Exams body still looking to do deals with Bahrain

Demonstrators in Bahrain blocked roads with burning tyres. Picture: AP
Demonstrators in Bahrain blocked roads with burning tyres. Picture: AP
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A SCOTTISH education body criticised for signing a deal with a government accused of human rights abuses against women and children is planning further business with the regime.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) was condemned earlier this year after Scotland on Sunday revealed the organisation signed a contract with Bahrain last March while political dissent was being violently suppressed.

The agreement was to set up a qualifications network, but critics said the SQA should not be working with the government and called for an inquiry. Scottish Government ministers said they were not informed of the contract, which will run until 2014.

A reply to a Freedom of Information request by Scotland on Sunday revealed talks began last April over another contract, and last night the SQA confirmed it was seeking new business in Bahrain.

A spokesman for SQA said: “SQA is a non-departmental public body with its own board and makes its own operational decisions. As part of its corporate plan, SQA supports the Scottish Government’s International Framework, and provides the government with regular updates on its international work.

“SQA continues to pursue business opportunities internationally, including Bahrain.”

The tiny island nation – a quarter of the size of Luxembourg – has been hit by unrest since pro-democracy protests started in February 2011. The Formula One race was cancelled that year amid the violence. A government-commissioned report said 35 people died during the uprising, although the opposition puts the death toll much higher.

Violence in the kingdom escalated on Friday ahead of today’s F1 Grand Prix as protesters demanded that bosses cancel the race. Demonstrators blocked roads with burning tyres and police fired tear gas and stun grenades, but motorsport’s world governing body and F1 management said the race would go ahead as planned.

Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for Lothian, said: “The SQA said they followed due diligence in agreeing these contracts but I don’t think it’s clear what sort of checks they carried out.

“To hear they’re looking at further deals with an unsavoury regime is worrying. While it’s right to seek to help improve democracy, this cannot be while turning a blind eye to human rights abuses. I think the Scottish Government should consider a full investigation into whether these SQA activities are appropriate.”

Amnesty International (AI) in Scotland said it had “very serious concerns” regarding Bahrain and that children had been detained and beaten.

Mark Bevan, of AI Scotland, said: “Amnesty expects all companies including the SQA to perform due diligence checks. The majority of protests in Bahrain are banned and forcibly dispersed, including by the security forces’ often reckless use of tear gas.

“The authorities are trying to use the Grand Prix as a platform to show progress, with claims that the human rights situation has improved, whilst stepping up repression in order to ensure nothing disturbs their public image.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Ministers have not been aware of any further conversations relating to additional business activity in Bahrain.

“Were there at any point to be a proposal for a further contract, ministers would expect to be consulted. Ministers would wish to be satisfied that any activity would be to the benefits of learners in the country and did not raise any human rights issues.”