Statement and Questions and Answers in Bahrain with Assistant Secretary of State Posner

Translation available: بالعربية

This is my third visit to Bahrain in the last year, and I welcome the opportunity to get another firsthand view of recent developments here. I am especially pleased to have the opportunity to congratulate the people of Bahrain as they celebrate the Kingdom’s 40th National Day celebration tomorrow. This historic landmark is an occasion to celebrate the history and achievements of the Bahraini people from all walks of life.

In the past week, I have had the opportunity to meet with a range of senior government officials, members of the political opposition, human rights activists, lawyers, trade unionists, and journalists. I also spoke with individuals who were charged in connection with the unrest in February and March, some of whose cases are still pending.

I come here at a critical moment in Bahrain’s history. Last month, King Hamad received the report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI). The report is an impressive document, as is the process that led to its publication. It is a great credit to King Hamad that he initiated the BICI process and that allowed the Commission freely free hand to conduct its activities. It is unusual for a government to invite a comprehensive external review of such sensitive matters. We strongly support the King’s courage in initiating the review and his commitment to address the reforms outlined in the BICI report. We commend the Government of Bahrain for accepting the reports’ essential related findings and recommendations and undertaking steps to implement needed reforms.

At the same time, the government has taken several positive initial steps to implement some of the reports’ recommendations. The Ministry of Interior has referred all cases involving security personnel connected to charges of death, torture and inhumane treatment to the Public Prosecutor, and established new procedures to provide audio and visual recordings of all interrogations of detainees. The Minister of Labor has created a tripartite committee to address issues related to reinstatement of workers who were dismissed following the protests in February and March. The government has also ordered a review of the legality of the articles that established the now suspended State of National Safety in the Constitutional Court. And last week, the Minister of Interior signed a memorandum of understanding with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to allow ICRC access to Bahraini prisons. We support these positive developments and stand ready to work closely with the government and others in Bahraini society to address the remaining BICI recommendations.

In our meetings this week, we reiterated our continuing concerns about the need for tangible action on several urgent issues. These include the need for swift action on the reinstatement of workers unfairly dismissed from their jobs. We discussed our concerns about ongoing court cases against doctors, journalists, former members of parliament, and others, that appear to be based, at least in part, on their criticism of government actions and policies. We also have registered our concerns about proposed media and civil society laws, that could restrict open debate of political issues. And finally, we continue to be concerned about reports of excessive use of force, including tear gas, in response to ongoing street protests. I want to be clear that we also condemn the use of violence by demonstrators which the government has an obligation to stop. We call on all parties to refrain from the use of the violence. We see a need for improved community policing practices, crowd control procedures, and accountability for incidents of excessive use of force.

Finally, we look to encourage and to provide assistance to the Bahraini Government, and the people of Bahrain, in the implementation of these and other BICI report recommendations. We also recognize the need for a broader, future-oriented agenda that will be critical in insuring Bahrain’s continued progress.

Bahrain faces a range of challenges in building a stable economic and political future, including equality of economic opportunity, the need for legal and constitutional reforms, and an unfinished agenda for political and electoral reform. It is up to the Bahraini people to chart their future. We believe that a process of real dialogue and negotiation, in which all elements of this society have a genuine voice, would help the people and the government of Bahrain find a peaceful and productive way forward. This process will not be easy. It will not yield results overnight. But the United States stands ready to help. We urge all Bahrainis–government, political societies, civil society, and others–to join in this process and to seize this important opportunity to build a more peaceful and prosperous future.

Thank you.. Let me take questions please.

Question: My name is Tamam Abou Safi from Radio Sawa.. My first question is about what kind of role can the United States play in this Bahrain’s situation and you mentioned the U.S. is ready to help.. My second question, Sir, now 9 months since (inaudible) in Syria.. more than 6,000 people killed and we know the situation, Syria didn’t have oil same Libya it’s not next to Saudi Arabia so that they get attention from west country but still they are next to Israel and we know how much it’s concerned about Iranian militias and weapons and all these things, but is this enough reason to support them this way? 6,000 people killed.

A/S Posner: Well let me take the first question first, as I said in my statement, the political dialogue, the political future of this country is in the hands of the Bahraini people. We stand ready to be helpful in that process but it needs to be led by and involve people in this society. There are a range of ways in which we might be helpful in supporting civil society, supporting trainings of various sorts. We’re ready to be engaged in ways that the government and people here invite that engagement, but we’re very clear that this is about the people of this society, in government and outside, shaping their own destiny..

