Today at the Houses of Parliament, Maryam al-Khawaja asked MPs to put pressure on Bahrain to commit to reforms and free politcal prisoners, including her father and sister. Here, the prominent human rights defender denounces Britain’s indifference
When confronted with the facts of its own brutal crackdown on popular protests and human rights defenders, Bahraini officials usually stick to a routine. They hide behind tired lines of denial and hype supposed reforms. The actual situation on the ground continues to deteriorate — and inaction from the international community has emboldened the government. Most astounding is the silence from one of Bahrain’s greatest allies: the United Kingdom.
The UK government has made countless pledges to push on Bahrain to implement supposed reforms, but has yet to push forcefully on its partner where it counts. Almost a year after the Bahraini government publicly accepted the grim picture of human rights painted in the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry report and its recommendations, the country continues to perpetuate flagrant human rights violations.
It is more important than ever for the United Kingdom’s legislators to question Britain’s relationship with Bahrain — and to place pressure on the government to demand real reform. Bahraini officials like Nasser Bin Hamad Al Khalifa, who was a VIP guest at the London Olympics despite the numerous allegations he tortured protesters, should be shunned by British mandarins. UK legislators must also push on Bahrain to follow through on promises of transparency and accountability; many of those involved in the crimes committed in the past year and half, have either remained in their positions or been promoted.
The United Kingdom’s silence places it in danger of being seen as complicit in Bahrain’s human rights abuses, particularly when the UK has a direct method of influencing Bahrain: through its economic relationship. If it doesn’t halt arms sales, the United Kingdom is ostensibly giving permission to the Bahraini government to violently silence its people. A serious commitment to human rights from the United Kingdom means that a serious conversation about economic and diplomatic sanctions is necessary and important to do.
Political prisoners jailed on trumped up charges need the United Kingdom to press on its friend on the international stage. It is shameful that the UK and the US refused to sign onto a joint-statement issued by 27 countries this year, condemning human rights violations. Despite damning evidence that continues to mount both countries have been shamefully silent on this topic — and this must change.
This isn’t about regime change, or a chaotic dialogue about political reform. It is about something very simple: human rights. Silence from such an important trade partner spells out permission, casting a shadow on the UK’s commitment to free expression and human rights. Bahrainis have started saying that the UK and USA are to Bahrain what Russia is to Syria — enablers.
Maryam al-Khawaja is acting President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights Deputy Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights. Twitter @MARYAMALKHAWAJA