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UK parliamentary panel calls for ‘end to torture and politically motivated arrests’ in Bahrain

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A British parliamentary committee called on Wednesday for immediate action to ensure an end to torture and politically motivated detentions in Bahrain and accused Iraq of widespread human rights abuses, including torture and poor conditions in prisons.

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee also said it plans to launch in inquiry in the autumn concerning aspects of British foreign policy and the Arab Spring.

In a report on human rights around the world, the committee said events of the Arab Spring should remind the Foreign Office that there are risks for the United Kingdom in failing to take a stronger and more consistent stance against rights violations by foreign regimes.

It said the committee was less confident than the Foreign Office that there is little conflict between Britain’s simultaneous pursuit of commercial interests and improved human rights standards abroad.

The Foreign Office, it recommended, should take a more robust and consistent position on human rights violations in the Middle East and North Africa. It said the Foreign Office should have treated Bahrain as a “country of concern” in its 2010 annual human rights report.

The committee welcomed the Bahrain government’s establishment of a commission to investigate recent events involving protestors but said: “We remain concerned that immediate action is needed to ensure an end to torture and politically motivated detentions.”

Human rights, it said, should be at the heart of Foreign Office work in implementing its so-called Arab Partnership program. The government recently announced a four-year, £110 million partnership fund to support political reforms, give economic aid and carry out public finance reforms.

On Iraq, the report noted that minority religious communities have been subjected to persecution, torture and other forms of ill-treatment are used in detention centers and overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions are commonplace in prisons.

Many Iraqi prisoners, it said, have to spend several years in detention before being tried.

“The situation with regard to women’s rights is poor..., female illiteracy widespread and female genital mutilation and so-called ‘honor killings’ still practiced,” it said.

The report noted that a long-standing emergency law in Egypt remains on the books, even though it permits human rights violations such as administrative detention, torture and military courts for civilians.

It accused both the Sri Lanka government and the Tamil Tigers of war crimes and crimes against humanity in their conflict, and criticized the British government for failing to back a United Nations panel that called for international mechanisms to be set up for addressing accountability.

The report was particularly critical of the government’s approach to human rights engagement with China “in the continuing absence of any evidence that it is yielding results and. . .the human rights situation in China appears to be deteriorating.”

The committee recommended that the government engage in more explicit, hard-hitting and consistent public criticism of Chinese human rights abuses.

(Ray Moseley is a London-based former chief European correspondent of the Chicago Tribune and has worked extensively in the Middle East. He can be reached at rnmoseley@aol.com.)