With regard to Syria.. you’re.. we have been engaged, and I’ve been personally engaged for months, in trying to create a.. enough political, diplomatic, economic pressure on the government to step down we’ve said for months now that the Assad government should step down, they’re not fit to lead. We’ve condemned the violence in the strongest possible terms. The images to every day now of people standing on the street and being killed are horrifying and outrageous.. We continue to look for a way forward and were very encouraged by the recent actions by the Arab league, but more needs to be done and hopefully there can be a resolution of the current situation in a way that avoids further bloodshed.

Question: My name is Reem Khalifa. I’m AP correspondent in Manama. I have two questions: the first question is regarding Bassouni’s report; how the U.S. administration will assure the implementation of the report in the long run and second question is also how do you view the current situation in Bahrain after the Bassiouni report especially that clashes are still going between youth protesters and security forces and just now in occupying Budaiya Highway.. They used extensive tear gas.. Also the doctors’ trials are still going on and they are still banned from practice and banned from travelling.. thank you..

A/S Posner: On the question of how to ensure implementation of the Bassiouni report, we.. again.. this is a matter in which the government has created a committee; a commission to essentially review the recommendations and to come up with an implementation plan.. The committee whose chair we met and several other members will.. is charged with reporting back by the end of February. My visit here, various other efforts have.. people in our embassy and others in our government are to encourage the full implementation of the Bassiouni report recommendations. As I said in my opening statement some of those recommendations have now been met, a number have yet to be met, and we will continue to monitor and encourage and where possible provide help to making that a successful conclusion.

It is only.. The Bassiouni report addresses a set of issues which are very important for addressing things that have happened in this country over the last 9 or 10 months. They don’t address the full range of things going forward and if Bahrain.. we see there an opportunity now for the government of Bahrain and the political opposition and civil society to seize the moment to engage seriously in addressing that future agenda, it involves economic, legal and political questions and we very much encourage the people in this country, both inside of government and out, to be engaged in that process.

With respect to.. I think your third question was about the doctors?

AP Correspondent: The doctors and the protests still going and the extensive violence. You mentioned in your remarks that you are concerned about that.

A/S Posner: Well.. Okay..I’ll answer both of those and then go on. The doctor’s case again as I said in my opening statement is of concern to us both because of the way in which the case was handled, the arrests were handled, the fact that they have given testimony, that they provided confessions under duress, that they were physically abused, that they were denied access to lawyers or fair trial, the government has agreed to.. has moved those cases out of the court of national safety and has agreed to review the charges. We very much urge them to conduct a thorough going review and very much hope that those cases can be resolved in a positive way. The fact is that you say there are still demonstrations going on and we both condemn the violence by protestors, use of Molotov cocktails and projectiles and oil on the streets and at the same time we strongly urge the government to restrain the use of force and to.. and to respond appropriately with as little use of force as possible.

Yes please. Where are you from?

Question: Sandeep from the Gulf Daily News: you mentioned about your meeting with political opposition members, could you actually give us elaborate of what those meetings had discussed.. whether you spoke about engaging them to sit on the table with the government to negotiate.. you know.. reach certain solutions.. And secondly, how does U.S. see the human rights record in Bahrain, with what had happened so far?

A/S Posner: Well, on the first question, we engaged with a range of representatives of political opposition and encouraged all of them really to be active participants in a dialogue negotiation over the future, as I said in opening statement, again, this is a.. an opportune moment because of the Bassiouni report, because there has been so much focus on what’s happened in the last several months, as those issues are addressed there needs to be a parallel look to the future, and people in the society the more there is engagement the more the different political actors are involved in a constrictive active process that looks to find a political solution going forward or political path the greater likely hood of success in the society.

Yes Please. Oh and you asked about how we view, you know, there isn’t simple answer to the question, we will produce in a couple of moths time, a few months time, our annual report on human rights practices which will cover the year 2011, but truly it’s, I think I’m not going to say in a sentence what the situation here, there is both some very troubling things that we’ve seen but also some encouraging responses and in particular the commissioning and the response to the Bassiouni report represents to us a step forward.

Yes please.

Question: Alexander from Bahrain News Agency: We’d like to know from your Excellency what the U.S. Government is looking at when you say that it stands to support the Bahraini Government. What are the measures that you are playing, and also on the use of.. what people talk about excessive use of force by the police, what plans are, or what measures would the U.S. Government adopt to tell the Bahraini Government on, you know, on an ongoing basis as to what could be done..

