The International Institute for Strategic Studies, a British research institute for international affairs, has received £25 million, a quarter of its income, from the Bahraini royal family over the last five years, confidential documents obtained by The Guardian reveal. The documents show that both parties agreed to keep the donations secret, leading to criticisms of the think tank, which calls itself a “non-partisan organisation, independent of government and other bodies,” especially in light of the human rights abuses of which the Al Khalifa family have been accused.
The IISS publishes reports and think pieces on the state of foreign affairs, as well as organizing conferences and summits for high-profile political leaders, one of which, the Manama Dialogue, is located in Bahrain and will be attended by British foreign secretary Boris Johnson later this week. The Al Khalifa family has been criticized for human rights abuses in the country, especially over the government’s handling of Arab Spring protests, which included the torture and killing of political dissenters. Human Rights Watch currently says that the country’s “human rights climate remains highly problematic,” citing its imprisonment of peaceful protestors, activists and political opposition members.
In a statement to The Guardian, the IISS defended the donations, saying that the think tank has “full freedom to establish its research agenda, develop its publications programme, hire the researchers it chooses and publish the conclusions they independently arrive at,” and that the Bahraini government “expressly gives the IISS full freedom to develop the agenda [of the Manama Dialogue] and invite participants in line with priorities it judges to be important to encourage strong debate on regional issues and facilitate important diplomatic contacts.”
The government of Bahrain said in its statement that its donations, as well as the agreement to keep them secret, was “not out of the ordinary for … a forum of this scale and significance.”