U.S. Government Should Address Human Rights Concerns at Manama Dialogue

Bahrain will host the Manama Dialogue, a high-profile security conference, from October 30 to November 1. A senior delegation of U.S. officials from Congress, the State Department, and the Pentagon are expected to present on U.S. security policies. They should use the opportunity to advance a comprehensive strategy to address the grave human rights abuses in Bahrain and the region.

With the crisis in Syria, the rise of ISIL, and the conflict in Yemen, this year’s Dialogue takes place at a critical moment. Yet as the United States forges close alliances with states that restrict human rights and resist peaceful demands for inclusive government, it runs the risk of encouraging violent extremism. As President Obama reiterated at the UNGA Leaders’ Summit on Countering ISIL and Violent Extremism (CVE), a core element of CVE strategy is limiting human rights violations, which fuel violent extremism.

Bahrain is among the United States’ most repressive allies. The government continues to jail people for peacefully expressing their views, both online and offline. A Bahraini court just sentenced prominent human rights defender Zainab Al Khawaja to one year in prison for tearing up a photo of the king. Many opposition leaders jailed during the 2011 protests remain in prison as well. The lopsided sectarian makeup of security forces in Bahrain also hampers stability, thus undermining U.S. national interests in the country and the region.

Human Rights First continues to urge the U.S. government to publicly press the Bahraini regime to release its political prisoners and promote an inclusive political solution to its crisis. The U.S. delegates at the Manama Dialogue should encourage the Bahraini government to fully implement the recommendations from the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report, which would set the country on a path toward necessary reforms.

The U.S. government should not miss the opportunity, at this high-profile conference, to raise concerns about the repressive conditions in Bahrain and other countries in the region that give rise to this kind of serious violence.

For more about the role of human rights in countering violent extremism, check out our recent compilation of blueprints featuring recommendations to the U.S. government on Bahrain, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, and more.

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Published on October 23, 2015

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