(Reprieve) – Northern Ireland’s Economy Minister has rejected calls to suspend security and justice projects with Bahrain and Egypt.
International human rights group Reprieve wrote to Stormont’s Economy Minister, Simon Hamilton MLA, warning that a Northern Irish government-owned company, NI-CO, was involved in security and justice programmes that risked complicity in torture and death sentences in the Middle East. In his reply, the Minister refused to step in, claiming that responsibility lies with the UK Foreign Office and the European Union, who fund the multi-million pound projects.
However, NI-CO’s chief executive is ultimately responsible to the Economy’s Department permanent secretary, according to an official report. Last month, UK Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood failed to tell Parliament, when asked, whether he had warned the Northern Ireland Executive about the risks involved in NI-CO’s work.
In Bahrain, NI-CO received almost a million pounds in UK aid money last year for projects that included training approximately 400 guards at Bahrain’s death-row jail, where innocent father-of-three Mohammed Ramadan faces imminent execution for a confession extracted under torture. Details about the work remain classified and are now subject to a complaint to the Information Commissioner by Reprieve.
In Egypt, NI-CO is part of a ten million euro package that is supplying steel bars and a metal cage to an Egyptian juvenile court, despite fears over Irish juvenile Ibrahim Halawa, who is awaiting a mass trial on charges that carry the death penalty.
NI-CO is owned by Invest Northern Ireland, a regional development agency that is run by Stormont’s Department for the Economy. Stormont’s Economy Committee has written to the Minister about NI-CO’s work in Bahrain and Egypt, and MLAs have tabled questions raising concerns.
Commenting, Maya Foa, a director of Reprieve, said:
“It’s deeply alarming that the Minister has refused to suspend NI-CO’s security work in Bahrain and Egypt, where Mohammed Ramadan and Ibrahim Halawa remain at risk of execution. Stormont needs to urgently take responsibility for what’s being done in their name and not pass the buck onto Whitehall or Westminster. If the Minister will not suspend the program until the recipients start respecting international law, then the Economy Committee must launch its own inquiry to scrutinise the human rights risks that this work involves.”