As the world prepares to mark International Human Rights Day this Wednesday 10 December Britain has been busy making its own contribution to the promotion of freedom and democracy in the Middle East.
Over the weekend the UK Defence Secretary announced that Britain would be establishing a naval base in the island state of Bahrain. The base will give Britain a permanent base in the Gulf monarchy for the first time since withdrawing armed forces from its former protectorate in 1971.
The decision comes despite widespread evidence that the country’s absolute monarchy has continued to repress reform activities and systematically discriminate against the majority Shia population.
The Bahraini regime has paid lip service to the findings of an international commission of inquiry set up in 2011 to investigate the uprisings of that year in which it razed Shia mosques and holy places, arrested and tortured doctors who treated protestors and killed tens of activists. None of the Inquiry’s main recommendations which include judicial and legislative reforms ensuring fair trials, an end to torture, and criminal accountability for rights violators have been implemented.
Britain’s decision came despite a House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee report last month which found that there was “little or no evidence that Bahrain has made enough progress in implementing political reform and safeguarding human rights.” The report added that the Foreign Office should have “bitten the bullet and designated Bahrain as country of concern”.
Not surprisingly, Bahraini human rights campaigners have called the decision a reward to the UK from the ruling al-Khalifa regime for continuing to support the royal family against the popular uprising. They say Britain is behaving like an old colonial power strongly supporting a brutal regime that mercilessly puts down demands for democracy and civil rights.
IHRC chair Massoud Shadjareh said: “Human Rights Day marks the proclamation by the international community of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the first global recognition that everyone is born equal and enjoys inherent basic rights. For Britain, it seems that some people are still more equal than others.”
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