Press conference held under the auspices of the Parliamentary Rights Group
Mercenaries: the main tools of oppression in Bahrain
2nd June, 2015
Lord Avebury, The Vice-Chairman of The Parliamentary Human Rights Group:
Abed Chowdri, Islamic Human Rights Commission
Faiza Ahmed, Independent Journalist
Shabir Rizvi writer, broadcaster on economic and political affairs and political activist
Saeed Shehabi: Director Bahrain Freedom Movement
Jeremy Corbyn: Vice Chair Parliamentary Human Rights Group
For the past four and a half years the Bahraini people have been protesting in the streets demanding self-determination and democratic rights. Mercenaries, mainly from Pakistan and Jordan, were used on a grand scale to repress them. These heartless paid foreign have committed untold crimes including killing, systematic torture, house raids, various acts amounting to state-terrorism, collective punishment, extensive use of lethal chemicals and tear gases. In addition six armies are propping up the Bahraini regime.
Who are those mercenaries; how are they recruited? How do dictators flout international laws and conventions? Participants will highlight these issues and other concern
Lord Avebury, The Vice-Chairman of The Parliamentary Human Rights Group: We are here to discuss the role of the Saudi and UAE forces in Bahrain, the increasing number of foreigners being recruited into the Bahraini police and security services, and what this means for the future cohesion and stability of Bahraini society.
About 1,000 Saudi troops and 500 UAE police rolled across the causeway into Bahrain in response to an invitation by the al-Khalifa hereditary autocrats in March 2011 after a peaceful uprising the previous month demanded that the ruling family give up most of its powers to a freely and fairly elected parliament.
They were supposed to be there to protect key installations, releasing the national police and army to suppress the mass demonstrations which have continued over the four years and more since then.
In fact they are seen by local people as a reserve occupation force, ready to step in when the regime can’t cope. In response to unrest in Jaw prison in March, Saudi troops backed by helicopters supported the police in an onslaught against the inmates including long term political prisoners whose detention has been condemned by the United Nations.
When the Saudis first arrived, the White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said:
“We urge our GCC partners to show restraint and respect the rights of the people of Bahrain, and to act in a way that supports dialogue instead of undermining it.”
In March, Saudi troops and helicopters participated in an attack on prisoners in Jaw prison, beating them severely and using tear gas in confined spaces.
As for supporting dialogue, the regime, protected by the occupation forces, embarked on a massive programme of repression including arbitrary detention, torture, attacks on demonstrators and trials of leading activists, including our friends who have spoken at these press conferences such as Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, Abduljalil al-Singace, Hassan Mushaima and Nabeel Rajab.
Access to the country by international journalists and human rights experts such as the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has been denied. Increasingly, people have been deprived of their citizenship without due process.
With the arrest of Sheikh Ali Salman on charges of threatening to overthrow the government, the so-called political dialogue has come to an end after years of sterile discussion.
Meanwhile, the regime has followed the tradition established by the UK when it was the colonial power up to 1971, of recruiting foreigners into its police and security services. The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry said that a large proportion of the Bahrain Defence Force’s 12,000 personnel were from Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Pakistan and Yemen. In August 2013 al-Jazeera reported that there were 3,000 Pakistani troops alone in the Bahrain armed forces.
The post 2012 exodus of refugees from Syria has given Bahrain an easy source of Sunni recruits. They have established an office in the country’s embassy in Amman with an outpost near the al-Zaafari refugee camp where there are 80,000 Syrian refugees, half of whom are registered with UNHCR and exist on an allowance of $28 a month. The rest apparently get nothing, because donor fatigue has dried up international funding. There must be a long queue to join the BDF in the camp.
The UN has a Special Procedure under the Human Rights Council entitled ‘Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination’, which fits exactly what is happening in Bahrain. The mercenaries are using violence against people demonstrating in favour of human rights and democracy, particularly the right to change the constitution from the present system of absolute rule by the al-Khalifa family to a system of free and fair elections that would decide on the government. That is what the people want, and the right of self-determination, and since that is the first article of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, it is the prerequisite for the existence of all other rights and freedoms.
