Human rights groups have criticised former British defence minister Liam Fox for agreeing to appear at a conference in Bahrain designed to improve the country’s international image amid concerns over its handling of recent civil unrest, according to left-wing blog Left Foot Forward.
Fox is scheduled to appear at the event this weekend alongside former US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, the American Enterprise Institute, which lobbied for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the Heritage Foundation, a think tank that was influential during the Cold War. All are right-wing.
The conference has been organized by the kingdom’s monarchy to highlight the “pioneering reform project” being undertaken “as part of efforts to project the true internal situation in Bahrain”, according to a statement by Bahrain’s state news agency.
Its stated purpose is to “examine institutional developments and political reforms in Bahrain [and] the challenges of empowering diverse coalitions for democratic transition and stability”.
The Sunni royal family, unlike many of its Arab neighbours, has managed to hold onto power despite two years of unrest including deadly protests. It has been accused to suppressing human rights in a bid to control opposition.
Amnesty International UK campaigns director Tim Hancock told Left Foot Forward the conference was a front and British politicians should not be involved.
“No one, least of all British politicians, ought to be under any illusions about the parlous state of human rights in Bahrain,” he said.
“Bahrain is making a mockery of its reform promises and there’s an increasing sense of unreality between what the Bahraini authorities claim and what we’re seeing on the ground. There have been bans on peaceful protests, opposition figures have had their nationalities stripped from them, and the arrests and jailings have gone on and on.”
Nicholas McGeehan of Human Rights Watch said British politicians and diplomats should “focus on the Bahraini authorities’ actions on reform, not their words”.
“A just settlement at the national dialogue will remain elusive until peaceful protest leaders are freed from jail and until there is accountability at the highest levels of the country’s security forces for their abusive response to the 2011 uprisings,” he told Left Foot Forward.
“There is no sign of movement on either issue.”
Fox, a cheerleader for the Tory Right, was criticised in 2011 for his links to the Sri Lankan government, and accused of running a “shadow foreign policy”.