The British Mail on Sunday newspaper and others have taken offence at the fact that UK foreign aid has been used to provide human rights training for Bahraini prison staff.

A freedom of information request found that around £2.1million was used for a programme of training in restraint procedures and humane handling of prisoners. Senior officers from the prison service in Bahrain were flown to Northern Ireland in January to visit three jails so as to familiarize themselves with best practice techniques in other states.

The Mail on Sunday tried to portray the UK human rights support as a bad thing; quoting vague statements by opposition figures and condemning the Bahrain Government as a “torture regime”.

However, in truth this support is good for Bahrain and does a lot of credit to the UK as a serious partner and friend trying to support Bahrain in improving its human rights record.

A Foreign Office spokesman said it worked with Bahrain “to provide extensive reform assistance focused on strengthening human rights and the rule of law. Our strong relationship means that we are able to have frank and honest conversations on human rights at the highest levels with the government of Bahrain.”

The Foreign Office has previously highlighted its human rights support for Bahrain’s prisons and for the reform process; for example, in its 2015 human rights report which said: 

“The UK’s package of technical assistance to support reform in Bahrain began in 2012. Much of it has focused on building effective and accountable institutions, strengthening the rule of law and police and justice reform, in line with the recommendations in the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry and UN Universal Periodic Review. This cooperation will continue in 2016. Beneficiaries of the UK’s support include independent human rights and oversight institutions such as the National Institution of Human Rights, Ministry of Interior Ombudsman, Prisoners’ and Detainees’ Rights Commission and Special Investigations Unit, who provide independent oversight of police behaviour and detention standards, and were established as a result of BICI recommendations.”

The fact that the Bahrain authorities acknowledge shortcomings in their prisons and transparently accept help is positive and deserves to be commended.

As the Foreign Office report showed, there are still many aspects of Bahrain’s human rights record which need work. However, with close cooperation and constructive criticism from Bahrain’s closest allies, we can continue to acknowledge shortcomings and strengthen Bahrain’s human rights record and abidance by the rule of law.

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