US Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner after a visit to Bahrain, 14 June 2012
On Wednesday, US Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner appeared before a Congressional committee examining human rights to testify about the continued volatile situation in Bahrain. Posner called on the Bahraini Government to implement three steps to clear the path for peace and a return to normalcy:
First, there are several hundred pending criminal cases related to the events of February and March 2011. Many individuals have been in detention for over a year. The government continues to prosecute 20 political activists and appeals cases are ongoing in the prosecution of respected medical professionals. In addition to the ongoing cases against doctors and nurses, we are discouraged by the Court of Appeals’ decision to issue a gag-order banning the media from reporting on trials for the 20 high-profile activists. We urge the Government of Bahrain to ensure fair and expeditious trials in appeals cases and to drop charges against all persons accused of offenses involving political expression and freedom of assembly....
Second, we call on the Government of Bahrain to hold accountable those officials responsible for the violations described in the BICI report....
Third,...further efforts need to be made to enhance the professionalization of the police. Ongoing violence in the streets between police and protesters points to the need for professional, integrated police and security forces that reflect the diversity of the communities they serve and that adopt a community policing approach.
However, Posner's statement on accountability and rights conveniently ignored notable issues. Chief among them is the continued detention of high-profile human rights activists such as Abdulhadi Alkhawaja and Nabeel Rajab, whose imprisonment has been condemned time and again by human rights organisations as punishment for their demands for open dialogue and rights for protesters who peacefully assemble.
Then there is the question of action, over which Posner and the US Government are persistent either in misunderstanding or burying their heads in the sand about the regime. There has been little indication in the past few months that the Bahraini government is interested in altering its conduct over protesters and human rights activists.
In such circumstances, words bear little weight --- diplomacy works either through incentives or pressures. If the US Government really wants its Bahraini counterpart to implement the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry's recommendations for reforms --- or even to pay heed to Posner's suggestions --- they will have to show Bahrain that the kingdom will either gain from "reform" or be punished if it does not.
When the US continues to sell weapons to Manama, why should the government of Bahrain do anything differently? What has it got to lose when there is no cost, even as it uses tear gas on civilians, as a new report by Physicians for Human Rights notes, arrests almost all high-profile activists, maintains the detention of protesters, and stalls on implementation of the BICI's recommendations.
The only leverage the White House has is a real threat to withdraw support --- the support of arms sales and other political and military links --- from Bahrain. Its alternative is no more than persisting in "suggestions" ...and hoping Bahrain's police runs out of tear gas.