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Cynicism trumps fears for human rights

JEREMY CORBYN on Britain’s shameful attitude towards Bahrain’s opposition clampdown

On Monday I tabled a motion to Parliament saying: “That this house is appalled at recent human rights abuses in Bahrain, most notably the multiple charges that have recently been brought against the Bahrainian opposition al-Wefaq leader Sheikh Ali Salman…”  

It’s quite extraordinary the levels of non-comment by Britain and other UN security council members over this arrest.  It comes on the back of decades of oppression of legitimate opposition in Bahrain, routine abuse of those in prison, and, tragically, many deaths, as Bahraini forces have sought to control opposition demonstrations.  

The relationship between Britain and Bahrain seems to be overwhelmingly driven by arms sales, appeasement of Saudi Arabia and the desire to maintain a British military presence in the kingdom.

The government crackdown in Bahrain began in earnest in February 2011 and the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry detailed systematic torture, extrajudicial killing and acts of violence by security forces.   

A Bahrain Human Rights Watch briefing document outlined the severity of the situation as follows:

“Since the beginning of the Bahrain crackdown, over 130 individuals have been killed.  

“Over 50 were killed following the issuing of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry report, which was accepted by the government and king of Bahrain.  

“Over 3,500 individuals have been arbitrarily detained as political prisoners and prisoners of conscience.  

“Torture and enforced disappearance is on the rise and prominent opposition members continue to serve arbitrary prison sentences.  

“Children are also routinely detained and subjected to abuse and torture. The legacy of the BICI report was left on the sidelines, with no real implementation of its recommendations.”

I raised the matter in the House of Commons in the pre-Christmas adjournment debate and also drew attention to the bizarre speech made by Britain’s ambassador to Bahrain in the days after the new British base was announced, in which he claimed Britain had chosen to become involved there because of the concern for human rights and democracy that Bahrain was showing.  

The reality is that this is an act of the deepest hypocrisy by the British government and showing more interest in the strategic wishes of the US and Gulf Co-operation Council in developing a base, even though at the same time the Foreign Office itself has expressed concern about human rights abuses, and the foreign affairs select committee has pressed for much more engagement on human rights matters.  

Sadly, the Labour opposition spokespeople on foreign affairs and defence have supported the base, although expressing concerns about human rights in Bahrain.

The reality is that arms sales, military calculations and oil, alongside the massive market for arms in Saudi Arabia, have trumped any fears over human rights abuses. 


When the house rose for the Christmas recess Richard Burden MP asked the Foreign Secretary: “What progress his department has made on agreeing the language to be used in the draft UN security council resolution outlining the principles for a peace settlement between Israel and Palestine.”  

Without any obvious signs of irony or tongue in cheek, Foreign Minister Tobias Ellwood replied: “The draft council security resolution was not adopted as it failed to reach the necessary number of favourable votes.”  

Nine votes are required for security council approval and, in the absence of any veto, full recognition was on the brink of being granted to Palestine by the security council, with eight votes in favour. 

It fell to Britain to decide the fate of this proposal. 

The British abstention ensured it was consigned to the dustbin of history, like so many other attempts to involve the UN in recognising the Palestinian people.  

The US had already indicated its preparedness to use the veto, and the Palestinian delegation hit back in the only legal way open to them.  

They made an application, as they’re absolutely entitled to do, to sign the Rome Statute and thus become party to the International Criminal Court.  

This met with the most furious condemnation by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (pictured) and the US administration, who described this act as variously provocative and damaging to the peace process.  

These remarks are hard to comprehend when the Palestinian parties, all of them, have decided to embark on a diplomatic and legal process of Palestinian recognition as a way of bringing about some kind of long-term Middle East peace.  

One would have thought this would have been welcomed by both the US and Israel, which consistently claim to want a peace process. 

Since neither have acceded to full membership of the Rome Statute and are not parties to the International Criminal Court, it’s very difficult to understand what right they have to condemn another party for seeking to join.  

The Israeli government has gone a step further in its hypocrisy and withheld tax revenue to the Palestinian Authority, which makes up about two-thirds of its income.   

Palestinian National Initiative general secretary Mustafa Barghouti said:

“What Israel is doing is theft, piracy and illegal.  Tel Aviv has no right to withhold money paid by the sweat and blood of the Palestinian people.”  

He went on to call for sanctions against Israel over its outrageous violations. 

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki managed to face in two diametrically opposite directions in one statement, in which the US apparently conveyed to Israel its view that the tax revenues should not be withheld, and then went on to say that the US would cut aid to the Palestinian authority by $440 million because of the International Court membership application. 

The British Parliament famously voted last September for the recognition of Palestine in a non-binding decision, with only 12 voting against.  

The French parliament made a similar move and the French delegation to the UN duly showed respect for its own parliament’s position.  

Sadly the British government showed such little regard for Parliament that not only was our UN vote not used but  David Cameron decided to attack Ed Miliband for acceding to back-bench pressure in his support for Palestinian recognition.  

The Prime Minister seems to have forgotten that he’s also a member of Parliament and, had he wished to, could have attended the debate and voted, but chose instead to stay away hoping that there would be little publicity for this momentous change in British political opinion. 

Sadly, the results of Operation Protective Edge are all too obvious to see, with destroyed buildings still unrepaired, children playing in the cold and rubble and Egypt doing Israel’s bidding and closing the crossing point at Rafah and dynamiting tunnels and buildings adjacent to the border with Gaza.  

World recognition of Palestine does require strong political and economic action to end the blockade, the siege and the occupation.  

That surely is the road that will bring about peace, through justice for the Palestinian people. 


Jeremy Corbyn is Labour MP for Islington North.


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