REMARKS AND INTERVIEWS 2011
Remarks by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner
This is my third visit to Bahrain in the last year, and I welcome the opportunity to get another firsthand view of recent developments here. I am especially pleased to have the opportunity to congratulate the people of Bahrain as they celebrate the Kingdom’s 40th National Day celebration tomorrow. This historic landmark is an occasion to celebrate the history and achievements of the Bahraini people from all walks of life.
In the past week, I have had the opportunity to meet with a range of senior government officials, members of the political opposition, human rights activists, lawyers, trade unionists, and journalists. I also spoke with individuals who were charged in connection with the unrest in February and March, some of whose cases are still pending.
I come here at a critical moment in Bahrain's history. Last month, King Hamad received the report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI). The report is an impressive document, as is the process that led to its publication. It is a great credit to King Hamad that he initiated the BICI process and that allowed the Commission freely free hand to conduct its activities. It is unusual for a government to invite a comprehensive external review of such sensitive matters. We strongly support the King's courage in initiating the review and his commitment to address the reforms outlined in the BICI report. We commend the Government of Bahrain for accepting the reports' essential related findings and recommendations and undertaking steps to implement needed reforms.
At the same time, the government has taken several positive initial steps to implement some of the reports' recommendations. The Ministry of Interior has referred all cases involving security personnel connected to charges of death, torture and inhumane treatment to the Public Prosecutor, and established new procedures to provide audio and visual recordings of all interrogations of detainees. The Minister of Labor has created a tripartite committee to address issues related to reinstatement of workers who were dismissed following the protests in February and March. The government has also ordered a review of the legality of the articles that established the now suspended State of National Safety in the Constitutional Court. And last week, the Minister of Interior signed a memorandum of understanding with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to allow ICRC access to Bahraini prisons. We support these positive developments and stand ready to work closely with the government and others in Bahraini society to address the remaining BICI recommendations.
In our meetings this week, we reiterated our continuing concerns about the need for tangible action on several urgent issues. These include the need for swift action on the reinstatement of workers unfairly dismissed from their jobs. We discussed our concerns about ongoing court cases against doctors, journalists, former members of parliament, and others, that appear to be based, at least in part, on their criticism of government actions and policies. We also have registered our concerns about proposed media and civil society laws, that could restrict open debate of political issues. And finally, we continue to be concerned about reports of excessive use of force, including tear gas, in response to ongoing street protests. I want to be clear that we also condemn the use of violence by demonstrators which the government has an obligation to stop. We call on all parties to refrain from the use of the violence. We see a need for improved community policing practices, crowd control procedures, and accountability for incidents of excessive use of force.
Finally, we look to encourage and to provide assistance to the Bahraini Government, and the people of Bahrain, in the implementation of these and other BICI report recommendations. We also recognize the need for a broader, future-oriented agenda that will be critical in insuring Bahrain’s continued progress.
Bahrain faces a range of challenges in building a stable economic and political future, including equality of economic opportunity, the need for legal and constitutional reforms, and an unfinished agenda for political and electoral reform. It is up to the Bahraini people to chart their future. We believe that a process of real dialogue and negotiation, in which all elements of this society have a genuine voice, would help the people and the government of Bahrain find a peaceful and productive way forward. This process will not be easy. It will not yield results overnight. But the United States stands ready to help. We urge all Bahrainis--government, political societies, civil society, and others--to join in this process and to seize this important opportunity to build a more peaceful and prosperous future.