In a consultation with the Foreign Affairs Committee on Friday 24. March members of the committee asked Anders Samuelsen, Minister for Foreign Affairs in Denmark questions about the case of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a Danish citizen who has been imprisoned in Bahrain since 2011 and whose health has deteriorated lately. The present members were MPs Lars Aslan Rasmussen, Christian Juhl, and Nikolaj Villumsen.
Lars Aslan: Since 2011 Abdhulhadi has been in prison. Several attempts at dialogue with the authorities in Bahrain have failed. The situation has since worsened and prisoners are being executed. Al-Khawajas case is critical and his conditions in prison are getting worse. What will the minister do for Abdhulhadi and what is being done to help al-Khawaja?
Minister: First of all, the possibilities for going into detail are limited here. The case has been treated behind closed doors. Overall, the government has followed two tracks to help al-Khawaja: a political and diplomatic track, and a consular track. We have worked actively for a humanitarian solution. The work political and diplomatic work has consisted of contact with Bahrain and other international partners. The dialogue with Bahrain is kept out of the public to increase the possibility of finding a solution. Denmark has voiced the case several times in UN’s Human Rights Council. On the consular track: the embassy offers regular visits to Abdhulhadi, we are regularly contact with his family. Sadly, I cannot promise a quick solution to the situation.
Lars Aslan: The export to Bahrain has almost doubled since 2011 – does this increase influence the case?
Minister: I can completely reject that. Danish export is a separate issue.
Christian Juhl: It’s not very comforting that the Danish government cannot do anything for a Danish citizen who is prisoned under those conditions. We want Danish citizens in Denmark so they can receive a fair trial and punishment if at all. In other cases, the Danish government has done so without caring about the potential loss of export. Human rights principles should be a top priority. Is it not possible to take a harder stance with Bahrain, whether economically or diplomatic? Perhaps by working with other countries to sanction Bahrain?
Minister: Denmark isn’t a big player in Bahrain. Based on the briefings I have had I don’t believe anything like that would make an impression on Bahrain.
Lars Aslan: What about the increased export to Bahrain from 2011-2016? Can that be justified?
Minister: It is not my opinion that that is relevant to the case.
Christian Juhl: Has there been taken initiatives to do an international boycott or other methods of pressuring the Bahraini government into delivering al-Khawaja to Denmark?
Minister: No, but initiatives on a EU level have been taken.
Lars Aslan: Can the minister explain why the increase in export is not relevant to the case?
Minister: Because there is an implication that the government is being reluctant for the sake of export, which is not the case.
Nikolaj Villumsen: We shouldn’t exclusively think about the relation between Denmark and Bahrain. The government of Bahrain is extremely dependent of Saudi Arabia’s support. Saudi Arabia is a close ally of the USA. Recently Denmark had a delegation to Saudi Arabia. The minister at the time wasn’t the one sitting here now, however it is still relevant to ask whether the ministry achieved anything in this case during the visit?
Minister: I have no information.
Lars Aslan: There are also Swedish citizens in prison in Bahrain. is there a Nordic approach to these cases?
Minister: No, we are working on the case through the EU.
Nikolaj Villumsen: It is too bad that there is no information on the achievements of the visit to Saudi Arabia. Yesterday we learned that the Danish Primeminsiter will be travelling to the USA. It seems as though Trump will continue the relationship with Saudi Arabia. Is that fact something that government has considered as an opportunity to get help to pressure Bahrain through Saudi Arabia?
Minister: We attempt to use the channels at our disposal at the level we deem appropriate. We try at the level and with the approach we think appropriate to make improvements and avoid the opposite.
Christian Juhl: How does the increased pressure form the EU take shape? What is concretely happening? How long does the minister think a Danish citizen should sit under such conditions before the minister will take independent actions?
Minister: It is a misunderstanding that we are not doing anything. We have recently raised the case in UN.
Christian Juhl: I asked about the EU. How long time is enough before we take further action?
