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U.S. Official Misses Opportunity to Address Human Rights Issues in Bahrain

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Should Have Insisted on Substantive Improvements

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today expressed concern that U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel failed to publicly prioritize human rights in Bahrain during a major event in the kingdom.

Hagel was in Bahrain for a regional security summit that took place Dec. 6–8. Known as the Manama Dialogue, the event provided a key opportunity for the defense secretary to also meet with civil society leaders in Bahrain and stress the importance of human rights improvements. Since the protests began in February 2011, Bahraini authorities have committed widespread abuses, and the state’s continued crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators and medical personnel have led to a climate of impunity and political volatility.

“Secretary Hagel had a rare opportunity to address the ongoing human rights abuses and publicly confront Bahraini officials on their lack of progress in implementing much-needed reforms,” said Hans Hogrefe, PHR’s Washington director and chief policy officer. “Given the ongoing arrests and intimidation of human rights activists in Bahrain, the United States should not extend military exports to Bahrain until such practices cease and those responsible are held accountable for their actions. The United States must demonstrate that its public commitment to civil society and human rights is as strong as its commitment to its military presence in Bahrain and throughout the region.”

Since the start of the pro-democracy protests in 2011, Bahraini government forces have arrested, detained, and tortured many civilians, including a number of doctors and other health professionals. The Bahraini government has also deliberately targeted medical facilities and beat, tortured, and harassed health workers. While many medics have been released from prison, three remain imprisoned and others face continued discrimination. PHR recently reiterated its call to release the two nurses and a surgeon, who issued a handwritten letter from behind bars in October, highlighting the poor and overcrowded prison conditions.

PHR, which has documented Bahrain’s use of tear gas as a weapon, has also called for companies to stop exporting tear gas canisters to the kingdom until past violations are addressed, accountability mechanisms are put in place, and security forces are re-trained on the proper use of riot control agents.

Bahrain also has yet to implement most recommendations issued in the Report of the Bahrain Independent Commission Inquiry (BICI), which followed an independent investigation into the February and March 2011 events and uncovered the government’s use of torture, excessive force, and other violations. Bahrain must also be held accountable for recommendations made under its May 2012 U.N. Periodic Review, including calls for the release of human rights defenders.

“Bahrain must live up to its international obligations, including recommendations made by the U.N. Human Rights Council and the BICI report, in order to be considered a trustworthy ally and ensure that U.S. security policy in the region rests on a strong foundation,” Hogrefe said.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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