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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.
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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]

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.

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.