Minister: EU has a comprehensive dialogue with Bahrain regarding human rights questions. We do not accept the situation as it is today, which is why we are seeking a solution.
Lars Aslan: I would like talk more about trade. What if Al-Khawaja dies? Will we continue the export? Is there not a point where the minister would find it problematic to continue trading with a country knowing they torture our citizen?
Minister: That is an ongoing assessment by the government and parliament. No former government has wanted to stop the export. We want to get al-Khawaja out alive so I have not considered whether Denmark should stop the trade I case of his death.
Lars Aslan: The minister must have an opinion – has the strategy of quiet diplomacy helped at all?
Minister: There are very competent people on the case. Perhaps others have other theories about the best approach. Everybody is trying to do what they can to solve the case.
Nikolaj Villumsen: We have criticized the former ministers for not doing enough. it’s not very comforting for Enhedslisten that you will not change the approach. The strategy that has been used since 2011 hasn’t brought about any significant results. Does that not give the minister reason to consider other strategies?
Minister: Former ministers and I have worked and work actively and continuously on this case – including in the UN.
Christian Juhl: It would be preferable if the ministry would use the most effective tools to deal with the case. It is worth considering whether there are other tools. Could the minister try and mention which tools could be used other than those already in use. Which of these tools are available for us? Besides those already mentioned.
Minister: in my view it would be harmful to the case to answer your question publicly.
Lars Aslan: What can possibly get any worse?
Minister: You can choose to believe that we are not doing it well enough, that those methods used are not the right ones. We do everything with the best intentions. If we were to talk about concrete tools – such a discussion should take place in the Foreign Policy Committee.
Christian Juhl: We are not here because we believe you are not doing a good job or that we can expose something. We have an idea that we together could find a solution so that a Danish citizen can come back. How can we move forward? It is important that the minister will enter into this dialogue – why is it that the minister cannot answer and be more specific? We have a common history when it comes to foreign policy, we have previously used other methods in different cases. That’s why I’m asking which tools we can use, either alone, with the EU, or other partners.
Minister: Hypothetical discussions about other methods are not appropriate. We have a close dialogue with NGO’s, the family, the EU with the UN. It is in the Foreign Policy Committee, we must discuss this.
Lars Aslan: Does Denmark have anything to do with the training of officers or other cooperation in Bahrain?
Minister: We don’t have any bilateral cooperation with Bahrain other than trade.
Nikolaj Villumsen: It is also a possibility that we make this consultation closed. Perhaps that would be beneficial if this is not the place to discuss it any further. If we can get closer to a solution behind closed doors, then we must do that. I have no doubt that the ministry is doing something – the question is whether there could be done more. A key is Saudi Arabia – the democratic revolt was crushed by Saudi Arabian militia. What is the price for Saudi Arabia is willing to pay to keep Bahrain in their power? Is that an aspect that you have taken into consideration?
Minister: The relation to foreign countries is relevant to the Foreign Policy Committee. I can confirm that we have had dialogue with Saudi-Arabia.
Lars Aslan: I’m not here to disclose anything. So if the minister prefers, we can close the meeting.
Minister: No, further discussions should take place in the Foreign Policy Committee.
Christian Juhl: Does that mean the minister won’t participate in a closed consultation with this committee?
Minister: I cannot hinder a closed consultation, that is up to you. This is about a person-specific and sensitive case. I don’t want to say anything publicly that might jeopardize it.
Lars Aslan: We are not interested in hurting the minister or the government. Why can this consultation not be made closed?
Minister: Because I have prepared for an open consultation.
President: Will you assess whether you got what you came for? Perhaps you have a few final questions before we round up.
Lars Aslan: The ministry is working through the EU, why not start dialogue with the Nordic countries who also have prisoners in Bahrain?
Minister: We assess that the EU is the optimal tool for solving this case, because they have a Human Rights Rapporteur.
The full video can be watched here.