NI links to Bahrain’s security forces

 

Sir, – I am writing as a representative of the Embassy of the Kingdom of Bahrain in the United Kingdom in response the article “Human rights charity concerned at Bahrain links of NI companies” (News, May 16th), and the criticism aimed at the Northern Ireland Co-operation (NI-CO), the Causeway Institute for Peace-building and Conflict Resolution and experts from Northern Ireland and the UK in general for their work in Bahrain by groups such as Reprieve. In past years, with the assistance of NI-CO and the Causeway Institute, as part of the Bahrain-UK technical cooperation program, Bahrain has been able to reshape its human rights landscape and strengthen protections and guarantees. The technical cooperation program focused on areas of police and security reform and also in areas of the criminal justice system. The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry’s (BICI) report recommended the establishment of oversight bodies, such as the Ombudsman Office – a police and prisoner ombudsman – to which there was no equivalent in the region. As a result, training, standards of procedure, models to adopt were unavailable in the region and there was little, if any, Arabic source material from which to draw.

The challenges of establishing oversight institutions are quite significant. These institutions have had to go through a phase of defining their legal frameworks; recruiting staff and training them as well as establishing and refining standards of practice and procedure.

The work between NI-CO, the Causeway Institute and institutions in Bahrain has been a critical part of the reform process in direct response to the BICI recommendations. For Reprieve – or any other human rights group – to dismiss the effectiveness of those oversight bodies, the integrity of the Northern Irish experts, and the values of all involved in Bahrain and UK is unfair and unjustified. Additionally, disregarding the challenges of establishing of such institutions, the steep learning curves, and the complexities of changing social and institutional cultures would seem to rob these institutions of any chance of success. In fact, it is counterproductive. Such exchanges have helped to bring about more accountability and oversight in Bahrain.

Oversight bodies are judged by their results and a few years since their establishment these results are clear and documented. We are proud of the work the oversight bodies such as the Ombudsman Office, the Prisoner and Detainee Rights Commission, among others, which over the years have been able to bring about demonstrable change, reform and accountability. Furthermore, we are proud of and grateful for the work the of experts from Northern Ireland who have shared their expertise, helped build solid institutional foundations and have had a considerable imprint on Bahrain’s human rights development in recent years. If those calling for reform in Bahrain really want it, they should join in the process and support the efforts of collaboration, training and the institution of best practices that has resulted from the cooperation between the UK and the Kingdom of Bahrain.

There is an acknowledgement that more needs to be done but, at the same time, there is real evidence from the reports of these entities that a lot of progress has been achieved. – Yours, etc,

FAHAD A AL BINALI,

First Secretary,

Embassy of the

Kingdom of Bahrain

in the United Kingdom,

Belgrave Square, London.