A report published today by a group of British members of parliament (MPs) has called on the U.K. government to suspend “secretive” multi-million-pound payments to Gulf states accused of human rights abuses.
At least £53.4 million ($74 million) has been paid to the six countries that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) between 2016 and 2020, first via the Integrated Activity Fund and then via its successor the Gulf Strategy Fund (GSF). At least £10 million more has been allocated for the 2021/2022 financial year.
The MPs on the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Democracy and Human Rights in the Gulf have called for the funding to be stopped until an independent investigation takes place.
“The government continues to ignore warnings from parliament, human rights groups and their own evaluations and throw millions of pounds of public funds at institutions consistently implicated in human rights violations. This funding should be halted pending an immediate investigation,” said Labour MP Andy Slaughter, a member of the group.
The GSF is run by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. The government says the funds are used to, among other things, bolster strategic partnerships with Gulf states, tackle cybercrime and terrorism, and help deliver economic reforms. However, the system is notably opaque, with very limited information given on where funds are allocated.
The MPs’ report accuses the government of making “misleading and deceptive” claims about the way funds are spent in the GCC states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. It also argues that the human rights due diligence process used when allocating funding is “flawed, improperly applied and entirely absent in some cases.” It says the government has “repeatedly ignored evidence” that beneficiaries of the funding have been implicated in human rights abuses.
Among other issues, the report points to the likes of the Royal Saudi Air Force which has received funding even though it has been accused of perpetrating war crimes against civilians in Yemen. It also points to beneficiaries in Bahrain including oversight bodies and the Ministry of Interior which have “whitewashed torture allegations reported by death row inmates [and] whitewashed the torture allegations of children”.
The group also said it had “seldom encountered so much government resistance as when we began investigating the source of this funding” and that “The government’s inaction is no longer tenable.”
Brendan O’Hara, a Scottish National Party MP and chair of the group which published the report said: “For years the UK government has given money to its friends and allies in the Gulf, while turning a blind eye as they trample over the most basic human rights of their citizens.”
The Cost of Repression report was issued by a cross-party group of ten MPs. It was drafted by secretariat Josie Thum of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) – an organization which itself has been highly critical of the Bahrain government.
Its publication comes as the U.K. seeks closer trade ties with Gulf states after Brexit.