Questions for the Nominated U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain
Since the beginning of antigovernment protests in Bahrain in 2011, the authorities there have instituted a widespread crackdown on political dissent. In dozens of well-documented cases, security forces have imprisoned and tortured activists and journalists, disbanded opposition groups, censored the internet, banned contact between political groups and foreign officials, and tightly restricted freedom of assembly.
The following are suggested questions for William V. Roebuck, the nominee for U.S. ambassador to the Kingdom of Bahrain, whose confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will take place on Wednesday, September 10.
According to Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World report, Bahrain has been ranked as Not Free for several years, and human rights conditions continued to deteriorate in the past year.
As U.S. ambassador to Bahrain, what will you do to highlight the widespread human rights abuses and systematic oppression occurring in Bahrain?
Human rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja was arrested on August 30 while entering Bahrain to visit her father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who is serving a life sentence in prison for his own human rights activism.
The U.S. State Department has expressed “concern” about Maryam’s arrest and trial, but what is the U.S. government actually doing to secure her release and that of other political prisoners, and what will you do to this end as ambassador to Bahrain?
In 2013, former director of national intelligence Dennis Blair said that “Bahrain needs the United States, from both the security and economic points of view, more than the United States needs Bahrain…. The Fifth Fleet headquarters should be moved back on board a flagship, as it was until 1993…. Permanent basing in a repressive Bahrain undermines our support for reform and is vulnerable if instability continues.”
Given the increasingly repressive nature of the Bahraini government, why is the United States still relying on the kingdom as a base for the Fifth Fleet? Has the United States begun consideration of alternatives?
What is the United States doing to ensure that the Bahraini government fulfills its commitment to implement the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which was established to examine the government’s crackdown on political protests in early 2011?
As Senator Ron Wyden has noted, the government of Bahrain canceled a planned visit by Juan Mendez, the top UN investigator on torture, and also refused entry to Rep. Jim McGovern, co-chair of Congress’s Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. What is the U.S. government doing to ensure access to Bahrain for international human rights experts, and what will you do as ambassador to bolster this effort?
What is the status of Bahrain’s “invitation” to Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, to return to the kingdom, and what “ground rules” has the Bahraini government established for the visit?
- What is the administration’s position on Bahrain’s years-long effort to change its demographic balance by granting citizenship to Sunnis from outside the country, as well as stripping citizenship from certain Bahrainis, like Maryam al-Khawaja, for political reasons?
Analyses and recommendations offered by the authors do not necessarily reflect those of Freedom House.
The recommendations by Bahrain's National Assembly to quash the August 14th protests and expand the legal justification for further suppression of political dissent constitute a serious new threat to human rights in Bahrain, particularly freedom of expression and assembly, and are a troubling development in a legal system that already has a substantial record of rights violations.
I was supposed to be in Bahrain this past weekend to lead an international freedom of expression mission with representatives of several prominent advocacy groups, including the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, the Committee to Protect Journalists, PEN International, Index on Censorship, and Reporters Without Borders. However, after approving our mission in early April, and even offering to arrange meetings with relevant officials, Bahrain’s Ministry of Human Rights and Social Development decided to deny permission for the joint mission just days before we were to depart, meaning our organizations had already incurred travel and other expenses. The letter we received cited “new guidelines” that prohibit more than one organization from visiting at a time, and assured us that this was “merely an organizational matter.” But given that this is the second time this year that Freedom House has been denied entry to Bahrain, the ministry’s explanation seems rather dubious.
If U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel truly wants to support regional stability and U.S. interests at this week’s security summit in Bahrain, he would do well to push the Bahraini government to implement political reforms.