Category Archives: U.S. Congressional Support

17 Senators and Members of Congress call for the release of Nabeel Rajab and all Bahrainis detained for crimes related to freedom of expression

August 10, 2012

His Majesty King Hamad Bin Isa AI-Khalifa
The Amiri Court, Riffa Palace
P.O. Box 555
Manama, Bahrain

Your Royal Highness,

We write to express our concern regarding Nabeel Rajab and other Bahrainis who have been prosecuted for crimes related to freedom of expression. We understand Mr. Rajab was imprisoned for calling for the resignation of the Prime Minister via Twitter, an Internet-messaging program. We respectfully request that you use your authority to order Mr. Rajab’s release under the universal principle that all citizens should have the right to peacefully express disagreement with their government.

Reports indicate many Bahrainis have been imprisoned for peaceful political activities since the start of pro-democracy demonstrations in February 2011. According to the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), the National Safety Courts convicted approximately 300 people for exercising their right to free expression and peaceful assembly. Since Your Excellency’s endorsement of the BICI report and its recommendations, Bahraini officials have repeatedly stated that individuals prosecuted for political speech would be released, and that no one would face prosecution for exercising these rights.

We recognize that the Bahraini government has taken positive steps to implement certain BICI recommendations. These steps represent important progress. However, recent charges against Nabeel Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, run counter to the government’s assurances that individuals will not be prosecuted for peaceful political speech. Bahraini authorities have prosecuted Mr. Rajab five separate times, and in each case the charges appear to have been based on peaceful dissent and peaceful protests. Mr. Rajab was sentenced to three months in prison after “tweeting” that the Prime Minister should resign.

Mr. Rajab is also facing three other active prosecutions related to “illegal gatherings;” however, reports indicate prosecutors have produced no evidence that the protests at issue were violent or threatened violence.

In sum, we remain very concerned about the ongoing prosecution of peaceful opposition activists such as Nabeel Rajab for taking part in activities protected by international law and the Bahraini Constitution, notwithstanding Your Excellency’s acceptance of the BICI recommendations and the government’s reassurances that it does not conduct political prosecutions.  We therefore respectfully urge the government to unconditionally and immediately release all Bahrainis being held for crimes related to freedom of expression.

Sincerely,

Keith Ellison, Member of Congress

Patrick Leahy, United States Senator

John Conyers, Member of Congress

Ron Wyden, United States Senator

Raul Grijalva, Member of Congress

Alcee Hastings, Member of Congress

Rush Holt, Member of Congress

Michael Honda, Member of Congress

Hank Johnson, Member of Congress

Barbara Lee, Member of Congress

Zoe Lofgren, Member of Congress

James P. McGovern, Member of Congress

James P. Moran, Member of Congress

John Olver, Member of Congress

Jared Polis, Member of Congress

Charles Rangel, Member of Congress

Jan Schakowsky, Member of Congress

Physicians for Human Rights makes recommendations to the U.S. government at hearing on Bahrain

Yesterday, the Tom Lantos Commission for Human Rights heard testimony from representatives from nonprofit organizations and activists concerned about the lack of progress on human rights reforms in Bahrain.  Richard Sollom, Deputy Director for Physicians For Human Rights, presented testimony to a standing-room-only audience of legislators, journalists, activists, and concerned citizens.

Physicians for Human Rights Identifies Human Rights Concerns in Bahrain

In his statement to the Congressional Commission (read the full statement here), Mr. Sollom identified multiple areas of concern that have arisen over the past 18 months, including

  • The targeting of doctors, including 48 medical specialists who were detained, tortured, and forced to sign false confessions.
  • The militarization of Bahrain’s health system, including the ongoing presence of government security forces inside the nation’s largest hospital, the systematic interrogation of incoming patients and visitors, and the abuse and detention of Bahrainis suspected of participating in protests.
  • The excessive use of force against Bahrainis, including the unlawfully excessive and indiscriminate use of tear gas.

