For Immediate Release: May 13, 2011
Washington, D.C. — Under Secretary William Burns and Assistant Secretary Jeffrey Feltman declined the opportunity to testify today before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on rights abuses in Bahrain. After this disappointing decision, Human Rights First is increasingly concerned by the Obama Administration’s unclear approach to handling the Bahraini government’s violation of human rights.
While the Administration maintains that it disapproves of the Bahraini government’s treatment of peaceful dissenters, the U.S. has failed to take concrete steps to hold Bahrain accountable. In yesterday’s State Department press briefing, Acting Deputy Mark Toner claimed that the U.S. remains very concerned with reports of human rights abuses in Bahrain, and will continue to encourage dialogue with the Bahraini government and ask that the government take action against individuals in a “transparent manner in accordance with international human rights obligations.”
Human Rights First recognizes the Obama Administration’s desire to maintain a positive relationship with the Bahraini government during this period of turmoil, but the U.S. can do much more to support human rights in the country, and its failure to lead in doing so creates considerable confusion about U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. should speak vigorously and publicly not only about the imperative of international human rights norms, but also about the specific types of violations perpetrated by the Bahraini security forces against individuals with names.
Yesterday, Acting Deputy Toner also admitted there has been only loose communication between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Bahraini officials, explaining that there has been no contact with the Bahraini Government since the Secretary met with the Bahraini Foreign Minister last week. HRF’s Brian Dooley, who today left Bahrain, said, “The Obama Administration needs to be assertive with the Bahraini government, and President Obama and Secretary Clinton need to publicly challenge the abuses happening in Bahrain. The U.S. should tell the Bahraini government to free those imprisoned for peaceful protests, conduct fair trials, make credible investigation into official acts of violence and hold people accountable.”
The credibility of the U.S. in the region is affected by its role in the Bahrain situation. Yesterday, Human Rights First joined with a coalition in a letter urging Secretary Clinton to support efforts at the United Nations Human Rights council to convene a special session on Bahrain.