New US Ambassador to Bahrain Steven Bondy Must Put Human Rights at the Center of US Agenda

On December 18, 2021, the United States Senate confirmed Steven C. Bondy to be the next US Ambassador to the Kingdom of Bahrain. Bahrain is an egregious and unrepentant abuser of the human rights of its own people according to the US State Department and major human rights monitoring organizations.

“In the wake of President Biden’s Summit for Democracy it is time for the United States to stop looking way and demand that the Government of Bahrain immediately put an end to violations of human rights against the Bahraini people,” said Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of Americans for democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain. “Ambassador Bondy’s top job from day one must be pressing for immediate and far-reaching improvements in human rights in Bahrain. The human rights situation in Bahrain will be the yardstick for measuring his success or failure as an ambassador.”

In September 2021, a bipartisan group of US Senators Led by Senators Ron Wyden and Marco Rubio wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling for a new paradigm in US-Bahraini relations, “We believe the U.S. must hold allies to a higher standard, just as we hold ourselves to a higher standard. . .  And we are particularly concerned that the government of Bahrain’s violent, systemic repression will breed resentment and instability, and could ultimately threaten the Navy’s Fifth Fleet and the several thousand Americans living and working on U.S. facilities in Bahrain. . . . We believe American officials must be willing to speak hard truths when friends and partners lose their way.”

Major human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have catalogued a long list of human rights abuses by the Government of Bahrain which highlight the need for a reinvigorated US response.

On December 13, 2021, Michael Page, Deputy Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch highlighted US Government inaction when he said, “Bahrain’s most prominent dissidents remain confined after more than a decade to degrading prison conditions, in part because Bahrain’s powerful allies like the United States and the United Kingdom do not speak out against Bahrain’s serious human rights violations.”

Amnesty International reports that torture in custody is common in Bahrain and is done with impunity since authorities have failed to prosecute torturers despite detainees often identifying the agency and sometimes the name and rank of the alleged torturers.  The United States has sanction laws that could be utilized to punish these torturers and deter future torture, but to date these laws have not been enforced.

“As he United States’ leading diplomat in Bahrain and the first ambassador posted to Manama by the Biden Administration, Ambassador Bondy has an opportunity to turn a new leaf in the US-Bahraini relationship by putting human rights at the center of the agenda,” said Abdulla.  “If the Bahraini government refuses to join the group of civilized nations that respect human rights, the US should begin a systematic five-year plan to disengage our strategic interests from those of Bahrain.”

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain calls on Ambassador Bondy to engage the Government of Bahrain on human rights issues immediately on arriving in Bahrain with a focus on:

  • the immediate, unconditional release of all political prisoners in Bahrain, including opposition leader Hasan Mushaima, human rights defender Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, and academic Abduljalil Alsingace
  • the Government of Bahrain to begin a meaningful dialogue with the political opposition about strengthening democratic institutions in Bahrain ahead of the 2022 parliamentary elections
  • accountability for those responsible for violations of human rights in Bahrain including high ranking officials in the Ministry of the Interior and the security forces