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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.

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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.