Police Scotland trained Saudi & Bahraini officers without human rights checks

December 21, 2016

Image of a beheading occurring

Scottish Police provided training to senior officers from the Saudi and Bahraini police forces without carrying out any human rights checks, Freedom of Information requests by international human rights organisation Reprieve and BBC Scotland have revealed.

Saudi Arabia and Bahrain both use the death penalty and torture against people accused of involvement in protests.  The Saudi authorities have also sentenced significant numbers of children to death – at least three of whom are currently on death row and could face execution at any time.

Under UK Government policy, a formal assessment is meant to be carried out before justice or security assistance is provided to states where it could contribute to the death penalty.  However, FOI requests to Police Scotland and the UK College of Policing, who provided the Saudi and Bahraini training, found that no information was held on such assessments.

In addition, when asked for a full list of overseas assistance delivered in or by Scotland, both Police Scotland and the UK College of Policing omitted the training provided to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain – even though a public reference to it had previously been published on the Police Scotland website.

Reprieve is concerned that such policing assistance could leave the UK complicit in death penalty cases such as that of Mohammed Ramadan, a Bahraini father and police officer who faces execution due to his involvement in protests calling for reform; and the cases of Ali al Nimr, Dawood al Marhoon and Abdullah al Zaher, all of whom were sentenced to death after being arrested as children in the wake of protests in Saudi Arabia.

UK ministers frequently cite the Overseas Security and Justice Assistance (OSJA) guidance when questioned about the provision of training and support to death penalty states.  The guidance is intended to “ensure [our] overseas security and justice assistance work meets our human rights obligations and our values.”  It sets out a four-stage process to ensure that any assistance is compatible with the UK’s policy to oppose the death penalty.

Policing assistance is also supposed to be considered by the International Police Assistance Board (IPAB), which includes representatives from both the UK and devolved administrations.

However, when asked specifically for OSJA and/or IPAB assessments for the Bahraini and Saudi training, Police Scotland and the UK College of Policing said no such assessments were held – despite being able to provide similar documents for a training project delivered to senior officers from New Jersey, USA.

Commenting, Maya Foa, a director at Reprieve said:

“At best this is incompetence, at worst a cover-up; either way, the result is that this training risks rendering the UK complicit in the death penalty.  It is shocking that neither Police Scotland nor the UK College of Policing hold any information about what human rights assessments were undertaken before this training went ahead.  The conclusion is that once again, the UK’s policy on the death penalty has been ignored.  Support to police forces in death penalty states such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain must be suspended until they can show real progress – starting with scrapping the death sentences handed down to children and political protesters.”


Notes to editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] reprieve.org.uk / +44 (0) 207 553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] reprieve.org / +1 917 855 8064.

2. The FOI documents are available on request.

3. In June this year, the UK National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) came under criticism for providing training to Saudi police despite identifying a risk that “the skills being trained are used to identify individuals who later go on to be tortured or subjected to other human rights abuses”. In November, the NPCC told the BBC’s World at One that releasing the document containing this risk assessment was a mistake, and it would not be releasing similar information in future.