The al-Khalifas are also undermining the rights of Bahrainis to self-determination by granting the foreign mercenaries citizenship. Tens of thousands are being naturalised – the exact number can’t be calculated because the process is shrouded in secrecy – and as this continues the result will be to create a majority loyal to the al-Khalifas.
The Working Group on the use of mercenaries is required by the Security Council to develop new standards aimed at filling gaps in the Convention, and an obvious omission is the prohibition of demographic engineering by states via the recruitment and naturalisation of mercenaries to increase support for the government. This might only be relevant for states with small populations like Bahrain, but the Working Group should request the government of Bahrain to let them have statistics on the number of naturalisations granted year by year and country by country in the 21st century to see what effect they might have on the rights of the native population.
Whether or not the regime would cooperate with them, the Working Group should conduct a desk inquiry into the role of mercenaries in Bahrain and their effect on the rights of the people to self-determination, which is squarely within their remit.
Abed Chowdri, Islamic Human Rights Commission: I would like to start by saying thank you to Lord Avebury for letting IHRC present its report.
I visited Bahrain in 2009 and 2010 to observe a number of criminal trials. During my visits I met with a number of Bahraini political activists. One of the major themes that came out during those discussions was that the government was seeking to change the demography of Bahrain. The main examples given were the soldiers and police officers being recruited abroad and then naturalised as Bahraini citizens. But it wasn’t just soldiers and police officers, even judges and civil servants were being recruited from abroad. The main countries these new migrants were coming from were Pakistan, Egypt, Syria and Jordan.
Since then IHRC has researched the matter further and the reality is very grim. Our report on Mercenaries in Bahrain goes in to detail about what is happening.
• The vast majority of the security forces in Bahrain are of Pakistani nationality varying between 10,000 and 13,000 of the total number of 25,000. They have been recruited directly through Pakistani internal recruitment channels or imported along with the Gulf Cooperation Council troops.
• In March 2014 the King of Bahrain visited Pakistan to request military assistance to quell the ongoing protests in Bahrain. He led a delegation of 21 high officials of the defence and internal security who made an unprecedented visit to the Joint Services Headquarters (JSHQ) in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.
• According to official Pakistani sources, a contract has been signed in March 2014 by Bahraini and Pakistani authorities to hire 1,000 additional mercenaries.
• There are reports of Syrian’s being recruited from the Zaatari refugee camp. And around 5000 security officers recruited from Sudan
The recruitment of foreign soldiers is not confined to Bahrain. We are seeing this across the region, most recently with Saudi Arabia requesting soldiers from Pakistan to deploy in their war against Yemen. This tactic of recruiting soldiers abroad shows us that the autocratic rulers in the region are worried that they may lose their positions in popular uprisings. In the context of Bahrain there are a number of points to note in the recruitment of foreign soldiers:
– The Al-Khalifa family has long lived in fear of its own population. It is a Sunni family ruling over a majority Shia population. Rather then viewing the Bahraini people as citizens it chooses to view them through a sectarian lens and so considers the Bahraini people a threat to their rule. They are constantly accusing opposition parties of representing foreign interest’s most notably that of Iran. And with the Arab spring spreading across the region, they are all the more worried about their position.
– Foreign fighters, or mercenaries are their solution to this problem. These mercenaries are less likely to sympathize with the citizens for they speak a different language and belong to a different Islamic confession, Sunnism, as opposed to the majority of Bahrainis. Many testimonies from Pakistan soldiers, for example, said that they were called for jihad against the Shia community of Bahrain. The loyalty of the mercenaries is with their paymasters and it is absolute. They are paid far more then they would have earned at home and are promised generous pay scales. So the government finds them to be far more reliable in suppressing dissent amongst the Bahraini people then ordinary Bahraini soldiers and police officers.
