Parliamentary Group on Human Rights in the Gulf meets to discuss concerning lack of freedoms
On 1st March, NGOs, experts and Emirati activists joined for a meeting in Parliament to discuss Britain's relations with Gulf States. The debate was chaired by Margaret Ferrier MP, chair of the new All-Party Parliamentary Group on Democracy and Human Rights in the Gulf.
The debate placed emphasis on the strong commercial, political, and historical ties between the UK and Gulf countries, and the practical consequences of human rights violations. Issues addressed included Britain’s accountability in supporting dictatorial regimes, the significance of the UK’s trade, the practices of arbitrary detention and violations to women's and migrants' rights.
The debate opened with personal testimonies from Bahraini and Omani activists, including Nabeel Rajab's son, who reported his father's situation after being arrested for his peaceful activism. The authorities told him, “If you want your father back, tell him to stop his human rights actions […] otherwise we have 10 more years for him.”
He questioned the UK government's stance on democracy whilst commercialising with authoritarian regimes. He said the “UK government does not really care about the UAE […] It is a shame for Britain to talk about democracy when they support Bahrain”. He also expressed concern for potential violent reactions from the opposition; “People are violent because they are frustrated, they see no hope”.
Two Omani activists followed with their testimonies of being kidnapped; tortured and subjected to inhumane, and degrading treatment by the authorities. One of them said: "You cannot discuss anything. Even to discuss a book you’re sentenced here”. He added that a family member's mobile phone was even tapped by the authorities. He further emphasised the issues of women's rights and the empowerment of women.
PhD candidate David Wearing spoke next about the strong economic ties between the UK and the Gulf. He emphasised that the trading links between the UK and the Gulf countries are not only a business-related issue, but also a political one: it is a strategic decision to keep stability in the Gulf. “We could choose to invest in China and support other countries, it’s up to us […]”.
The discussion continued with an analysis of the kefalah system in Qatar, which allows employers to control the status of migrants by sponsoring them, which was described as unfair and degrading. The speaker stressed the responsibility Britain has when negotiating with Qatar; “by doing business with Qatar we directly fit into their system".
Similarly to previous comments, the speaker also outlined the authoritarian regime of the Qatari government, and that “any form of protest is never allowed in Qatar”.
The meeting ended with a Q&A session, during which Britain’s Parliament was urged by several speakers to “keep pushing” for human rights to be fully implemented in the Gulf.