Thursday, 18 October 2012

UK and Human Rights abroad (continued)

Following up on yesterday's blog post on UK and Human Rights abroad, the Financial Times has published an editorial on the subject today, entitled 'Rights in Bahrain'.

The concluding paragraph shows how little things have changed since the 1970s, as Britain was also accused of double standards in its dealings with the Greek dictatorship.

According to the paper,

"The art of foreign relations for any open democracy is to balance defence of human rights with other national interests. Britain has been accused of getting the balance wrong in Bahrain, where repression is a daily presence.

The criticism, made in a parliamentary report, is valid – but only in part. When Bahrain’s government brutally cracked down on anti-regime demonstrators in 2011, leaving 35 dead, the UK was one of the first to protest publicly despite important trade and security links. It is also a behind-the-scenes player in efforts to promote dialogue between the ruling Sunni elite and Shia majority. The US, perhaps with one eye on its naval base in Bahrain, appears to be less involved than in the past, so Britain’s role has become key. Mediators are often more effective if criticism stays behind closed doors.

Nonetheless, parliamentarians are right to say that the UK needs to be more assertive. The softly-softly approach has not delivered results. The difficulty is that the Al Khalifa royal family is itself divided and hardliners have managed to stymie political reform. [...]

Britain, meanwhile, has to be more up front about the conflicts it faces in pursuing national interests. The criteria by which it judges the gravity of human rights failings in ally countries need to be more clearly explained. That is the only way to avoid being accused of double standards."

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