– The recruitment of foreign Sunni mercenaries, who are given Bahraini citizenship, also allows the government to socially engineer the population of Bahrain. They are able to recruit and bring over large numbers of Sunnis who are not only loyal to them but also help marginalise opposition parties who rely on the support of non-naturalised Bahrainis. So rather then seeking to engage their citizens and gain their trust, the Al-Khalifa has decided it will fly in and naturalise citizens who are loyal and supportive.
IHRC believes that these soldiers recruited abroad are mercenaries. They are fighters, recruited and paid to supress dissent in Bahrain. The use of citizenship is an added benefit to the Al-khalifa family in changing the demography of Bahrain to one where their autocratic rule is safe.
We believe that Bahrain should be held accountable for its use of mercenaries by the international community. We feel that nations should impose sanctions on them, including, but not limited to the ban on sales of weapons to Bahrain. These weapons are being used by mercenaries to suppress the democratic wishes and expressions of the people of Bahrain.
Film: Faiza Ahmed, Independent Journalist: There are daily protests in Bahrain despite a heavy-handed crackdown by the security forces.
Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights: They are afraid of the Shias. I can’t help it -I was born a Shia.
High profile leaders and activists remain in jail as the government intensifies its attacks on the opposition.
We have just come back to the scene of the protest. We believe the police are still in the area but there are many tear gas canisters. Many foreign journalists are denied access to the kingdom so I entered as a tourist to investigate how the regime in clamping down on its citizens.
Police brutality is a common occurrence in Bahrain. According to Human Rights Watch despite pledges of reform the police continue to torture and beat civilians including minors.
Nabeel Rajab: Tens of houses are being attacked on a daily basis and valuable items have been stolen by police personnel who have been brought in from outside the country. This is a very ugly thing when you see your country suppressed by people who are brought in from outside.
The police system is made up mainly of naturalized people mainly from Jordan, Pakistan and Yemen almost all of whom belong to the Sunni community. The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights has accused the security forces of even militarising hospitals and preventing people from getting medical treatment.
Nabeel Rajab: We have thousands of people living with shotgun pellets in their bodies and they can’t even go to remove them. They are afraid. We have tens of people who lost their eyes because they were shot and we treated them at home.
Police check points are also heavily deployed around the entry and exit points of many Shia villages. As I drove from the capital Manama towards the villages more and more it felt like entering areas that were under occupation.
Lord Avebury: That report was made by Faiza Ahmed who is an independent journalist, one of the few who managed to get into Bahrain and to move around freely in the villages and to get the evidence which we see.
Faiza Ahmed: Firstly I would like to thank Lord Avebury for inviting me here today and also to thank the courageous people who risked their security and their safety in Bahrain and participated in this film because without them it would not have been possible.
When I entered Bahrain I entered as a tourist due to the restrictions that are placed on journalists and I literally moved around like a local. I wore the abaya and went to the villages and towns. On the first day I walked around the shopping malls in Manama and it seemed no different from being in Dubai and Westfield. But it was only when I drove into the Shia villages that I saw a the stark contrast of the reality of the lives of the many people who are there.
When I entered the villages I literally saw armoured vehicles scattered across. I saw police vehicles and checkpoints and helicopters surveying the areas. The first thing that came into my mind was am I in Bahrain or am I Palestine because there was no difference in the kind of police presence and surveillance that was there.
And I just wondered that these people are forced to live in a constant state of fear which is something that I, having lived here, have not experienced. I lived in fear for the entire week of not being able to trust anybody, of not knowing who is my friend and who is spying on me, who is an undercover police officer.
I attended many demonstrations and protests while I was out there. I would say that all in all they were very peaceful. The protesters were just asking for their rights using religious and political chants but the police wasted no opportunity to attack us. On one occasion they didn’t even spare a funeral procession that we attended. They removed the security cameras around a supermarket so there was no evidence of the kind of force and brutality they were going to inflict on us.
The tear gas they used was not just to disperse the crowd. It felt that they were doing it to harm the crowd. There were elderly people and children in this protest and they did not spare anybody. I was there during National Day celebrations. And while I was in the capital the celebrations were in full swing and the sky was lit with fireworks. It was the same picture in the Sunni towns.