Important Report Release Coincides with Testimony

On the same day as Sollom’s testimony, Physicians for Human Rights issued the report, Weaponizing Tear Gas: Bahrain’s Unprecedented Use of Toxic Chemical Agents Against Civilians.  Sollom and co-author Holly Atkinson, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and former president of PHR, interviewed more than 100 Bahraini citizens during their investigation. Their 60-page report documents the nonprofit organization’s findings, based on physical examinations and medical records.  The report found numerous injuries, miscarriages, and fatalities associated with the Bahrain government’s excessive use of tear gas.

Recommendations from Physicians for Human Rights

In his testimony, Mr. Sollom recommended that Congress support the Medical Neutrality Protection Act, H.R. 2643, legislation introduced by Representative Jim McDermott (D, Washington).

The principle of medical neutrality ensures

  • The protection of medical personnel, patients, facilities, and transport from attack or interference;
  • Unhindered access to medical care and treatment;
  • The humane treatment of all civilians; and
  • Non-discriminatory treatment of the injured and sick.

The proposed legislation would

  • Suspend non-humanitarian assistance to countries violating medical neutrality;
  • Prevent officials from receiving visas who ordered or engaged in any violation of medical neutrality;
  • Add reporting of medical neutrality violations to the annual State Department country reports;.
  • Encourage U.S. missions in foreign nations to investigate alleged violations of medical neutrality.

Mr. Sollom also recommended that the United States

  • Withhold all military assistance to Bahrain until the Government of Bahrain makes measurable progress on human rights and demilitarizes its public health care system.
  • Deny export licenses for tear gas to Bahrain until the Government adheres to U.N. guidelines for its use, investigates the weaponization of tear gas, and holds law enforcement officials accountable for the excessive use of tear gas.
  • Work with the U.N. to seek the appointment of a U.N. Special Rapporteur on Medical Neutrality.
  • Ensure that policy decisions related to Bahrain support human rights protections.

Matar Ebrahim Matar asks for U.S. Congressional support for specific reforms for Bahrain

In his testimony before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in Washington, DC yesterday, Matar Ebrahim Matar asked for Congressional support for three specific reforms he felt would bring about positive change in Bahrain: a national unity government, a Special National court, and an action plan for police reform.  The text of his remarks is below.

Good afternoon,

It is my pleasure to participate today in this hearing about the situation in my country Bahrain. First, let me thank Congress for their recognition of the struggle in Bahrain and for holding this event. I hope can reach a tangible outcome from this hearing.

Also I would like to thank Senator Wyden, Congressman McGovern and all the Representatives and Senators who have shown commitment to the case of Bahrain.

Having Assistant Secretary Mr. Michael Posner with us here is highly appreciated by me and by many Bahrainis.

Being on Capitol Hill to participate in this hearing reminds me of Abduljalil AlSingase and Nabeel Rajab. They gave congressional briefings and both of them are in prison now.

Before going into detail about the status of the BICI recommendations, let me describe for you the big picture. Based on The Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index, Bahrain is considered an authoritarian regime. This fact had been represented in BICI in a different manner. Article 50 stated that “The King enjoys broad executive powers.”

The Democracy Index also considered Bahrain an Absolute Monarchy and I believe that absolute power is an absolute devil. The King always denies this fact and calls Bahrain a Constitutional Monarchy.  Here is the root cause of our major problems. It is denial. After denial, few options remain: either to ignore all the ongoing violations and problems or to find excuses for them. No genuine step can be taken without facing the problems.

In this Index (Democracy Index) Bahrain is worse than Cuba, China and Vietnam. Many countries were progressing and the most improved country was Tunisia which jumped 53 steps. On the other hand, the most undisputed declining country in the world was Bahrain. It fell 22 steps to be one of worst 25 countries in the world.

It is difficult for this regime to respect human rights and freedoms.  If the regime is not ready to share the wealth and power, they don’t have an option except to continue oppressing the people to control the situation. Knowing this fact explains having elected members of the municipality council as part of the dismissed workers list.

Even before the uprising, it wasn’t difficult for observers to expect deterioration in Bahrain. All those who were monitoring the trial of 25 activists heard the testimonies about torture and they could imagine where things were going.

