BAHRAIN’s ‘widespread and systematic’ abuse of human rights has been condemned by the entire trade union movement in the UK in launching a new campaign against the continued detention and torture of union leaders, students and opposition leaders.
The UK trade unions call on the Tory government to investigate the aid that is provided by the UK to Bahrain. In launching the campaign, they are demanding an independent audit of UK government aid to the Gulf monarchy. The University and College Union (UCU), initiated an open letter condemning British failure to act over repression in Bahrain, which has now been signed by trade unions in the UK including Unite, Usdaw, Unison, GMB, CWU, NASUWT, RMT, NUT, NUJ, RCN, PCS and BFAWU.
It has also gained the backing of the TUC, which represents 52 unions across the UK with a combined membership of 5.5 million people. It has also gained the support of the Education International, the world’s largest trade union federation, which represents over 30 million education employees worldwide.
Union officials will launch a drive for further signatures at the Labour Party conference, which opened in Brighton yesterday. The unions highlight the continued detention and torture of opposition leaders, unionists, teachers, medics and students, despite rising levels of UK financial assistance aimed at supporting the Bahraini government.
The letter condemns the lack of transparency surrounding the spending, highlighting that there has been no independent assessment made of this expenditure of public money, despite a clear deterioration in Bahrain’s human rights record. Fred van Leeuwen, general secretary of Education International, said: ‘Education International has been supporting the colleagues from the Bahrain Teacher Association (BTA) for the last four years.
‘I was a witness of the violent repression and unfair prosecutions of BTA members. I met with the public authorities to express our concern. They made a lot of promises, which were never kept. We need to continue to call for the respect of human rights. Worldwide, independent teacher organisations have, throughout history, played a significant role in establishing human rights standards and democracy.
‘Whether in Poland with Solidarnosc, in Chile, in South Africa or more recently in Tunisia, teacher and student associations have been freedom fighters. Independent education unions are therefore always a threat to authoritarian rulers and are, subsequently, often, as we see in Bahrain, among the first targets of repression.
‘They further demand an independent assessment of the Foreign Office’s assistance spending to Bahrain, urging that “any military, diplomatic and security ties are handled with a view to ending human rights abuses”.’
These calls come in the wake of criticism from the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, which stated in 2014 that the Foreign Office should have ‘bitten the bullet’ and listed Bahrain as a country of concern as there is ‘little or no evidence that Bahrain has made enough progress in implementing political reform and safeguarding human rights’.
UCU president Elizabeth Lawrence said: ‘UCU welcomes the fact that the TUC, Education International and so many trade unions have signed the letter concerning human rights in Bahrain. We salute the work of all those seeking an end to human rights abuses in Bahrain and send our best wishes to trade unions and human rights defenders in Bahrain.
‘We also call upon the British government to take a much tougher stance with this oppressive regime. UCU members are actively engaged in Bahrain solidarity work and our annual Congress passed its latest resolution on Bahrain in May 2015.’
In 2015, UCU’s congress passed a motion condemning the construction of a new British naval base in Bahrain, and ongoing UK government support for the monarchy in the midst of human rights violations such as the imprisonment of Bahraini teachers’ union leader Mahdi Abu Dheeb.
Ahmed Ali, legal officer of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, said: ‘This is a landmark stance by trade unions in the UK who are standing in unity against human rights abuses in Bahrain.
‘We thank all of the signatories for their work in sending a clear message to the government that their support for the government of Bahrain will not go unnoticed by the British public.’
l The US must release files proving the innocence of a former Guantanamo detainee, demanded human rights lawyers on Friday. Lawyers at human rights NGO Reprieve on Thursday filed an emergency motion demanding the US government release information which could exonerate a former Guantanamo detainee facing the possibility of charges in Morocco.
Younous Chekkouri, 47, was transferred to his native Morocco last week. He has been detained ever since and the prosecution in Morocco announced on Wednesday that he is now facing the possibility of charges of ‘attempting to disrupt the internal security of the country’.
It is believed that these charges are based on allegations made years ago by the US – almost every one of which was dropped during Younous’ habeas corpus proceedings in federal court. Yet almost all the files from the case remain held under seal by a Washington DC court.
Without the files being released, Younous’ lawyers will not be able to defend him against the possible Moroccan charges. Reprieve first began asking the US government to release the files in 2009, and in 2011 presented a ‘priority list’ of thirteen documents. In the nearly four years since, the government has released only one of the requested files.
In the rules governing Guantanamo proceedings, the US is obliged to produce public versions of all filings. The emergency motion filed yesterday demands that the government make available all remaining information by October 1st. The US government cleared Younous for release from Guantanamo in 2010, a process involving unanimous agreement by six US federal agencies – including the CIA, FBI, and Departments of State and Defence – that he poses no threat to the US or anyone else.
Cori Crider, attorney for Younous and a director at human rights NGO Reprieve, said: ‘The Americans’ spurious allegations against Younous have already collapsed once when examined in US federal court and it is entirely unfair for him to face any further charges. Yet Younous is now living a Groundhog Day from hell where he may face yet more years of wrongful imprisonment because the US has failed to release information that I could use, this time in a Moroccan court, to prove his innocence yet again.’
l The family of a juvenile sentenced to ‘crucifixion’ in Saudi Arabia have appealed to the Saudi authorities to spare him, as pressure mounts on the US and the UK to intervene. Speaking to AFP, Mohamed al-Nimr said he hoped the King would save his son, student Ali al-Nimr, who was 17 when he was arrested in 2012 in the wake of protests in the Eastern Province.
Ali was tortured into signing a false ‘confession’, which was then used to convict him, and it emerged last week that the unusually harsh sentence had recently been upheld without Ali’s knowledge. With legal avenues now exhausted, Ali could be executed at any moment, with no prior notification of his family. Ali al-Nimr said ‘we hope that the king will not sign’ the execution order for his son.