A/S Posner: You know, I think we have to be careful in not over-interpreting what we mean when we say we stand ready to help. We are not here to dictate to the government or anybody else in this society the right way to do things. We come here as part of a principled engagement in the world which is part of the Obama Administration.. approached every country. We come here based on a commitment to universal human rights principals which are contained in the universal declaration of human rights in various treaties, many of which the Government of Bahrain has endorsed and ratified.

In the context of that and in the context of the various recommendations that are now being discussed in the Bassiouni report, what we’ve offered is to be helpful to the extent the government invites that help on issues for example like crowd control, community policing, we have some experience, it’s not the only experience, but we’ve offered an expert to perhaps advise the government and offer some comparative experience. We’re certainly eager to work with civil society with the media with others outside of government.. as we do.. my bureau in the State Department engages with civil society in a range of countries and we’re very eager to see an opening up of the media for there to be.. you know.. total ability for people to operate freely, there is an active media.. You’re all here which is great, we want to encourage that to continue, we also want to encourage civil society to play an active role.

Question: Hussain Al-Sari from Al-Ayam newspaper.. Bahrain has recently established the Ministry of Human Rights and Social Development. I would like.. can you please elaborate on this and have you met any representative of this ministry and what’s the outcome?

A/S Posner: Yes, we had a good meeting with that ministry as I did in June and we met I think 6 or 7 ministers in the government really got a broad view of what’s happening. I think one of the things we discussed with that ministry is the universal periodic review, the report to the UN which will be due in the spring of next year. It’ll be the second time Bahrain is reporting to the UN under this procedure, every government in the world does, as the United States did last year. And so we talked comparatively on how do you do this and how do you engage a broader swath of society here in the preparation and presentation of that report. We also talked about a range of things relating to some of what I described already, the process of engagement and reconciliation… so it was a good constructive discussion. Yes please.

Question: Mohammed Alghasra from CNN Arabic.. just there is.. what’s your vision about opposition ask for elected government and government is reject any of this obligation and the demonstration is going on and protesters in the street. Is there any recommendation you are going to give or something. Second question, there is another party, the Sunni party which ask for they said the US is a side with the Shi’a or opposition and not with them and so there are many demands asking to be a neutral.. (inaudible)

A/S Posner: Sure, we.. again.. the decision about the political future of this country rests with the people in this country. It’s important and I think everyone will benefit for there to be a.. an honest, open, constructive discussion among all points of view in the society, all communities and we encourage that.. We’ve encouraged it both with the government and with the opposition parties. They.. You all, people living in this country will decide your future, but there is a moment of opportunity here, for there to be a beginning of a discussion about those issues and ultimately they’ll make a decision about how to proceed. We did meet with the party that I think you’re talking about and again.. We.. We’re encouraged by the fact that there is an opening up both in the Sunni and Shi’a community of different points of view and different parties, that’s a good thing, it’s a healthy thing and again we encourage multiple views to be part of that process of political dialogue and ultimately reconciliation.

Please go ahead.

Question: Thousands of people have been dismissed from their jobs.. Mansoora Al-Jamri from Al-Wasat newspaper.. Have there been anything (inaudible) dismissed from their jobs and the process is still going.. More people are being dismissed, so have you reached an agreement or anything to at least to stop such violations?

A/S Posner: Let me be clear that we’re.. You know.. We’re not here negotiating for agreements, we’re here to listen, to learn, to engage with both the government and people outside to get a sense of where things are.. and so in that regard we met with the minister of labor, we also met with the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions, there are a range of cases as you say of people who’ve been dismissed both in private companies and in the public sector, some have been reinstated, many have not, it’s one of the things that we certainly hope to see progress on. And we had I would say good, frank discussions about the status of those cases and the steps forward. It’s something that we’ll be following very closely and very much hope that there will be progress.

Question: Would you consider the Manama Document which was presented by the opposition and the 7 principles that was presented by the conference before the crisis. Would you really encourage this (inaudible) to be a start for reconciliation for Bahrain’s future?

A/S Posner: You know I think our view has been .. again,, this is not for us to endorse any document or set of principles. What we have encouraged is creative, active efforts both by the government and by the political opposition to find a way to get to the table , to have an open discussion with an open agenda that leads to constructive conversation about the issues that matter to people in this country. The process of starting that dialogue is the first step and then it’s up to the parties to come together and figure out what the framework is , what the principles are, and to find a way forward.

Voice: Thank you for your time. Thank you all for coming..

Question: When the dialogue will be started?

A/S Posner: (laughter) I think you have to ask the parties.


Thank you .. Thank you sir..

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