(Standard.co.uk) The Government was sharply criticized today for refusing to back a boycott of the Bahrain Grand Prix over human rights concerns, despite implementing its own boycott of the Euro 2012 football championships in Ukraine.
The Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said it was difficult to find any “consistency of logic” in ministers’ approach to the issue.
It said Bahrain should have been included by the Foreign Office on its list of “countries of concern” in the wake of the “brutal” suppression of anti-government protests last year.
The committee expressed concern that “political and strategic factors” had coloured the decision not to list the Gulf kingdom alongside other states held responsible for human rights abuses.
The Government came under pressure to support calls for a boycott of the Formula One Grand Prix last April amid fears that it could be a catalyst for a renewed crackdown on protesters.
At the time Prime Minister David Cameron refused, arguing “Bahrain is not Syria” and that a process of reform was under way – although ministers have since acknowledged that progress has been “minimal”.
In contrast, in June the Government announced no ministers would attend England’s games played in Ukraine in the group stage of Euro 2012 following the imprisonment of the opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko. It followed similar moves by other European Union member states.
“We find it difficult to discern any consistency of logic behind the Government’s policy in not taking a public stance on the Bahrain Grand Prix but implementing at least a partial boycott of the 2012 Uefa Football Championship matches played in Ukraine,” the committee said.
In a wide-ranging report, the committee also expressed concern about the way asylum seekers were deported to countries such as Sri Lanka, despite fears they could face torture or abuse on their return.
It called on the Foreign Office to take a more “energetic” approach to evaluating reports from the media and non-governmental organisations in assessing the risks of returning people to such countries.
“We find it unsatisfactory that the Government has not been more forthcoming to Parliament about its efforts – in general and in specific cases – to assess the level of risk to the safety of those who are removed from the UK,” it said.
The committee said it shared the “unease” over the practice of deporting foreign nationals who are considered a threat to national security to countries where there is a risk of torture, provided an assurance has been received from the government concerned that their human rights will be respected.
It said the practice – used most recently in the attempt to deport the radical preacher Abu Qatada to Jordan – would command greater confidence if the countries concerned had signed up to an international protocol requiring them to open up their places of detention to United Nations representatives.
“We acknowledge the efforts made by the Government to keep Parliament informed of new arrangements for deportation with assurances. However, these are matters of such significance within Parliament that we believe a greater degree of accountability is warranted,” it said.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We welcome the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report and their acknowledgement of the UK’s strong record in upholding human rights across the world. We will respond fully to the report in due course.
“Human rights are essential to and indivisible from our foreign policy objectives. They are part of our national DNA and are woven deeply into the decision-making processes of our foreign policy at every stage. We cannot achieve long term security and prosperity unless we uphold our values.
“We promote human rights painstakingly and consistently. Our starting point for engagement on human rights with all countries is based on what is practical, realistic and achievable, although we are always ready to speak out as a matter of principle.”