Bahrain is a monarchy led by King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa, who also heads all branches of government. The king appoints a cabinet of ministers, half of whom are members of the Al Khalifa royal family. In 2002 the country adopted a constitution that instated a bicameral legislature consisting of a 40-member Shura (consultative) council appointed by the king and a 40-member elected council of representatives (Nawwab). Although citizens were not able to form political parties, the law authorized registered political societies to run candidates and participate in other political activities. In the 2006 elections, trained local observers did not report significant problems, although there were allegations that the government manipulated general polling center vote counts in some cases and gerrymandered political districts. The government restricted civil liberties, including freedoms of press, speech, assembly, association, and some religious practices. The judiciary lacked independence, and corruption was a problem. The population is predominantly Shi'a, but Sunnis dominate the security services and hold the majority of cabinet and 22 out of 40 parliament positions. The Shi'a population was routinely discriminated against. Domestic violence against women and children, trafficking in persons, and restrictions on the rights of expatriate workers remained problems.
The U.S. government works toward broadening political participation and strengthening the rule of law with the aim of achieving greater trust and cooperation among citizens, civil society, and the government. To that end, the United States continues to encourage the government's adoption of greater transparency in its policies when it deals with its population and with the international community. U.S. officials maintain close relationships with political and civil societies that are willing to engage with U.S. officials. This dialogue enables the United States to assess the views of the societies, NGOs, and other advocates of reform when establishing priorities. Through assistance and other programs, the U.S. government provides training to the government and civil societies in support of political reform.
The United States continues to support activities that improve the political environment and broaden political participation. The embassy regularly engages with and supports local civil society organizations that respect and promote the rule of law. As part of U.S. activities, the chief of mission maintains positive relationships with the leaders of political societies, including those represented in parliament and many not currently represented. The chief of mission and other U.S. officials attend the open meetings that some members of parliament hold for their constituents; at these events U.S. officials encourage political participation and address citizens' concerns with the reform process.
The United States supports the country's efforts to build an experienced, effective, and accountable parliament. In 2007 a U.S.-funded NGO, which had left the country in 2006, returned and is conducting ongoing training for parliamentarians and political societies. The U.S. government is cooperating with an international NGO to bring representatives of all parliamentary parties to the United States for consultation with the U.S. Congress and other U.S. officials in 2008. The United States also works with local NGOs to support training for journalists covering elections and parliament; a local NGO will conduct one such training program in 2008.
The United States considers judicial reform to be a high priority. Toward that goal, a U.S.-funded program embeds an experienced attorney as a consultant within the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs to facilitate greater efficiency, effectiveness, and transparency of the judicial system by analyzing current activities and promoting best practices. The government regularly lauds the program for its impact and has requested additional support to modernize further its judicial system. To respond to the government's efforts in this area, the embassy and the Ministry of Justice's Judicial and Legal Studies Institute are cooperatively examining options for additional training and capacity-building projects that improve the rule of law.
The U.S. government uses all available resources to address the problem of trafficking in persons in the country. The United States seeks to enhance the abilities of both the government and NGO sector to combat trafficking in persons through grants for capacity building, training, and awareness campaigns. U.S. officials continually stress with government officials of all levels the country's responsibilities for combating trafficking in persons, including engaging with the government to promote enforcement of the country's new antitrafficking legislation. The United States funds training for law enforcement officials, lawyers, and judges to enhance implementation of laws to combat trafficking. As part of awareness-building campaigns, U.S. officials have shown films that highlight the problem of trafficking and followed these screenings with discussions to define and discuss trafficking. In 2008 a U.S. official hosted a luncheon for government officials from sending countries that deal with trafficking victims in order to coordinate efforts locally and facilitate information exchange between those countries and the United States.
The U.S. government funds programs that address political participation; provide training to NGOs, labor groups, and government personnel; and promote the rule of law. In 2007 a local NGO used a U.S.-funded grant to draft and publish a report on the status of human rights in the country. In 2008 the embassy is working with implementers to award small grants to combat domestic violence, generate increased political awareness within the society, conduct NGO management training, and support media freedom. The U.S. government is supporting an international NGO's project to bridge the divide between the government and civil society by reforming the civil society law.
The United States seeks through a variety of means to help the country broaden political participation and improve human rights. The U.S. government focuses on civic education as a key to long-term consolidation of democracy in the country. One U.S.-funded civic education program trains teachers on a curriculum focused on the value of participation in the community and government, individual responsibility, and collective problem solving. In January 2008 the program trained 56 teachers in a two-day workshop.