Today, 1 November 2017, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) submitted open letters to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis raising our concerns over deepening American security ties with the Government of Bahrain and particularly Royal Guard Commander Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa – one of the king’s sons and a high-ranking military official who organized the country’s first major defense expo last month and was recently appointed to the country’s highest security body, the Supreme Defence Council. Sheikh Nasser, in addition to being deeply involved in Bahrain’s defense procurement process and international security relationships, is directly implicated in the torture of activists during the government’s violent suppression of pro-democracy protests during the Arab Spring demonstrations of 2011.
In light of the evidence against Sheikh Nasser – which was significant enough to lead the British High Court to revoke his diplomatic immunity – we call on the US Government to review his connections to gross human rights violations like torture and corruption with a view toward ensuring that American engagement with the prince does not violate US law. We urge the US to thoroughly vet any agreements that entail training or arms transfers to Sheikh Nasser’s Royal Guard unit, or to any other Bahraini unit implicated in corruption and abuse. Pending a comprehensive investigation, we additionally call on the US State Department to suspend the issuance of diplomatic visas for Sheikh Nasser and to consider following the precedent set by the UK in revoking his diplomatic immunity. Future security assistance to Bahrain should be made contingent on the outcome of such reviews and the demonstration of genuine reform progress in the kingdom.
“Sheikh Nasser’s continued engagement with US officials brings the glaring contradictions in American policy on Bahrain into stark relief. Mere months apart, we’ve seen the Secretary of State cite Bahrain for targeted religious discrimination against the country’s Shia Muslim majority community, followed by an accused torturer from the royal family openly lying about these same abuses on a trip to the US – free from fear of investigation or accountability,” said Husain Abdulla, ADHRB’s Executive Director. “Now, the US and its arms manufacturers have formally deepened ties at the prince’s military conference without any mention of human rights concerns, let alone the risk of corruption and general malfeasance. The US Government must quickly reverse course and ensure it’s not violating its own prohibitions on doing business with figures so clearly implicated in gross human rights abuse. It’s up to key leaders in the administration like Tillerson and Mattis to think long-term on Bahrain and take the necessary stand against the destabilizing influence of reckless royals like Sheikh Nasser. Genuine political reform is the only answer to Bahrain’s political crisis, and it requires strong US backing.”