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February 11, 2015

New Blueprint Recommends Review of the U.S. Relationship with Bahrain

Washington, D.C. - Human Rights First today urged the U.S. Government to take a series of steps that could help bring stability and reform to its military ally Bahrain, recommendations detailed in the organization’s new blueprint “How to Bring Stability to Bahrain.”

“Bahrain’s refusal to effectively tackle political reform, corruption, and sectarianism—in addition to its developing relations with U.S. rivals—make it an increasingly shaky bet as a U.S. ally and should prompt a thorough U.S. government review of its relationship with the kingdom,” wrote Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley, the author of today’s blueprint. "A coherent, consistent interagency approach to Bahrain promoting initiatives to fight official corruption, reform the security services, and end repression of the political opposition and civil society will better serve U.S. national interests."

Four years after the mass uprisings for democratic reform in Bahrain that began on February 14, there has been little fundamental change or reform in the country. The unelected ruling family continues to control the government, key peaceful political leaders and human rights activists remain in jail on politically motivated charges and without fair trials, members of civil society are harassed and intimidated across a number of fronts, and a much-vaunted national political dialogue that began in mid-2011 has produced no real results. Parliamentary elections at the end of November 2014 were boycotted by the major opposition groups, who claimed they were unfair. In December 2014, Sheikh Ali Salman, leader of the main opposition group Al-Wefaq, was arrested on speech-related charges. Human Rights First notes that Washington’s cautious efforts in encouraging its ally to bring stability by political reform and establishing the rule of law have generally been met with a hostile response or no response at all.

The blueprint issued today during a Hill briefing hosted by Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA2), outlines a new strategy for U.S. engagement in Bahrain focused on supporting Bahraini civil society, ending corruption in the regime, and reforming the Bahraini security forces to ease sectarian tensions. Key recommendations for the U.S. government include:

  • Conduct a thorough interagency review of the bilateral relationship with Bahrain, in consolation with Bahraini civil society organizations to examine the full range of U.S. engagement with the kingdom;
  • The State Department should implement Presidential Proclamation 7750, which allows the United States to deny visas to officials believed to be involved in corruption and to their dependents;
  • The Defense Department should insist on the integration of Shias into the virtually exclusively Sunni security forces by refusing to train Sunni-only groups of officers; 
  • The White House and Defense Department should withhold further arms sales and transfers to the police and military contingent on human rights progress;
  • Senior U.S. Officials should use every opportunity to call for the release of prisoners who they believe have been jailed as a result of unfair trails for the peaceful expression of their views; and
  • U.S. embassy officials should attend trials of political opponents and human rights activists and state publicly whether or not the proceedings meet international standards.

For more information or to speak with Dooley, contact Mary Elizabeth Margolis at 212-845-5269 or margolisme@humanrightsfirst.org