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Unions call for audit of UK government aid to Bahrain

16 July 2015 | last updated: 10 December 2015

Trade unions in the UK and around the world have today launched a campaign highlighting "widespread and systematic" human rights abuses in Bahrain and called for an independent audit of UK government aid to the Gulf monarchy.

UCU initiated an open letter condemning British failure to act over repression in Bahrain, which has now been signed by trade unions in the UK including UNITE, USDAW, UNISON, GMB, CWU, NASUWT, RMT, NUT, NUJ, RCN, PCS and BFAWU.

It has also gained the backing of the TUC, which represents 52 unions across the UK with a combined membership of 5.5 million people, and Education International, the world's largest trade union federation, which represents over 30 million education employees worldwide.

Union officials will launch a drive for further signatures at the Labour Party conference, which opens in Brighton on Sunday.

The unions highlight the continued detention and torture of opposition leaders, unionists, teachers, medics and students, despite rising levels of UK financial assistance aimed at supporting the Bahraini government.

The letter condemns the lack of transparency surrounding the spending, highlighting that there has been no independent assessment made of this expenditure of public money, despite a clear deterioration in Bahrain's human rights record.

Fred van Leeuwen, general secretary of Education International said: 'Education International has been supporting the colleagues from the Bahrain Teacher Association for the last four years. I was a witness of the violent repression and unfair prosecutions of BTA members. I met with the public authorities to express our concern. They made a lot of promises, which were never kept. We need to continue to call for the respect of human rights.

'Worldwide, independent teacher organisations have, throughout history, played a significant role in establishing human rights standards and democracy. Whether in Poland with Solidarnosc, in Chile, in South Africa or more recently in Tunisia, teacher and student associations have been freedom fighters. Independent education unions are therefore always a threat to authoritarian rulers and are, subsequently, often, as we see in Bahrain, among the first targets of repression.

'They further demand an independent assessment of the Foreign Office's assistance spending to Bahrain, urging that​any military, diplomatic and security ties are handled with a view to ending human rights abuses.'

These calls come in the wake of criticism from the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, which stated in 2014 that the Foreign Office should have "bitten the bullet" and listed Bahrain as a country of concern as there was "little or no evidence that Bahrain has made enough progress in implementing political reform and safeguarding human rights.'

UCU president, Elizabeth Lawrence, said: 'U​CU welcomes the fact that the TUC, Education International and so many trade unions have signed the letter concerning human rights in Bahrain. We salute the work of all those seeking an end to human rights abuses in Bahrain and send our best wishes to trade unions and human rights defenders in Bahrain.

'We also call upon the British government to take a much tougher stance with this oppressive regime. UCU members are actively engaged in Bahrain solidarity work and our annual Congress passed its latest resolution on Bahrain in May 2015.'

In 2015, UCU congress p​assed a motion condemning the construction of a new British naval base in Bahrain, and ongoing UK government support for the monarchy in the midst of human rights violations such as the imprisonment of Bahraini teachers' union leader Mahdi Abu Dheeb.

Ahmed Ali, legal officer of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy said: 'This is a landmark stance by trade unions in the UK who are standing in unity against human rights abuses in Bahrain. We thank all of the signatories for their work in sending a clear message to the government that their support for the government of Bahrain will not go unnoticed by the British public.'