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SQA’s Bahrain deal angers human rights campaigners

A protester waves a Bahraini national flag during street clashes with police. Photograph: Getty Images

A protester waves a Bahraini national flag during street clashes with police. Photograph: Getty Images

  • by BILLY BRIGGS
 

A SCOTTISH Government education agency has been criticised by campaigners for signing a lucrative contract with a Middle East regime accused of gross human rights abuses including unlawfully detaining and assaulting children.

The Scottish Qualifications Agency (SQA) signed a deal with Bahrain in 2010 to help develop the nation’s education sector shortly before a pro-democracy uprising during the Arab Spring was brutally crushed by the regime.

But Scotland on Sunday has learned a further contract was signed last March as the regime continued violently to suppress political opposition.

The Scottish Government also voiced concern at the time over state violence by Bahrain but it has now emerged that ministers were unaware the controversial SQA contract had been signed by a public body it funds when it met representatives of an Bahrain pro-democracy movement.

Protests have been ongoing in Bahrain since February 2011 with 71 deaths and hundreds more injured and detained, including women and children. Three people have been killed during anti-government protests over the last week.

Human rights groups have campaigned to stop the state violence in Bahrain and last year the University of Edinburgh pulled out of a deal with Bahrain’s Ministry of Education and Higher Education Commission amid concern.

Amnesty International (AI) in Scotland said it had “very serious concerns” regarding Bahrain and that the current political situation must be taken into account by organisations offered commercial contracts by the government.

Spokesman Mark Bevan said: “In the past few months, a growing number of 15-to-17-year-olds have been held in adult prisons and detention centres in Bahrain. Sources put the number as high as 80. Child detainees alleged they were beaten and some have also been forced to sign ‘confessions’.”

The Bahrain Justice and Development Movement (BJDM) – which lobbied the Scottish Parliament last year – also voiced concern over the SQA deal.

A spokesman said: “We would caution against any foreign government providing support for the Bahraini regime whilst it is committing major human rights abuses.”

The SQA deal with Bahrain is to set up a qualifications network.

The contract will run until 2014 and involves working with an organisation called Tamkeem, whose chairman is Sheikh Mohammed Bin Essa al Khalifa, advisor to the Court of the Crown Prince of Bahrain.

The Al Khalifa family is the ruling royal family of Bahrain and has been widely criticised for its authoritarian regime.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Ministers were not informed of this SQA deal last March.

“Ministers do, however, appreciate that SQA undertakes a range of commercial activity in a number of countries.

“The Scottish Government supports the view of the UK Government that Bahrain should look to progress on the democratic track and we urge all parties to engage in meaningful dialogue.

“The Scottish Government remains concerned about reports of violence and human rights abuses in Bahrain.”

The spokesman added: “Because SQA is an arm’s length body, ministers are not routinely informed of all contractual arrangements.”

John McMorris, the SQA director who heads its international work, said: “SQA carries out due diligence for all of its contracts.

“This includes risk assessments and briefings for all staff working overseas and pays due regard to current Foreign Office advice and guidelines.”

No-one was available for comment at the Bahrain Embassy in London.

 

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