15 Rights Groups Urge Biden Administration to Place Human Rights “at the Centre” of US-Bahrain Foreign Policy

5 March 2021 – The Biden administration should act on the president’s campaign promises by restoring human rights “as a key feature of American diplomacy” in Bahrain and the wider Arab Gulf, in light of a dramatic deterioration in the country’s rights record during the previous U.S. administration, 15 human rights groups including the American for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) and Amnesty International and Freedom House stated in an open letter sent to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on 4 March.

The advent of the Trump administration in 2017 “heralded an unprecedented government crackdown” in Bahrain which continues to this day, with Bahrain’s rulers “emboldened” by President Trump’s public disdain for international human rights norms. In the interceding period, Bahrain has reinstated the death penalty and conducted six executions, outlawed independent media and political opposition parties and targeted political leaders, human rights defenders and other civil society figures. Trump also significantly increased arms sales to Bahrain, with exports totalling $8.5 billion during his administration, despite Bahrain’s involvement in the Saudi-led war on Yemen, described by the UN as the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis”.

The Biden administration should urge Bahrain to rescind restrictions on civil society, take genuine steps towards justice reform and the restoration of civil rights and reinstate restrictions on arms sales to Bahrain pending an improvement in the country’s rights record. U.S. officials should should also request visits with Bahraini political prisoners and publicly call for the release all those imprisoned in Bahrain for peacefully exercising their right to free expression, peaceful assembly and association, in particular the jailed leaders of Bahrain’s 2011 Arab Spring uprising including Hassan Mushaima, Abduljalil AlSingace, Abdulhadi AlKhawaja, Sheikh AlMuqdad and Abdulwahab Husain.

Read the full letter here.

Husain Abdulla, Executive Director at Americans for Democracy and Human Rights (ADHRB), commented: “The Trump era will be remembered as the bloodiest period since Bahrain’s 2011 uprising, demonstrating what happens when Bahrain’s Western allies indulge dictators and turn a blind eye to abuses. If the human rights situation in Bahrain is to improve, the Biden administration must hold the Bahrainis to account and make it clear that human rights are back on the agenda.”

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at BIRD, commented: “While the U.S professes its support for human rights around the world, geopolitical concerns have always trumped ideals when it comes to U.S policy in Bahrain. It has been a decade since Bahrain’s Arab Spring uprising and its leaders remain in exile or behind bars. Until U.S policy in Bahrain focuses on resolving the consequences of 2011 and pushing for democratic reform, the political crisis in the country will remain unresolved.”