On 17 November 2017, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) sent an open letter to the new United States (US) Ambassador to Bahrain, Justin Hicks Siberell, welcoming him to this new post after he formally presented his credentials to Bahrain’s king. ADHRB encourages Ambassador Siberell to uphold the commitments he made during his confirmation hearing, including those to monitor the upcoming 2018 lower house parliamentary elections; ensure a robust dialogue with the government with a view toward advancing human rights reforms; and prevent the authorities from misusing anti-terror measures and anti-terror support to “conflate legitimate political speech with terrorism.” These pledges represented a positive divergence from recent comments made by the US State Department suggesting human rights would be wholly “de-linked” from security in Bahrain, as the new ambassador has taken the position “that there need [not be] a contradiction between promotion and protection of human rights…and effective security practices which protect the population, and that is a point I will continue to emphasize … that we need to bring these two together.”
Yet, Bahrain’s human rights situation has continued to deteriorate rapidly amidst the Trump administration’s removal of conditions on multibillion-dollar arms transfers and its public commitment to end “strain” with the Bahraini government. We therefore call on Ambassador Siberell to ensure that, if these transfers are to proceed, the US will use them and other forms of defense assistance as opportunities for constructive engagement with Bahrain’s problematic security forces by attaching reform packages to reduce sectarian discrimination against the country’s Shia majority and eliminate extremism in the ranks. Furthermore, the embassy must guarantee that any such assistance is accompanied by all possible precautions to certify that weapons, equipment, and training provided to Bahraini forces are not used to perpetrate further violations or sow greater instability.
Moreover, we urge the Ambassador to press the Bahrain authorities to curb their reprisal campaign against human rights defenders; immediately release prisoners of conscience held for exercising basic rights like freedom of expression, including Nabeel Rajab, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, and Sheikh Ali Salman; and to denounce the effective criminalization of all political opposition groups ahead of the upcoming elections in 2018. He must also attend trials and visit detainees to monitor potential due process violations and serve as a potential bulwark against further mistreatment. It is imperative that America’s new ambassador work to ensure the US partnership with Bahrain is a force for ending these abuses, rather than emboldening them.
“Under the Trump administration, Bahrain’s human rights situation has plummeted to new lows, with the country’s bloodiest attack on protesters since before the Arab Spring occurring just days after the president had a ‘wonderful’ meeting with the king. This is why we’ve been cautiously optimistic about the new American ambassador, Justin Siberell, after he walked back some of the administration’s most troubling comments on Bahrain at his confirmation hearing, recognizing that the kingdom’s deliberate conflation of peaceful activism with terrorism is detrimental to regional security and stability, for example,” said Husain Abdulla, ADHRB’s executive director. “Unfortunately, the ambassador has not yet acknowledged that completely unconditional support for the Bahraini military, which is itself implicated in discrimination and abuse, muddles Washington’s message and ultimately undermines the efficacy of the security partnership. Now that he’s in Manama, he must take all possible steps to ensure those arms, and any other US assistance, do not further entrench the government’s repressive measures. Moreover, he needs to follow through on State Department calls for re-opening Bahrain’s closed civic and political space, especially in advance of the 2018 parliamentary vote, wherein US monitoring and public support will be critical to establishing even a semblance of free and fair elections. Without a strong push from the embassy – including prison and trial visits – the government will continue to criminalize even the appearance of dissent.”
Read the letter to Ambassador Siberell here.