In 2010, I raised those signs of deterioration in front of Madam Secretary Hillary Clinton when she was visiting Bahrain and I asked her if there was a certain limit for the violations of human rights by a US strategic ally.  Part of Madam Secretary’s reply was to encourage to looking at the “Full side of the glass instead of just looking at the empty one.” She was talking about how Bahrain is leading the Gulf region in a different manner.  Listening to the recent speech for Madam Hilary Clinton at the Holocaust Museum when she was talking about “prevention and response strategies” for “campaigns of harassment and violence against groups of people because of their ethnic, racial, religious, or political backgrounds” in addition to her talk about “moral obligation,” I wonder, does such deterioration in the situation in Bahrain trigger revision of the current policies? Are there prevention and response strategies for the ongoing violations in Bahrain?

I’m not here to ask for help. I’m not asking the US government to fight for democracy and freedom instead of Bahrainis. The issue is not just about the moral obligation of Americans’ principles and values. It is about considering one of the most deteriorating countries a major US non-NATO ally. It is also about the obligations of running one of the most important US bases through support of such brutal regime. Does it need a lot of research for the conclusion to be reached by experts in national security and military that such regimes are not sustainable?

Comparing Bahrain with the Gulf Countries, it is hard for me to admit the fact that Bahrain is weak. It is weak in terms of economy, complicated demography, and being between two giant countries such as Saudi and Iran. It is a very bad feeling to see Bahrain used and pay the price for the ongoing conflict in the region.

Any other attempt will not solve the problem, and will just give more time to the regime to commit more violations. After more than 16 months since the imposition of martial law, and with the BICI report being there for 9 months, more violations were committed and not fewer. This is an indicator that whatever was done to implement the BICI recommendations was actually empty from its purpose and did not help to change the situation on the ground.

I don’t want to talk a lot about how the regime failed to implement most of the recommendations and vacuumed them from their purpose. For that I would like to refer you to my respected colleagues in Human Rights Watch and Physicians for Human Rights to give you their assessment. Also I would like to refer you to the recent Amnesty International report and to the documents that I have provided which thoroughly explain why we think the regime is not serious about implementing BICI’s recommendations.

To play a constructive role in this struggle, I urge Congress to support the following steps:

  • In any country that has such political trouble, the easiest solution is to bring a national unity government that includes all sides. We suggest 50:50 opposition/loyalists, led by an agreed Prime Minister. This government will be responsible for implementing BICI in full, addressing reconciliation, and promoting dialogue.
  • A Special National court, with international expertise and monitoring, shall be established to address accountability for all crimes committed since 14 February 2011 from all sides.
  • A serious action plan shall agree on police reform, like what happened in South Africa, Northern Ireland, and others, that ensures inclusive security and with immediate effect.
  • Finally, I recommend stopping all security and military engagement with Bahrain if this plan is not established.

Thanks again, it was my pleasure and honor to be here today.

[End of testimony]

Report on today’s Tom Lantos Commission for Human Rights Hearing

A hearing on the state of progress on the BICI recommendations for the Kingdom of Bahrain was held on Capitol Hill this afternoon by the Tom Lantos Commission for Human Rights.  The last time the Commission met was 14 months ago.

Who Was There

Witnesses included co-chairs Representative Jim McGovern (D, MA) and Representative Dan Burton (R, IN) and Senator Ron Wyden (D, OR).  Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, was present to testify on behalf of the U.S. State Department and the Administration.

After a brief adjournment for a congressional vote, witnesses Matar Ebrahim Matar, former Member of Bahrain’s Parliament, Leslie Campbell, Senior Associate and Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa Programs, National Democratic Institute, Tom Malinowski, Washington Director, Human Rights Watch, and Richard Sollom, Deputy Director, Physicians for Human Rights prepared to give testimony, however, I had to leave so I did not personally hear their testimonies.

Representative James Moran (D, VA) and Representative Lynn Woolsey (D, CA) were present to provide their views and ask questions of the witnesses.

