cases of the medical staff will now be retried in a civil court on 23 October, and the expected report of the independent commission of inquiry on 30 October. We attach great importance to the publication of that report. It is a major opportunity for Bahrain to demonstrate that it will adhere to international standards, meet its human rights commitments and take action when abuses are identified.

Response – Shadow Foreign Secretary Rt. Hon. Douglas Alexander MP:

I have to say that I was somewhat disappointed by the brevity of the Foreign Secretary’s remarks on Bahrain, given his previous recognition of the need for more fundamental reform there and, of course, its historically strong links with the United Kingdom. Indeed, in March the Foreign Secretary told the House that “the King of Bahrain pledged himself…to further such reforms.”—[Official Report, 17 February 2011; Vol. 523, c. 1137.]

However, in recent months, there has been little evidence of real and substantive reform, and further evidence of deeply troubling events, such as the sentencing of the doctors whom the Foreign Secretary spoke about. Will the Foreign Secretary reassure the House that continuing worries about Bahrain will be met with ongoing diplomatic efforts from the British Government, and will he set out what steps he intends to take? In April, the Foreign Secretary expressed his frustration that

Further response – Foreign Secretary Rt. Hon William Hague MP:

The right hon. Gentleman was worried about the brevity of my remarks on Bahrain, but that was simply to comply with Mr Speaker’s strictures. One could talk for hours on any of the subjects that we are discussing, and if the House sets aside the time, I will be delighted to do so. Over the past few months, Bahrain has taken some actions that are welcome, and some that are very unwelcome; it has gone in different directions—sometimes at the same time, speaking frankly. It was welcome that it announced the commission of inquiry into abuses, and indeed put internationally respected people on it. I also welcome its decision, after the international outcry about the trial of the doctors and nurses, about the retrial. It is welcome that it has attempted, since the time that the right hon. Gentleman was talking about, a national dialogue in Bahrain, yet of course there are many valid, legitimate criticisms as well, and allegations of human rights abuses. That national dialogue has not yet been successful in bringing everybody together in Bahrain.

The diplomatic message to Bahrain is communicated in many different ways, including by me, in my conversations with the Foreign Minister of Bahrain. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), is in regular discussion with the Bahraini authorities. The National Security Adviser, Sir Peter Ricketts, recently visited Bahrain and made clear our views on all these matters, so I want to put the emphasis for the next 17 days, up to the publication of the commission of inquiry’s report, on the great importance that I think all of us in the House attach to that, because the credibility of the report and the readiness to act on it will be an important test of how Bahrain will approach the coming weeks and months.

Question – Rt. Hon. Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab):

Does the Foreign Secretary know why the Bahraini doctors and nurses are on trial in any court, criminal or civil, bearing in mind that they were just doing their jobs and could be covered by international humanitarian law?

Answer – Foreign Secretary Rt. Hon William Hague MP:

It is absolutely not my brief to defend the Bahraini Government in their handling of the situation. There are allegations about those doctors and nurses, and some in Bahrain argue that they were not going about their jobs but doing other things. It is not for me, however, to state those allegations or to agree with them. Those people should have been tried, if they needed to be tried at all, in a transparent way, in a civil court and with, of course, a fair judgment at the end. Therefore, we welcome the decision that they should be retried, and we will all watch very closely how that retrial takes place and what the verdicts are.

Question – Rt. Hon.Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay) (LD):

May I turn the House’s attention to today’s written ministerial statement on the arms export regime? I welcome the tightening and strengthening of that regime, but there remain real concerns that British-made matériel is being used to suppress democratic movements, particularly in Bahrain. Will the Foreign Secretary publish the review and tell the House what more he is doing to stop British-made matériel being used to persecute people seeking democratic reform?

Answer – Foreign Secretary Rt. Hon William Hague MP:

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his welcome for this move. On Bahrain, there is no evidence of British-made equipment being used in that way. He will be aware that we revoked export licences to Bahrain to try to make sure of that for the future. The review points the way to being able to make such decisions at earlier stages if enough is known about a situation. The internal report gives advice to Ministers and contains commercial information, so I do not envisage publishing it, although I have published its conclusions. As I indicated in the written ministerial statement, I am open to taking further measures and to further consideration of the matter.

Question – Rt. Hon. Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab):

We support the Foreign Secretary when he condemns Gaddafi’s torture in Libya and Bashar Assad’s torture in Syria. Why will he not condemn the al-Khalifa family’s torture in Bahrain? Is he aware that the senior police officers who were suspended for that torture have been reinstated? Women doctors should not be put in prison after a fake trial. If that happened in Burma or Zimbabwe, the Foreign Secretary would be straight out there calling for their release. Instead of welcoming an announcement and attaching great importance to it, will the Foreign Secretary say from the Dispatch Box that these women should be freed this afternoon?

Answer – Foreign Secretary Rt. Hon William Hague MP:

Mr Hague: I think that I have been very clear in what I have said about that matter. I do not think that the Bahraini Government are in any doubt about our views on these issues; I expressed them forcefully to the Bahraini ambassador last week. They must not miss the opportunity that is there with the report on 30 October. The difference between Bahrain and Libya is that a political process is alive in Bahrain. The only way forward for Bahrain is for that political process to succeed and for an accommodation to be reached between its Shi’a and Sunni communities. That is a different situation from the one that prevailed in Libya six months ago.


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