Bahrain Two Years Laterby Senator Ron Wyden
Posted on 2013-02-14
WYDEN. Mr. President, 2 years ago today thousands of Bahrainis
took to the streets to call for political reform and an end to ongoing
human rights abuses in their country. The government responded to these
peaceful demonstrations not by addressing grievances or offering to
work with the aggrieved, but by unleashing its state security forces
upon them. The security forces fired on the protesters with tear gas
and live ammunition; although many protesters were rounded up,
arrested, and tortured, their spirit would not be broken.
I am deeply disappointed that the government of Bahrain continues to stall, to stonewall, and to stymie any progress on addressing the root causes of the protesters' grievances. I shared the initial hopes of many Bahrainis, who viewed the establishment of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, BICI, as a positive step on behalf of the government. I was encouraged when the final BICI report detailed the government's systemic use of intimidation, violence, abuse, and detention that documenting these abuses would lead to real reform. As outlined in the BICI report, over the weeks and months of its initial crackdown, more than 30 protesters were killed, nearly 1,800 were tortured, and 4,500 were fired from their jobs. Religious sites were destroyed and doctors who treated injured protesters were arrested, tortured, and imprisoned.
The Bahraini government has spent considerable time and resources to convince the world that progress has been made, but I am sorry to say that the facts do not bear this out. Banning peaceful protests is not progress. Using tear gas as a weapon is not progress. Shooting teenagers is not progress. There is, quite frankly, little to be optimistic about if one examines the regime's track record over the last 2 years. According to the Project on Middle East Democracy, POMED, the government of Bahrain has only fully implemented three of 26 recommendations in the BICI report. Even worse, POMED found no meaningful progress whatsoever toward six of the BICI recommendations. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights similarly finds that the government of Bahrain has taken only superficial steps ``while continuing to commit the same human rights violations.'' Although the Bahraini government offered to engage in a national dialogue, my staff and I have read reports that the government may only be planning to moderate a discussion between political parties, rather than act as a full and productive participant in the dialogue. I sincerely hope that is not the case, and I call on the government of Bahrain to live up to its rhetoric, engage in genuine and sustained dialogue, and work to see that real progress is made. As a first step to restoring some of the trust it has lost, the Bahraini government should immediately implement all 26 BICI report recommendations and immediately release all political prisoners in Bahrain.
After 2 years, surely the government of Bahrain is tired of fighting its own [[Page S766]] people--people who wish nothing more than to have a greater voice in their political process. The government may be surprised that this fight has lasted 2 years, but I am not. My staff and I have met with some of them and know them to be passionate, devoted to their cause, and willing to face continued persecution for what they believe.
Sometimes folks ask me why I care so much about such a small island country or why America should concern itself with Bahrain's internal politics. I explain to them that Bahrain may be small, but that it is a key ally in a troubled and volatile region. I also explain that the regime's current strategy of violence and repression is bound for failure, and that Bahrain must reform to remain stable. If America has learned anything in the last few decades it is that continuing to support governments that use violence, torture and repression to stifle dissent is short sighted. Washington must instead use what influence it has to push such countries toward more representative forms of government, not just because it is the right thing to do for the citizens of those countries, but because it is the right thing to do for this country. That is why this issue remains so important to me and why I hope that next year, on this date, I can come to the Senate floor and talk about the many new reforms in place instead of the Bahraini government's continued repression of its people.