The room was completely filled to capacity – standing room only — with journalists, activists, legislators, and others.  In the audience, I recognized Bahraini journalist Nada al-Wadi, Cole Beckenfeld from POMED, and Bahrain Ambassador Houda Nonoo, among others.

Testimony and video will be available on the Tom Lantos Commission for Human Rights website

Husain Abdulla of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) was not present but he entered testimony into the record and provided handouts, as did Brian Dooley of Human Rights First, and several others.  Representative McGovern also entered today’s New York Times article on excessive tear gas in Bahrain into the record.   Those submissions will be up on the Tom Lantos Commission website in a few days. A source at the meeting also told me that the video of the meeting will also be posted on the website within a few days.

What Was Said in the First Half of the Meeting

Representative McGovern stated views that were most sympathetic to the opposition.  He said he “firmly believed” U.S. arms sales and services to Bahrain should cease until significant reforms took place.  Among many improvements, he called for greater access to Bahrain for NGOs.  He was most disappointed that Nabeel Rajab had been imprisoned and called for all detainees who had not demonstrated violence to be released immediately.

Representative Burton’s views could not be more different.  He claimed that he knew the real story about Bahrain and cautioned the audience against putting too much stock in what he called “reports.”  Citing his visits to Bahrain and meetings with the Crown Prince, U.S. intelligence officers, and the Commander of the Fifth Fleet of the U.S. Navy stationed in Bahrain, he said that Bahrain had made significant progress toward reforms and that 18 of the 26 BICI recommendations had been complied with.  He also alleged that there were people from Iran who were fomenting discord in Bahrain.  Noting that he saw a number of activists in the audience, Mr. Burton said, “I think it would be a tragic mistake to predetermine if the Bahrain government has complied with the recommendations.”

Representative Woolsey was next to speak.  She stated that she too had visited Bahrain but her impressions appeared very different.  She said “I came away from that trip with a greater sense of urgency than I expected.”  Problems she cited were the trial of the medics, the use of tear gas, and the use of rubber bullets.  She stated that she opposed arms sales until real reforms had taken place: “The Government of Bahrain has started to take steps but as a passionate human rights advocate, I expect there to be real, lasting, and meaningful reform.”  She also called for increased efforts by the Bahrain government.

Senator Wyden accused the government of Bahrain of “foot dragging” and cited human rights abuses, the targeting of children, the use of tear gas, and the imprisonment of Nabeel Rajab and other political activists, and the prohibition against peaceful protests and assembly as troubling practices that had to stop.

Deputy Secretary Posner‘s remarks focused on human rights, the need for dialogue, and increased progress on the BICI recommendations.  As Representative Wolf commented, his views were moderate but basically echoed what he has stated many times before at press briefings.  He called on both the opposition and the government to take steps toward dialogue and reiterated his previous comments that human rights was a problem for Bahrain to solve.

He did claim that the violence had abated somewhat “this summer” while “nightly confrontations” between young people and the police were still taking place.  When questioned about the freedom of the press in Bahrain by Representative Moran, Mr. Posner stated that Bahrainis had access to a number of news sources, including satellite television, and were not restricted to accessing only state-run media.

Representative Woolsey asked him to clarify what he meant when he said his department “encouraged” dialogue in Bahrain and by what means, and to this, he replied that the Administration simply reiterated its commitment to both the government of Bahrain and the people of Bahrain.  “We’ve made it clear that we have some concerns about human rights and the lack of progress toward dialogue,” stated Deputy Secretary Posner.

When asked about outside influences in Bahrain, such as Iran, Posner stated “What is clear to me is that there are issues in Bahrain that have nothing at all to do with anyone outside the country and what they’re doing.”

The meeting adjourned briefly for a vote called elsewhere.

I regret that I was unable to attend the rest of the meeting, but I will post a link to the video as soon as it appears on the Tom Lantos Commission website.

