Organisers of the UK’s Royal Windsor Horse Show have agreed to adopt a human rights policy after campaign group Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (Bird), accused the show of being used by the Bahraini royal family to distract from human rights abuses in their country.
The kingdom of Bahrain sponsors some events at the show that counts the Queen among its most famous fan.
Human rights campaigners have repeatedly raised concerns that sponsoring prestigious sporting events which has strong UK royal associations is an act of “sportswashing” to conceal the country’s poor human rights record.
A complaint against the show’s organisers, HPower Group by Bird to the Department for International Trade (DIT) known as National Contact Point, has finally been resolved by mediation after it was lodged in April 2018.
Birdcomplained that the show’s organisers were not doing enough “to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts linked to their business operation” something that UKNCP said merited investigation.
The organisation raised concerns after family members of three UK-based activists who protested at the 2017 show were detained by Bahraini security forces.
Although Bird welcomed the agreement of HPower Group to put a human rights policy in place for the high profile horse show it argues that inviting the Bahraini royal family sends the wrong signal about its human rights record.
Bird says it will continue to campaign against what it claims is Bahrain’s use of sport to whitewash human rights abuses.
In a statement issued by both parties, HPower committed to adopting a human rights policy which reflects the standards provided for by OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and reaffirmed “its commitment to respect internationally recognised human rights”.
Protests against the Royal Windsor Horse Show have grown in recent years over the invitation of the Bahraini monarch, King Hamad, who regularly sponsored a prestige event at the show and has often been photographed with the Queen in the Royal Box.
Freedom House describes Bahrain as “among the most repressive in the Middle East”. According to Human Rights Watch, Bahrain’s human rights record has worsened in recent years following a more than tenfold rise in executions since 2017.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of Bird, said: “We presented the UK government with ample evidence of the human rights implications of King Hamad’s presence at the Royal Windsor Horse Show, which in previous years included the detention of family members of Bahrainis protesting at the show”.
“While HPower will adopt a human rights policy, Bird maintains that Bahrain’s investments in international sport are designed to launder the kingdom’s appalling human rights record and we will continue to raise concerns whenever the red carpet is rolled out for Bahraini royals in the UK,”Alwadaei said.
Daniel Carey, solicitor at Deighton Pierce Glynn, which lodged the complaint on behalf of Bird said: “I am pleased that the mediation with HPower has concluded successfully”.
“The law has to keep up with the issue of ‘sportwashing’, as rights-abusing states increasingly reach for showpiece international events to improve their standing in the world in place of substantial reform,” Carey said.
Prior to the pandemic the Queen had attended every Royal Windsor Horse Show since the event was launched in 1943 to support a wartime campaign to raise money to purchase Hurricanes and Spitfires for the RAF. (Source: The Guardian)