The Kingdom of Bahrain which hosts the Fifth Fleet serves as a pillar of US regional security strategy in the Gulf region, according to a senior US official.
“For more than 60 years, the United States military has worked closely with its Bahraini counterparts,” Assistant US Secretary of State Michael H. Posner, said.
Posner has affirmed that Bahrain now is more stable than it was a year ago, praising the government of Bahrain’s bold initiative to invite international expert Cherif Bassiouni to chair the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI).
In a statement made during a hearing hosted by Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Posner said that His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa “deserves great credit” for establishing BICI, whose process was “unprecedented both in its scope and the unfettered access the BICI team were granted,” and allowing it to take a critical look at Bahrain’s human rights record and report so extensively on its findings.
He also commended HM the King’s acceptance and commitment to implement the recommendations of the BICI report.
He also indicated that violence has subsided this summer as a result of those positive initiatives.
Concerning the implementation of BICI recommendations, Posner commended the steps taken by the government in this regard, particularly in the period leading up to the release of the National Commission report in March 2012, and said that his country, as a friend, encourages the kingdom to “fulfill its commitment to fully implement the recommendations of the BICI report,” admitting that “full implementation takes time.”
He also said that the Government of Bahrain has taken many important steps toward the long-term institutional reforms identified in the report, such as removing arrest authority from the National Security Agency, drafting legislation concerning the investigation and prosecution of torture, drafting a code of conduct for police based on international best practices.
He also stated that the Government allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross access to its prisons, begun to rebuild religious sites, and engaged a team of qualified experts to advise on policing and legal reforms.
“These are signs of the government’s commitment to address the underlying cause of last year’s violence,” he noted.
He also said that the Government of Bahrain needs to take action on the full range of other BICI recommendations in order to lay the foundation for longer-term reform and reconciliation, ensure fair and expeditious trials in the court of appeals, noting that there is much work to be done in order to address the repercussions of last year’s events and restore the Bahrain’s pioneering regional reputation.
Posner also said that comparing the situation in Bahrain to those in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya is invalid, explaining that “it also is very important to recognize the unique history and political and economic development in each of these countries.”
Posner also pointed out to President Obama’s statement that stable, democratic societies make the best partners and allies, adding that “while there is no single path or timetable to forging a real democracy, there are a core set of underlying principles that, as Secretary Clinton recently noted ‘have to be enshrined not only in the constitution, not only in the institutions of government, but in the hearts and minds of the people’.”
He also underlined the importance of the partnership with Bahrain, adding that “US–Bahrain relationship is particularly important in the face of rising threats from Iran.”
Posner also asserted that his country’s longstanding alliance with Bahrain is based on shared political, economic, and security interests, noting that “because of this important strategic relationship that we have devoted so much attention to Bahrain in the last 18 months.”
He also said last year’s violent demonstrations were traumatic to all segments of Bahraini society, adding that the country is struggling to regain its equilibrium as violence dropped significantly.
He also said that friends and partners of Bahrain must be objective and straightforward in assessing the situation in the kingdom, adding that he has visited the country five times over the past 18 months and held meetings with senior officials, lawyers, journalists, medical professionals, civil society groups, human rights advocates and a number of political associations.
Posner also said that despite positive accomplishments attained by the kingdom recently, his last visit in June revealed daily confrontations, many of which end in violence from the part of demonstrators.
He also referred to the discovery of sophisticated bomb-making materials in Salmabad and Hamad Town.
Posner also pointed out to the right of protest guaranteed by the kingdom, urging “Al-Wefaq and others who organize demonstrations to do their utmost to ensure that those gatherings remain peaceful,” adding that the government announced it will conduct a study to identify suitable locations for protests away from the centre of capital.
On the call for dialogue initiated by His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander, since the beginning of the incidents, Michael H. Posner said that “dialogue and negotiation can only occur among Bahrainis themselves”, adding that the USA, as a friend and partner of Bahrain, encourages all dialogue initiatives.
He also said there is evidence that Bahrain is moving toward a negotiated political agreement on issues such as the powers of parliament and electoral districting, reiterating his country’s support for any serious and constructive dialogue in order to build national consensus on the kingdom’s political future and strengthen its economy so as to remain a stable and prosperous ally to the USA.
“We continue to encourage the government, all political organizations, and civil society to come to the table for a broad, open negotiation about the political future of the country, without preconditions,” he also said.
He also praised the success of Tripartite Committee’s work with the International Labour Organization (ILO), Bahraini employers, the Bahrain Federation of Trade Unions, and the Ministry of Labour to reinstate more than 2,000 dismissed workers.
Posner also pointed to the issue of public safety and policing practices, hailing the “encouraging” steps undertaken by the Ministry of Interior to initiate institutional reforms that will make the police more accountable and professional.
He also described the change in leadership in the police under General Tariq al Hassan, a career police officer, as an “encouraging sign.”
He also praised the Interior Ministry’s plan to hire 500 new officers who represent all elements of Bahraini society and commended the Minister of the Interior’s announcement that his office will launch investigations into the human rights violations by police officers documented in the BICI report.
He also praised the Government of Bahrain’s policy to develop policing in the kingdom, but condemned the use of Molotov cocktails and other violent measures by some demonstrators against police officers.
He also said that genuine dialogue is required so as to establish trust between security bodies and society, encouraging the government to take the lead in establishing a forum or a process – perhaps with outside technical facilitation – for discussion of public safety and policing practices.
“For such a process to work, citizens, community and religious leaders, and civil society organizations must be willing to engage with the government and the police to begin rebuilding the trust that will lead to genuine stability and peace in Bahraini communities,” he said.
Posner said that the USA, as a friend and ally, aims is to encourage all sides in Bahrain to come to the table so that meaningful dialogue and negotiation can get underway in a process that will begin to heal divisions within the society and set Bahrain on a course towards greater freedom and prosperity for all Bahrainis, reiterating his country’s readiness to support the government and the people of Bahrain as they seek pathways toward meaningful dialogue about the future of the country.