Congressional Hearing on BICI to take place Wednesday, August 1

Public Congressional hearing on Bahrain

The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission will hold a hearing this Wednesday in Washington, DC to hear witnesses report on the extent to which the government of Bahrain has implemented the human rights protections recommendations made by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry in November 2011.

The hearing is open to the public and will take place in Room 2237 of the Rayburn House Office Building (second floor) on Wednesday, August 1, from 1 pm to 3 pm.

The Rayburn Office Building occupies a site southwest of the Capitol bounded by Independence Avenue, South Capitol Street, C Street S.W., and First Street S.W. (View map) in Washington, DC.

Witnesses will appear in three panels.

The witness for the first panel will be Ron Wyden, U.S. Senator for Oregon.  Senator Wyden was one of 24 senators and congressional representatives to oppose the sale of arms to Bahrain.

The witness for the second panel will be Michael Posner, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.  Mr. Posner has visited Bahrain five times in the past two years, the most recently on June 12 of this year, when he spoke to the press at the U.S. Embassy in Bahrain.

Four witnesses will testify on the third and final panel.  They will be

Matar Ebrahim Matar, former member of Bahrain’s parliament and leading member of Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, the largest political party in Bahrain.  Mr. Matar recently appeared on Al Jazeera’s television news program, The Stream (video link) to opine about the state of reforms in Bahrain.

Leslie Campbell, Senior Associate Director and Regional Director of Middle East and North Africa Programs, National Democratic Institute.  Headquartered in Washington, DC, the National Democratic Institute was formed by the U.S. government to foster movements toward democracy in foreign nations, and is funded both by taxpayers (through the State Department and other agencies) and by contributions from foreign governments (including, notably, the Kingdom of Bahrain) and donations from others.  The organization’s work in Bahrain has focused on encouraging citizen participation in elections.

Tom Walinowski, Director of Human Rights Watch.  Human Rights Watch is a New York-based nonprofit organization that has advocated for human rights in Bahrain.

Richard Sollom, Deputy Director of Physicians for Human Rights.  This organization has advocated for dismissal of charges against the Bahraini medics and has called for a cease of the indiscriminate and excessive use of tear gas in Bahrain, which has been linked to fatalities and miscarriages.  The nonprofit is based in Massachusetts.

Directions from Metro

From Union Station:

Start off going around Columbus Circle and joining 1st Street Northeast, going south. Take a left onto D Street, and shortly afterward a right onto 2nd Street Northeast.  Follow 2nd Street South until it becomes 2nd Street Southeast, then take a right onto C Street Southeast.  Follow C Street down the hill.  The Rayburn House Office Building will be the fourth large building on your right, at the bottom of the hill.

From Capitol South Station:

Start off walking north on 1st Street, and cross C Street. Take a left and walk down the hill, following C Street. The Rayburn House Office Building will be the third large building on your right, at the bottom of the hill.

From Federal Center Southwest Station:

Start off walking north on 3rd Street, and take a right at C Street.  Follow C Street to 2nd Street, then cross the road and the park. Stay on C Street across the roads, and you will see the Rayburn House Office Building on your left.

The Tom Lantos Commission is co-chaired by James P. McGovern and Frank R. Wolf.

Leahy: Arms Sale To Bahrain Sends Wrong Message

English: Official photo of Senator Patrick Lea...

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Department of State and Foreign Operations. He is the author of the Leahy Law which prohibits U.S. aid to foreign security forces that violate human rights, and of an amendment enacted last year that restricts tear gas and other crowd control items to security forces of countries undergoing democratic transition in the Middle East.

He commented on the State Department’s announcement Friday of resumption of major military sales to Bahrain:

“The U.S. and the Government of Bahrain share strategic interests, but if history has taught us anything, this is a time to demonstrate our unambiguous support for the aspirations of the Bahraini people for greater political freedom. While I am pleased that the Administration is continuing to withhold tear gas, small arms and other crowd control items from the Bahraini security forces, this arms sale sends the wrong message. The Government of Bahrain has yet to respect the Bahraini people’s legitimate demands, or to hold accountable its own police and military officers for arresting, torturing, and killing Bahraini protesters.”