But as I went into Sitra a Shia town on that night it was quite a different scene. Yes, the sky was lit and it was filled with smoke. That night they attacked us so heavily and so brutally. I remember the armoured vehicles charging at us and firing tear gas so rapidly. The canisters were whizzing under my feet and I actually felt at one point I don’t think I am going to make it home in one piece. I am going to lose a limb. I met someone in that village who had lost an eye a couple of weeks earlier because they fire at such close range. They do it without mercy, without any regard to the fact that there are small children in that crowd, elderly people.
I remember on one occasion I left that protest. Within twenty minutes I was very sick and I was so sick that I vomited for six hours that night as a result of the tear gas that I had consumed. It did not just feel like normal tear gas. So I was left wondering if I as an adult experienced this what the children, the elderly and the sick in those villages go through on a daily basis when they are subjected to this kind of cruelty by the police force.
Now obviously as journalists we see images, we see conflicts and we almost become immune and hardened but hearing stories on a daily basis from mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers who have lost loved ones due to the brutality that has been inflicted on them by this police force actually broke me down. I want to share a clip of the suffering of a ten-year-old boy.
Clip: the judges themselves have seen a lot of signs of torture on the body. When a child is arrested he will not go to the juvenile centre. He will go to the police station where he will be tortured and forced to confess.
Such was the case of young boy from this village. He was arrested from his house and accused of participating in a demonstration.
Boy’s father: they took him to the police station, they gave him a Molotov cocktail and they photographed him. He is now charged with having a Molotov cocktail and throwing it against the police. They want to put children in jail.
He went on to tell me that many of the children are kept in adult detention facilities. Government forces have detained at least 200 children to-date.
I have come to Senabis to meet the youngest political prisoner from the revolution who was detained for throwing Molotov cocktails.
Jalal Al Samir aged 11 was ten years old at the time. He was given a jail sentence of which he spent six months in detention.
Every person from the Shi community in Bahrain has at least one family member who has been detained or tortured or exiled. Still affected by his detention Jalal was afraid to speak to me so I spoke to his father instead.
Jalal’s father: There was a march here in Senabis and they arrested during that march. He was charged with attacking the police and being in possession of Molotov cocktails. They beat him when they detained him. He was slapped and punched and they threatened to electrocute him. In the beginning they treated him really badly. For the first two days he was in solitary confinement. He is a child. Of course he was afraid.
His father told me that his son responded to all the accusations with tears.
Jalal’s father: He is a child. He is innocent. He is afraid to talk to you. Imagine charging a child.
I would like to ask how can young boy of that age be a threat to a police man or a police vehicle? What I found really appalling was the blatant disregard that Western powers and the British government has shown to the plight of these people. When I returned Philip Hammond [the foreign secretary] said that Bahrain was showing significant reforms. So I am left scratching my head wondering what dictionary did you use to define the word reform because it is not the one I used. What I saw was repression and not reform. So what I would like to say to him is that while you are out there celebrating great British Week or pushing these military defence contracts please pay a visit to these villages and see the oppression these people are subjected to. Why it is alright for these people to be brutally tortured and oppressed at the hands of the police force that is supposed to be protecting them?
Lord Avebury: It is wonderful you managed to get into Bahrain, get all that material and come back unscathed.
Faiza Ahmed: I had various disguises.
Lord Avebury: Maybe this is an example that needs to be copies by other journalists. If they manage to use your techniques we might get a lot more material. But what you have is absolutely superb. I hope it is going to be submitted to the working group on mercenaries and it has some effect on them.
