The UK Government trained a controversial war crimes investigations unit led by a man accused of complicity in torture and dubbed the ‘Butcher’.

A freedom of information request has revealed the Ministry of Defence delivered training sessions to Saudi Arabia’s Joint Incident Assessment Team (JIAT).

JIAT investigates alleged war crimes in Yemen but it has been accused of whitewashing incidents and of failing to get facts right.

Its legal advisor and spokesman is a controversial military figure from Bahrain called Lieutenant General Mansour al-Mansour.

Dubbed the ‘Butcher’, Al-Mansour has been branded a “serial violator of human rights” for his role as a military judge in Bahrain following pro-democracy protests in 2011 during the Arab Spring.

He prosecuted hundreds of protesters including academics, writers and journalists, often handing down life imprisonment sentences.

Many people claimed they were innocent but tortured in custody and force to make confessions alleging that Al-Mansour ignored their allegations.

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International observers were often barred from courtrooms leading to criticism from the UN and human rights groups.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, said: “It is farcical that the judge who condemned torture victims to life imprisonment in Bahrain is now in charge of investigating the murder of civilians in Yemen.

“With Mansour, the UK has trained a serial violator of human rights to investigate violations of humanitarian law. Mansour’s role in JIAT speaks to its absence of credibility as a body, and is an insult to his Bahraini victims and to the civilians of Yemen. The UK must end its support of white-washing mechanisms in the Gulf.”

Amnesty International also has concerns over investigations into alleged war crimes carried out by JIAT.

The human rights group said it had documented at least 34 coalition air strikes in Yemen since March 2015  that appear to have violated IHL including attacks on schools.

Amnesty International said: “These have resulted in 494 civilian deaths (including at least 148 children) and 359 civilian injuries. They have included indiscriminate attacks leading to civilian deaths and injuries, and attacks that appear to have deliberately targeted civilians and civilian objects such as hospitals, schools, markets and mosques, and caused damage to civilian property, which would amount to war crimes.

“Human Rights Watch, Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, one of Yemen’s leading human rights organizations, and the United Nations have documented dozens more apparently unlawful coalition air strikes.”

Amnesty added that of January 2017, nearly a year since the announcement to establish the JIAT, only 14 incidents have been investigated.

Amnesty International continued: “Amnesty International has reviewed all publicly available legal and factual conclusions and in response, has written today to Lieutenant General Mansour Ahmed Al-Mansour, legal advisor to the JIAT, to express the organization’s concern the JIAT’s investigations appear to be falling short of international standards including those of transparency, independence, impartiality and effectiveness.”

Douglas Chapman, MP for Dufermline and West Fife, and a member of the Defence Select Committee, said: “My SNP colleagues and I heard this week from Oxfam and Christian Aid about the continuing toll on the civilian population and those trying to help with aid and medicines, as a result of the poor targeting practices of the Saudi Air Force.

“These are weapons being targeted by a regime which has been supported militarily by the UK for decades.

“It’s also disappointing to see the UK support the naming of an investigator from another Gulf State which itself has committed massive human rights violations – and which of course the UK continues to support militarily through the building of a Royal Navy base there.”

The Foreign Office response to the FOI request about JIAT said: “The UK has supported the development of the Coalition JIAT and through the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has delivered two training sessions in Saudi Arabia on the process of investigating alleged violations of International Humanitarian Law.”

It continued: “The first training session for the JIAT took place from 22-24 May 2016, and delivered training to a delegation of Saudi military personnel at the Officers Club, King Abdul Aziz Road, Riyadh.

“A subsequent training session, JIAT Workshop Targeting and Investigations, took place 18-22 September 2016 to provide guidance to the JIAT on continuing and improving the investigative process, seeking specifically to understand how JIAT has conducted its investigations to date; to assess learning cycles and behaviour since the first workshop and ongoing remedial action within the Coalition; and to offer as much advice as possible on investigations to date and JIAT process going forward.”

JIAT has been at the centre of controversy after regularly clearing the Saudi-led coalition of any wrongdoing.

In August Al-Mansour presented the findings of eight JIAT investigations which largely absolved the Saudi-led coalition of responsibility for civilian deaths.

But last month humanitarian organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) challenged JIAT over its investigation into the bombing of one of its hospitals by Saudi warplanes.

The attack last August killed 19 people and MSF rejected JIAT’s findings announced by Mansour who said it was just an “error”.

MSF said it was “extremely concerned” by Mansour’s comments adding they “did not reflect the conversations MSF had in Saudi Arabia with the JIAT and military forces after the attack”.

It also pointed out that Mansour’s statement only referred to seven deaths when 19 people died in the attack.

MSF added: “The GPS coordinates of Abs hospital had been shared with the Saudi-led coalition at least every three months since July 2015. Most recently, the GPS coordinates for all MSF operations in Yemen, including Abs hospital, were shared on 10 August, just five days before the incident.

“We do not consider this incident an “error”, but a consequence of conducting hostilities with disregard for the protected nature of hospitals and civilian structures.”

Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrats Foreign Affairs Spokesperson, said: “Clearly there are very significant concerns about his role and therefore his suitability for sitting on JIAT. I think there is a huge amount of evidence now which suggests that the UK should suspend arms sales … there is now an overwhelming case for an independent inquiry into Saudi activities in Yemen.”

Emily Thornberry, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, asked the government if it is aware “that Mansour Al-Mansour is known in Bahrain as ‘the butcher'”.

She added: “What are we to make of this? The government is either being extremely naive or extremely negligent. But either way, this is not good enough.”

In reply to the above criticism the Foreign Office said: “It is important that credible allegations of violations of international humanitarian law are investigated. Although the UK is not a member of the JIAT and has not directly participated in investigations, we continue to provide advice and support to the JIAT on the process for investigations.

“The British military has some of the highest standards in the world in how they conduct themselves in armed conflicts and we are happy to share our hard won experience with our partners.”

The 14 members of the JIAT are from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the Republic of Yemen, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

Both the Saudi Arabian and Bahraini embassies in London declined to comment but in December JIAT issued a statement in response to concerns raised over a number of incidents involving coalition forces.

This story was first published by the Sunday Mail on 22nd January 2017.

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