Kerry Urged to Raise Human Rights Concerns in Bahrain
Washington, D.C. – In advance of Secretary of State John Kerry’s trip to Bahrain this week, Human Rights First today called on Kerry to publicly raise concerns over the Bahraini government’s continued human rights abuses, including the targeting and imprisonment of human rights activists and peaceful dissidents. The secretary’s visit precedes President Obama’s participation in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) meeting scheduled to take place in Saudi Arabia later this month.
“Secretary Kerry’s trip will test the validity of the administration’s rhetoric about standing with local civil societies,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “Will the secretary downplay the regime’s human rights abuses and praise its fake reform, or will he meet with civil society leaders and publicly name some of the prisoners who shouldn’t be in jail?”
Secretary Kerry’s trip comes just three weeks after prominent Bahraini human rights defender Zainab Al Khawaja was jailed for more than three years for a series of non-violent protests against the regime. The State Department issued a weak response to Al Khawaja’s imprisonment, failing to echo their previous calls for the charges to be dropped.
Since the 2011 violent government crackdown on mass protests calling for democratic reform in Bahrain, the United States has failed to back up rhetoric in support of human rights and civil society with action, and downplayed these priorities in favor of short-term military objectives. A recent Human Rights First blueprint outlines recommendations for the U.S. government to support civil society and strengthen respect for human rights, including publicly reaffirming President Obama’s call to Bahrain in May 2011 that “The only way forward is for the government and the opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail.”
Human Rights First’s interviews with Bahraini activists and civil society leaders revealed an enduring human rights crisis in the country, marked by denial of basic rights including freedom of association, assembly, and expression, arbitrary arrests and torture of human rights activists and opposition leaders, and a failure to hold senior officials accountable for the torture and killings that occurred during the 2011 crackdown.