Shabir Rizvi writer, broadcaster on economic and political affairs and a political activist:
Salam alekium and good afternoon. I would like to make three points. I have been a regular visitor to Bahrain as a non Bahraini for the last 25 years. My first visit to Bahrain was in 1991. Sometimes journalists and commentators think that this is something that came out of the Arab spring in the last four-and-a-half years but the struggle has been continuous and really quite aggressive. I remember the same villages that Faiza was earlier referring to: Deraz, Bani Jam and Sanabis – you name any of the villages on the high road that leads from Manama into these villages. There used to be tanks there 25 years ago. In two villages Deraz and Bani Jam there were tanks on the high street. You could not enter the villages.
So this is an ongoing situation and a tragedy. As a British national living in the UK I see all the efforts that Lord Avebury and other activists have made and it seems that nothing is moving as far as our government is concerned. They are not bothering. I don’t think it is reform that Mr Hammond is talking about – it is reformation. They ethnically cleanse the Shias of Bahrain because they are in an overwhelming majority – 70 – 75 percent. In the past there have been issues of demographic change or what we in the UK used to call gerrymandering. Nonetheless the situation is as it is.
The second point that I want to talk about is where do we go from here? I think in the past we have discussed on this platform that we need to lobby our government and make it clear that it is not in our economic interests to be on the wrong side of history because sooner or later history will be as it is for those people who have been oppressed and the oppressors will have to be got rid of. We have been famously referred to as a nation of shopkeepers. So as shopkeepers we should be interested in how our shop is going to run. When those who have been oppressed are back in control -and that will happen.
Referring to that I have been in pearl Square four and a half years ago and the brutality that took place is very clear and it has been very well documented and therefore I do not need to say too much about it. So they have destroyed this movement which started in Pearl Square and felt that they could continue to do so.
Thirdly the point of mercenaries which I think is very important. There are Pakistanis, Jordanians, Yeminis – all and sundry are joining in and reaping the benefits. And our own British nationals. Mr Yates for example the former Scotland Yard Deputy. He is the master torturer in Bahrain at this moment. So we have our own British nationals working for the security services.
I think that there is a ray of hope with regard to the mercenaries in regard to a country like Pakistan which is nominally still a democratic nation. We saw what the Saudis were doing in Yemen and there was a vote in parliament in Pakistan where the Pakistani government decided not to send any more troops to Yemen. So I think there is a possibility that if effective and robust lobbying is done with the Pakistani politicians maybe the mercenaries will not end up on the streets of Manama. In Jordan a monarchy which is part of the same regime that is ruling in the Middle East. So these are the three issues that I want to touch on.
Clip showing torture and police brutality. [These are all mainly Pakistani and Jordanian mercenaries. There is not a single Bahraini policeman here. They are being brought in by the regime to try and stop the opposition. This is what is happening in the streets. You can just imagine what is going on inside the prisons.
Lord Avebury: I think that all this material about the existence and behaviour of the mercenaries in terms of oppression of the native population of Bahrain needs to be collected together so that when we do submit evidence to the working group on mercenaries they have as much information as possible. So films like this should accompany the submission of the Islamic Human Rights Commission. If we put all that material together it will provide a convincing case for the working group to intervene and pay attention to the situation.
Saeed Shehabi: Director Bahrain Freedom Movement: Thank you Lord Avebury and Jalal for organising this meeting. Thank you all for coming. Just a few points about mercenaries. Mercenaries are a tool similar to any other tool of repression that has been used by the regime. Nationality is a tool. Most of the Bahrainis who are in this room have had their nationality revoked. Nationality is a tool used against the people. Jobs are also a tool. The subsistence of the people. Thousands were dismissed from their jobs simply because they took part in demonstrations.
Mercenaries have been used with a lot of deliberation and direction. Who is directing them? I leave that open because I fear for my life if I say who is directing these mercenaries to be so effective in bringing people into this state.
You saw torture being moved from inside the prisons to the streets. You saw torture is being inflicted in the streets. Not only that. The mercenaries have been attacking Jaw Prison, which houses 1600 people for the past three months. Their attack was merciless and the attackers told the inmates that we were given the powers to use any force against you except killing you. They bring them to the fringe of death and they leave them. Many would prefer to die rather than living as broken people. Some of them had both legs broken. Limbs have been broken.
