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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Human Rights Situation in Bahrain

Michael H. Posner
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
U.S. Embassy Manama
Manama, Bahrain
June 15, 2011


Thank you all for coming. I have welcomed the opportunity to visit Bahrain. I have had a very productive set of meetings with a wide range of Bahraini officials and citizens.

Bahrain is an important partner of the United States. We have a long-standing alliance based on shared political, economic and security interests. Both countries benefit from stability and prosperity here, and from a society where all people are able to express their views peacefully and contribute to the political process. It is in this context that President Obama met with the Crown Prince last week in Washington, and welcomed his announcement of the government's intention to begin a national dialogue on reform in Bahrain next month. The challenge now will be how to initiate a dialogue that involves representative leaders on all sides and to ensure that the dialogue addresses and begins to resolve divisive issues.

I have come here as a friend of Bahrain and the Bahraini people and raised these concerns in the spirit of that friendship. We are mindful of the pressing need here for everyone in this society to begin an engagement that will start to rebuild tolerance, mutual respect and a process for navigating divisions. We understand the difficulty of this task, and we also know that no outsider can make it happen. It is for the Bahraini people to forge their own future. Yet it is important for us that Bahrain, our strategic and political partner, succeeds in this endeavor, and that we provide the Bahraini people and government whatever help we can to assist them in building a peaceful and prosperous future.

The United States and Bahrain -- and every other sovereign government in this interconnected age -- face constantly evolving security challenges. President Obama and Secretary Clinton have made clear time and again that respect for human rights and pursuit of national security interests are not in conflict; to the contrary, they are best advanced in tandem. This is the message I conveyed here this week -- in all my meetings with government officials, NGOs and a wide range of private citizens.

In recent months we have seen a clear link in this region between national stability and security and the ability of governments to meet the legitimate aspirations of their people, including the desire of people everywhere for dignity, justice, economic opportunity, universal human rights and a voice in shaping their own future.

There are several positive developments that have occurred here in recent weeks. We welcome the release of some detainees who were not charged, the restoration of some scholarships, and the reinstatement of a number of employees who were wrongfully dismissed from their jobs. We also welcome the announcement by the government that it will investigate deaths of people in custody, including one case where five prison guards are under investigation. The Government of Bahrain also has promised to investigate allegations of mistreatment of detainees in custody.

On the other hand, we continue to receive reports about some students being expelled from universities and some workers being dismissed merely because they have exercised their political rights. We remain concerned about the continued detention of a number of Bahrainis who have neither been charged nor tried, about the treatment of those people in detention, and about reports that some have been subjected to physical abuse during interrogations. I urge Bahrain to abide by its commitments to transparent judicial proceedings conducted in full accordance with both local law and Bahrain's international legal obligations. I also expressed my concerns for the government to take tangible steps to rebuild confidence and trust in the medical system.

Meaningful dialogue can only take place in a climate of respect for the freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly -- principles articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a number of treaties that Bahrain has ratified. In the coming weeks, all parties here will need to create an appropriate environment for national dialogue, and all parties must participate to forge a just future for this country.

Leadership is also required by the local media and social media. Throughout the world, we have seen how media freedom raises public awareness, identifies problems, opens discussion, and brings problems to light so that corrective action can be taken. We note with concern the arrest and in some cases continued detention of some journalists. In a number of countries around the world, the dissemination of messages of hatred have also had unfortunate consequences and have taken years for societies to heal themselves. Mindful of the peril of misinformation and misuse of media that can exacerbate divisions within society, I urge all responsible parties here to refrain from and denounce hateful speech, which can and often does lead to violence. I emphasize that in order to create positive conditions for national dialogue here , local media and social media must play a constructive role in reconciliation and cease from actions that are divisive or inciting.

I benefitted from my visit here and I look forward to sharing what I have learned with colleagues in Washington and continuing my involvement here in addressing these important issues. I welcome your questions.

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