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It was inspiring to listen to Thomas Hammarberg in Dublin on Wednesday. The Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe was hugely impressive in a question and answer session that ranged from bullying on social networking sites, to the rights of Roma and Irish Travellers, to the situation of human rights defenders in Chechnya and Serbia.
One of the most powerful points he made was about what he described as a crisis in European values. He spoke about the difficulties posed by the arrival of 23/24,000 migrants in Italy from Tunisia. Migrants who mostly will not have a legitimate fear of persecution and will therefore eventually be returned to Tunisia. In spite of the relatively small numbers it has sparked racist rhetoric from Berlusconi and moves to close borders within the European Union.
At the same time the fragile new Government in Tunisia has accepted 260,000 to 270,000 refugees from Libya without closing the border. Who would you be more proud of?
Not those who run Formula 1 motor racing. F1 lives in a parallel universe where ethics are aerodynamic and sponsored by multinationals.
Let us welcome President Obama's condemnation of repression in Bahrain even if it is long overdue and was qualified by weasel words about legitimate Government concerns and Iranian interference. He rightly said "mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain's citizens." Talking more generally he also said "the truth cannot be hidden," and "repression will fail, and tyrants will fall."
David Cameron's unwise decision to welcome Bahrain's Crown Prince to Downing Street may also turn out to have a positive side. There was widespread criticism across the UK media from the Telegraph and Mail to the Guardian. The highlight was the Independent's front page banner headline "Cameron embraces tyranny" over a picture of him shaking hands with the Prince on the steps of 10 Downing Street.
One must hope that the media coverage delivered a blunt message to Bahrain's rulers in a way that British and US Government diplomacy has so far failed to do. The Crown Prince had previously been positioned as an advocate of dialogue and reform and might still play a positive role.