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 (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.
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.
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.
- U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner reiterates calls for accountability, restraint in Bahrain (bahraincoordinatingcommittee.org)
- Ambassador Donahoe calls for reforms in Bahrain (bahraincoordinatingcommittee.org)