One of the most important persons, a young 20-year-old man was condemned to death for allegedly killing an Emirati officer two years ago. He smuggled out of his cell in prison a tape recording that I did not kill that man. He was at school at that time and he had his own alibi. They became infuriated – how could our security system allow the smuggling of this tape? Again after a week he smuggled another tape urging people to continue their demands. The reaction of the regime was the massive attack on Jaw Prison which is still going on.
A few weeks later the family of the young man met him and showed his picture without teeth. So you have two tapes of the man speaking normally. I challenge anybody to challenge this narrative. So on two tapes you have him talking with all his teeth and then you have him without teeth. What happened to his teeth? These mercenaries are a menace to the country. And you cannot have a regime that depends solely on outsiders. This one point.
The other point I want to make is that the revolution which started in Bahrain in 2011 is still continuing because this regime is not fit to rule. It is tribal, hereditary and it employs devious means: sectarianism, nationality, mercenaries. But it does not have the source of popular legitimacy and the constitution. This regime has to go. I think the world in the 21st century should tolerate regimes that are outdated and that belong to the past. They are antiquated. We have to live in decency under a regime that protects human rights and that allows people to enjoy life to the maximum within the constraints of the law. That is what is absent today.
This hereditary dictatorship is not fit to rule especially when you have the people, the natives who are completely marginalised and attacked and denied the right to exist on their own land. Two weeks ago the court issued a verdict asking two native Bahrainis to leave the country. Why? Because their nationality had been revoked. Why should I with 1000 years of history backed up by family trees with deep roots in the country be denied the right to nationality while those mercenaries we have talked about are naturalised and given nationality and all the other rights accompanying nationality?
I think this is a transgression, it is a war against human values and decency and modernity. We have to establish a modern system based on the peoples’ right to determine their own destiny, write their own constitution and elect their government. Without this the revolution will continue. The Bahraini revolution is the only revolution that has survived the onslaught of the counter revolutionary forces led by Saudi Arabia. They invaded us but we are continuing. Now they have invaded Yemen. They created in mayhem in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Egypt. Everywhere they put their hands we see nothing but destruction, human rights degradation and attacks on civil liberties. This chapter of bleak history must come to an end. Your voice counts. Your voice will definitely make a difference. Thank you Lord Avebury.
Lord Avebury: One of the people who had his nationality revoked just the other day was a distinguished PhD graduate of a British university. I think that for people who have UK associations like that we should be taking up their case with the universities and the distinguished medical colleges that they belong to so that we can mobilise professionals in this country to act on their behalf. But we need a much wider campaign in this country. We need to be challenging Hammond for the friendly way in which he deals with Bahrain – even breaking off the election campaign to go and pay a special visit.
Jeremy Corbyn: Vice Chair Parliamentary Human Rights Group: The phenomena of mercenaries being used in war is something which is coming back which gives us an almost 18th century feel to the world where Western governments are alarmed at the loss of life and soldiers coming home in coffins and body bags so they increasingly employ security companies. The US does in hugely in Iraq. Britain does it in Afghanistan and other places constantly using what are in effect mercenary forces as security operatives.
In the case of Bahrain we are just witnessing the unfolding of continuing long-term abuse of the human rights of the people of Bahrain. The British government sheds crocodile tears about the human rights situation in Bahrain and at the same time continuing all normal commercial relations with Bahrain and of course the upgrading of a British military facility to a fully fledged base.
What we are now seeing is a playing out across the Gulf of the growth of arms sales and assertion particularly through Saudi Arabia and the GCC building up military facilities, ignoring the human rights of the people of the region. There were some very interesting photographs on social media from Saudi Arabia. It showed a side to Saudi Arabia that no body normally sees. We see the spectacular buildings, the amazing architecture. What was shown was the poverty of the poorest, people, the poverty of the migrant workers and the abuse of the poorest people and their rights. The same things is happening in other countries across the region.
