Sir, – In her defence of Northern Ireland training Bahrain's interior ministry Bahrain deserves a chance to prove itself on human rights, Opinion & Analysis, October 17th), the former prisons ombudsman Pauline McCabe misses the point. Bahrain has been given a chance to reform, but it has failed.
The UK foreign office awarded almost a million pounds last year for Northern Irish bodies to train Bahrain in human rights. As noted in The Irish Times, a recent report by Reprieve argued that their work whitewashes torture and death sentences in the Gulf kingdom ("NI company urged to stop training Bahrain security forces", September 29th). Taxpayers' money has gone on training those Bahraini authorities responsible for abuses against people whose only "crime" was to express a political opinion.
Pauline McCabe argues that engagement was more effective than a boycott. Engagement goes both ways, however. The Stormont-owned company NI-CO, which delivers most of the training in Bahrain, has refused to meet Reprieve. Our staff were not given visas to enter Bahrain to meet the institutions involved. If anyone is running a boycott, it is Bahrain and its Northern Irish counterparts.
Reprieve does not oppose meaningful engagement with Bahrain’s authorities, but it should be conditional on Bahrain adhering to some basic human rights standards, such as allowing the UN special rapporteur on torture to visit the country.
Pauline McCabe says she has trained Bahrain’s interior ministry ombudsman to investigate complaints against security forces. But she failed to mention the case of Mohammed Ramadan, an innocent father of three who was tortured into making a false confession for which he now awaits execution.
Mr Ramadan was a policeman, until his arrest in 2014 in retaliation for attending a peaceful pro-democracy protest. He was tortured into falsely confessing to killing, bizarrely, a fellow policeman, and then sentenced to death.
His wife and NGOs filed complaints to Bahrain’s ombudsman, hoping that an investigation into his torture would overturn his death sentence and save his life.
But the ombudsman failed to investigate these complaints for the next two years, leaving Mr Ramadan languishing on death row. Throughout this period, the UK foreign office was paying NI-CO to train the Bahrain ombudsman.
The ombudsman eventually conceded that it had never investigated Mr Ramadan’s torture, and agreed to start investigating. Reprieve offered to assist, but was dismayed to see Mr Ramadan denied the presence of his lawyer during questioning, his wife bullied and intimidated about her contact with foreign NGOs, and independent medical expertise being rejected.
Rather than address these points, Pauline McCabe cited a 395 per cent increase in complaints to Bahrain’s ombudsman as evidence that Northern Ireland’s assistance was working. She said nothing about the outcome of those complaints, or the fact that NI-CO has also simultaneously trained Bahrain’s police and prison guards, whose conduct the increase in complaints presumably referred to. – Yours, etc,
PO Box 72054,
Sir, – Pauline McCabe claims that Bahrain is on a path to reform. This is the same reform process that is now almost two decades old and, after some short-lived promise, has seen waves of repression and arbitrary incarceration perpetrated by the Sunni regime against the country’s Shia majority.
After the killing and torture of unarmed protesters in 2011, the regime did indeed promise a new era of reform (to replace the old one). However, as a panel of UN independent human rights experts noted as recently as August of this year, that reform appears to involve the dissolution of the country’s largest political party, an intensification of arrests of political opponents and restrictions on worship by the country’s Shia population.
Prof McCabe writes of working on judicial reform – even though the country’s most senior judge is the cousin of the king and has overseen the country’s renewed crackdown on political opponents, including civil society activists. Bahrain deserves better. – Yours, etc,
Dr EDWARD BURKE,