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British support for upskilling Bahraini police

On 13 August, the Observer newspaper published an article entitled “Role of UK police in training Bahrain’s forces ignores abuses”.

The Guardian, Observer and Independent newspapers have a long track record of condemning the British government for facilitating the training of security forces in other nations. These newspapers may give lip service to opposing most forms of discrimination; but still there is a strong underlying racist element in such reporting which is virulently against any sort of dealings with these nasty “Arab regimes”. Their hatred is particularly sharp for the GCC monarchies.

This readiness to attack the governments of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia at the smallest provocation rules out any consideration for how these “regimes” can improve their human rights record without support from the likes of the United Kingdom. In many case the facts of the reporting are taken in their entirety from London-based opposition sources with whom many of these journalists enjoy an uncomfortably close relationship.

These reports completely miss the point that over the past five years the Bahrain security forces have undergone a transformation unprecedented in almost any nation. In 2011 it was painfully clear to many of us here on the ground that the police were woefully unprepared for managing wide scale outbreaks of public disorder (and let’s not believe that this is simply an “Arab” phenomenon; in recent weeks and years we have seen major outbreaks of rioting and disorder in American cities, in European capitals and even in London in 2011).

However, arising from the BICI inquiry, the Bahrain security forces underwent a major process of reorganization, retraining and new codes of practice; along with the creation of wholly new institutions for monitoring the human rights environment and holding those involved in abuses to account. This came about with extensive support from the British Government and British security experts, as well as on a more limited basis from elsewhere.

According to the State Department’s recent assessment: “We assess that these institutional reforms have been generally effective, resulting in fewer incidents of use of excessive force by police against public demonstrations, no reports of protester deaths in 2015 and no reports of inmate deaths stemming from abuse in 2015”.

As Foreign Office spokeswoman said in response to this latest Observer report: “It is not good enough to merely criticize other countries from the sidelines. Only by working with Bahrain are we able to bring about the changes we would like to see in the country... We see this support as the most constructive way to achieve long-lasting and sustainable reform in Bahrain.”

Many of us would have liked to see reforms happening quicker and going further, but we should all be able to agree that this is a major achievement for which the Bahrain Government should be justifiably proud, the British authorities and others who supported this process being recognized as part of this success.

However, this wholly goes against the narrative of the Guardian newspaper which sees any cooperation with these “foreign” police forces as bad, suspicious and deserving of whipping up British public opposition to. This latest report in the Observer newspaper is further outraged that recent support from British police was being offered on a commercial basis! British police officers were actually being paid for their time and the British College of Policing was actually receiving money from this nasty “regime”!!!

It is useless to ask how these journalists believe that whole scale improvements in human rights record could be achieved without international support, because these writers are transparently committed to the agenda of regime change, which blinds them to the real nature of these governments.

If they could just take a step outside the relentless opposition propaganda, they would recognize that the Bahraini Government has in fact made major steps in the direction of reform and democratization, both by empowering parliamentarians and by decreasing the influence that religious entities can have on the democratic process – although this has further alienated militant opposition figures wedded to the vision of a Bahraini Islamic Republic.

Needless to say; these newspapers which publish every tiny development which feeds into the anti-Bahrain agenda, never reported a word about major reforms this May which ban clerics (Sunni and Shia) from involvement in politics, putting Bahrain ahead of anywhere else in the region on the agenda of the separation of religion and the state.

On its own merits these reforms should have had these journalists standing up and applauding, but they have been so poisoned against Bahrain and the GCC in general that they stubbornly looked the other way.

Our own review of implementation of the BICI recommendations shows that there is still work to be done and recommendations from the Ombudsman’s Office and Prisoner and Detainee Rights Commission make it clear that the authorities can still go further.

However, let’s live in the real world and acknowledge that the Bahrain Government in 2011 was right to solicit international support and the British Government was right to provide this support. We should not follow the logic of the Guardian and Independent’s journalists in believing that the British police should only offer training and human rights support to those states which already have an impeccable human rights record – Switzerland or Luxembourg perhaps!

Recurrent shootings by American police of black youths demonstrates that policing challenges are not unique to “Arab regimes” as the racist reporting of these newspapers would tend to suggest. We also should be realists in acknowledging that no country can ever achieve a perfect human rights record and that the real question is how abuses or shortcomings are addressed.

Bahrain’s achievements in turning around its human rights record occurred because of, not in spite of, support and solidarity from states like the United Kingdom. Those entities which advocated boycotts and made do with condemnations and rhetoric from the sidelines either had no influence or a wholly negative one in undermining the efforts of advocates of reform.

This is not the first time we have said it and it won’t be the last: We are grateful for the support of states like Great Britain and we see their cooperation with Bahraini institutions as a healthy and positive phenomenon. The role of bodies like the College of Policing should likewise be encouraged.

They should ignore pressures and rhetoric from those who are hostile to Bahrain and all it stands for.

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