So when we stand up for human rights in Bahrain we say to our government you can and could do much better than you are. You don’t have to have a military base there, you don’t have to supply weapons, you don’t have to give this continued diplomatic cover to the government of Bahrain knowing full well the extent of human rights abuses in that country.
So the opposition here has been very important and the issue was raised yesterday in the debate on foreign affairs in the British parliament and we will continue to raise it at every conceivable opportunity. If Britain believes in human rights and the rule of law around the world you can’t pick and chose where it applies and which countries it applies to. If we don’t agree with something that is happening in Belarus in Russia, Hungry, China, Tibet or around the world the same thing applies even if that country is seen to be strategically and militarily important. That surely is the universality of human rights.
Lord Avebury and I are very proud to be officers of the All Party Human Rights Group and we have always stood for these principles. That is our function. I am pleased to be re-elected to the British parliament and will continue to raise these issues in the British parliament for the next five years and maybe for a bit longer afterwards.
Rodney Shakespeare: Sir, Shabir and Jeremy both touched on what I believe to be the essence of the matter. Shabir referred to the nation of shopkeepers. Jeremy referred to normal commercial relations. We have to ask the question why the British government remains in support of the atrocities committed daily by the Bahraini regime?
They will say it is because of British interests. In life it can be a very useful technique to take your opponents argument and examine it. If you then ask what are those economic interests and if there was a modern democracy in Bahrain would the economic interests between the countries be less than they are at present, the same or more. And if you think about it you would have economic wealth much more widely spread within Bahrain itself. You would have easy relationships and the amount of trade and communication and dealing between the countries would be many times more than it is now.
So you see that when Pilip Hammond mutters to Lord Avebury or to Jeremy that reform is progressing it is absolute lies. They maintain the position and they maintain it ultimately because at the back of their minds there is something called British interests.
I hope, with respect, that we get some sort of a shift in the policy of this group to address the issue and the biggest lie of all that there are British economic interests in maintaining the present position. After one of our foreign ministers, Lord Canning, opened up South America to help overthrow the Spanish colonial regimes we have had 200 years of trade as a result of that. That trade issue could extend not only to Bahrain but to Saudi Arabia as well.
Lord Avebury: I do not very often use the word lies but I must say that Rodney is absolutely correct. It is a lie to that reform is taking place in Bahrain. Look at the report Behind the Rhetoric of Amnesty International issued at the end of April. “Human rights abuses continue unabated”. We all know that is true except for Philip Hammond.
Jeremy Corbyn: We are discussing Bahrain at the Stop the War International Conference on Saturday which is at the TUC in Congress House, starting at 10 and going on until 5. There are two plenary sessions and eight or ten workshop sessions in blocks of four throughout the day in four sections. So if anybody is able to come along please do. I think you will find it very interesting. I think it will be a very good opportunity to talk to a lot of people who I am sure will have a great deal of sympathy for the issue of human rights in Bahrain.
Saeed Shehabi: You have been re-elected and you have been in parliament for 32 years. You are in the heart of the establishment. Can you tell us what makes Mr Hammond say what he says? What makes the British government for example keep quiet about the Saudi attack and war on Yemen, which is a very destructive war which the media does not pay attention to. The extent of damage and human suffering is beyond belief. What happened to the British decency that makes it totally indifferent to the suffering of others.
Jeremy Corbyn: Eric and I have a totally different view about this. Mine is that what we have got is a sort of contracting out of Western military and economic strategy to the GCC in that the countries in the Arab region, Saudi Arabia included, still have very large amounts of money at their disposal despite the fall in oil prices. They are major arms purchasers from Britain, France and the USA. They therefore act in concert with the perceived strategic interests of the USA and therefore the spoken unwritten deals that the West goes easy on the question of human rights, treatment of migrant workers, operation of the judicial system, the police and all the other things in the region in return for this strategic endeavour. And what we see therefore in the case of Yemen is almost a silence in relation to what is happening. There is wide scale destruction, large numbers of people are being killed, there are huge refugee flows. Secondly the plight of migrant workers in every single one of the Gulf states is appalling. Twelve hundred people already died building stadia in Qatar. For what? To build football stadiums that are not necessary. We managed to build the whole of the Olympics with no serious accidents at all. We have a properly regulated system you can do things. Why can’t they do that.