Source: PR Newswire (http://s.tt/1btxY)

24 members of U.S. Congress members oppose arms sale to Bahrain until human rights conditions improve

Bahraini flags

Bahraini flags (Photo credit: Al Jazeera English)

On the first anniversary of the Bahraini uprising, twenty-four members of the United States Congress wrote to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to express their opposition to the sale of arms by the United States to the Kingdom of Bahrain while human rights abuses are ongoing.

Here is the text of the letter:

February 14,2012

The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Clinton:

We are writing to express our opposition to the Administration’s decision to move forward with the sale of a limited number of military items and services to Bahrain. We believe that any such sale at this time sends the wrong signal to Bahrain and to the world about America’s commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights.
We recognize the limited nature of the sales, and we acknowledge that the Bahraini government has taken some positive steps with respect to human rights in recent months. However, it has not done enough to justify the sale of any military items or services to Bahrain. Moreover, if the Administration wishes to reward the Bahraini government for any progress, there are other methods that do not involve strengthening the Bahraini military or security forces.

Tragically, even a brief survey of reports from reliable sources makes clear that the Bahraini government continues to perpetrate significant human rights violations. For example, at least 10 people have died as a result of violence perpetrated by the government – including two from teargas exposure – since the release of the report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry in November. The government also continues to use excessive force to suppress protests.

In addition, the Bahraini government continues to carry out politically motivated prosecutions of medical professionals who provided emergency medical treatment to protesters. In fact, it is noteworthy that the Bahraini government has pursued prosecutions against protesters far more aggressively than it has pursued prosecutions against senior government officials or security forces who have been responsible for grave abuses over the past year.

We are deeply concerned that the Government of Bahrain is trying to shield itself from scrutiny. In the last three weeks alone, Bahrain has denied entry to prominent independent human rights monitors, including Brian Dooley of Human Rights First and Richard Sollom of Physicians for Human Rights. These denials came after Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed AI Khalifa indicated in October that Bahrain would not deny entry to representatives from non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

In light of this reality, we continue to oppose the sale of all military items and services to Bahrain until there is more substantive and permanent progress on human rights. We believe that our position not only supports human rights in Bahrain, but is also truly in the long-term interest of the United States.

Sincerely,

Ron Wyden, United States Senator
James P. McGovern, Member of Congress
Barbara Boxer, United States Senator
John Conyers, Jr., Member of Congress
Jeff Merkley, United States Senator
Peter A. DeFazio, Member of Congress
Keith Ellison, Member of Congress
Bob Filner, Member of Congress
Raul M. Grijalva, Member of Congress
Janice Hahn, Member of Congress
Rush D. Holt, Member of Congress
Michael M. Honda, Member of Congress
Jesse L. Jackson, Jr., Member of Congress
Barbara Lee, Member of Congress
Jim McDermott, Member of Congress
James P. Moran, Member of Congress
John W. Olver, Member of Congress
Janice D. Schakowsky, Member of Congress
Pete Stark, Member of Congress
Maxine Walters, Member of Congress
Lynn C. Woolsey, Member of Congress
Tom Harkin, United States Senator
Robert Mendendez, United States Senator
Sherrod Brown, United States Senator

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern: Statement on Bahrain

English: Congressional portrait of U.S. Congre...

Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA-03) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern: Statement on Bahrain
Friday February 10, 2012

Washington—Congressman James P. McGovern (D-MA) today urged the Bahraini government to allow Bahrainis to assemble and express their political views on February 14 in commemoration of the one-year anniversary of the outbreak of major demonstrations in Bahrain.

Congressman McGovern also urged the Bahraini security forces and Bahraini protesters to refrain from the use of violence on the anniversary. Violence by either side only serves to strengthen those opposed to genuine peace and reconciliation.

“The rights to assemble peaceably and express political views are fundamental human rights,” said Congressman McGovern. “The Bahraini government should respect these critical rights, and all Bahrainis should reject the use of violence.”

Congressman McGovern is Co-Chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.