Saeed Shehabi: The Qataris are renovating the Queen mother’s palace.
Jeremy Corbyn: I think there is this almost commercial contracting out of commercial and foreign policy.
Lord Avebury; I don’t disagree with what Jeremy has said but I would like to add one of two things. We have struck a bargain with the Bahrainis where they are spending $15m enhancing the naval facilities in Bahrain that we have always used. Now they are being expanded so they can accommodate the air craft carriers So we have a close military relationship and it is also based on the existence of the US 5th fleet base in Bahrain. So that military alliance allows us to project power in areas of the world that we would not otherwise be able to cover. That is an important ingredient in US and UK foreign policy. Also the fact we have a long history of involvement in Bahrain’s security apparatus. We have not mentioned that during the colonial era Britain was in charge of the security arrangements in Bahrain. The head of the security apparatus under the independence regime was Mr Henderson who was the chief torturer. We tried to get him prosecuted for torture in the English courts. We had evidence, collected by Saeed on behalf of the Bahrain Freedom Movement. Five witnesses said they had personally been present in episodes of torture where Mr Henderson presided. But we could not get the Crown Prosecution Service to deal with that issue in the English courts even thought torture is an offense of universal jurisdiction. So we go back a long way in our relationship with Bahrain and we continue to insist our interests are preserved at all costs by the use of severe security measures against the individuals that are trying to free Bahrain from the oppression that it endures at the moment.
Rodney Shakespeare: If there was a democracy in Bahrain there would still be military spending. Do you think if there was a democracy the economic interests would be less than they are now? Isn’t that the crux of the matter.
Jeremy Corbyn: If there is a democracy than the people would have some degree of choice as to how the society is run, what military expenditure they have and what military alliances are pursued. The people in Bahrain do not have that choice.
Rodney Shakespeare: They want to say it is all economics. And fob everything off. It is all economic, existing interests and therefore we must keep in with the existing regimes. The point I am trying to make is that that is their argument but it may be false. The economics in the new situation will be a stronger force. And when they see that their policy collapses.
Jeremy Corbyn: The parallel you draw with South America is an important one.
Karen Dabrowska: Maybe the West does not support countries like Bahrain is this paranoia about Shias. Also the movement in Saudi Arabia they are Shias. So maybe that has something to do with it: paranoia about Shias and paranoia about Iran.
Robin Marsh: I would like to draw attention to Libya. A person who had been tortured became a head of intelligence in Libya for a while. It was very inconvenient for the UK and this case of settled out of court.
Mohammed Sadiq: I just want to ask who is going to be held accountable for mercenaries – the Pakistani government or the Bahraini government. For future campaigns I want to know who we can hold accountable for the mercenaries in Bahrain. So far we have not focused. We are trying to blame the Pakistani government. The Pakistani government would say they have families to feed so we have to offer them an alternative. Are we looking at the interests of the Bahraini and British governments as governments or Bahraini and British companies who have interests in Bahrain. I don’t see the government has invested so much in Bahrain apart from the latest navy base. Before that I did not see much of a relationship or huge investment in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia as actual government investment. All I see is companies. So I don’t understand where we can campaign. In South Africa they did not target the government, they targeted the companies. When the companies were boycotted they started to feel the heat. Where under British law does it state we have to monitor companies that invest in Bahrain? Is it legal that they invest in Bahrain?
Lord Avebury: The big campaign on companies should focus on Formula 1. It is an instrument of propaganda used by the regime, it brings a lot of wealth into Bahrain and it is run by a UK citizen. The campaign on Formula 1 which exists and is trying to demonstrate that the combination of sports and repression is incompatible. We don’t want to engage in sporting activities with regimes that torture and kill their people.
We have come to the end of our proceedings. Thank you all very much for coming.