Bloomberg News

U.S. Puts Bahrain on List of Human Rights Abusers

June 16, 2011

(Updates with comment from al-Maraj in 13th paragraph.)

June 16 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. has put Bahrain, a Persian Gulf ally, in the company of Iran, North Korea, Syria and Zimbabwe on its list of human rights violators to be scrutinized by the UN Human Rights Council.

“The Bahraini government has arbitrarily detained workers and others perceived as opponents,” U.S. Ambassador Eileen Donahoe said in a statement to the council yesterday in Geneva.

Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, has tried to crush protests that have wracked the country since February, as the Shiite majority population has agitated for the Sunni Muslim monarchy to allow greater economic opportunities and freedoms.

Bahrain’s crackdown has put the U.S. in the position of speaking out against a country that is both a close ally and which received security assistance from Saudi Arabia in putting down the protests.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has repeatedly called on Bahrain to exercise restraint amid reports that it has detained doctors for treating injured protesters. President Barack Obama met with Bahrain’s crown prince last week and praised news that the country will lift the martial law declared in March.

The Bahraini government’s recent moves to end some restrictions and to start a national dialogue on reforms are “signs of hope,” Donahoe said.

Her statement also listed Belarus, China, Cuba, Iran, Libya, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen and Zimbabwe for council attention because of human rights abuses.

“The United States is deeply concerned about violent repression of peaceful protests in some countries around the world,” she said in her statement.

Official in Bahrain

She delivered the statement in Geneva on the same day that Michael Posner, the State Department’s chief human rights representative, spoke about human rights in the Bahraini capital after meeting with government officials. He expressed concern about protesters detained by security forces there.

“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,” Posner said. “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.”

The Bahraini embassy in Washington, reached by telephone, had no immediate comment.

Blaming Iran

Bahrain, a nation of 1.2 million, and neighboring Saudi Arabia, also a Sunni monarchy, have portrayed the protests as provoked by predominately Shiite Iran to destabilize the country. Bahrain asked Saudi Arabia to send in troops to help them stop the protests.

“Bahrain unfortunately has been not viewed very objectively in the media, which affected the perception outside,” Central Bank of Bahrain Governor Rasheed al-Maraj said in Manama. “Negative media reporting will always affect people who are not aware or do not have firsthand information about Bahrain.”

About 70 percent of Bahrainis are Shiite Muslims who claim they face routine discrimination over housing and jobs, and aren’t permitted to rise to top jobs in government or the military. The State Department’s 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices noted Bahrain’s response to the protests, which included widespread arrests.

Other Nations

Among the other countries cited by Donahoe, China was noted for the “growing number of arrests and detentions of lawyers, activists, bloggers, artists, religious believers, and their families, and its use of extralegal measures undermine the rule of law.”

For Iran, “we condemn in the strongest possible terms the killing of Iranian activist Haleh Sahabi at her father’s funeral,” she said.

Burma holds more than 2,000 political prisoners and routinely violates the rights of its citizens including ethnic minority populations, according to the U.S. statement.

North Korea’s government “continues to violate the human rights of its citizens and that regime’s treatment of its own people is deplorable,” Donahoe said.

Syria’s Crackdown

“The Syrian government continues to repress the legitimate demands of their people through killings, torture, and arbitrary arrests,” she said.

In Libya, she said, Muammar Qaddafi’s regime “has launched airstrikes on civilians, violently repressed demonstrations, tortured prisoners, and targeted perceived opponents and journalists, resulting in hundreds of deaths and disappearances.”

“In Yemen, hundreds of people have died and over 8,000 wounded in clashes with security forces and opposing factions in the past three months,” she said. “There are credible allegations that the government funded supporters who harassed and beat anti-government protesters.”

--With assistance from Donna Abu Nasr in Dubai. Editors: Terry Atlas, Bob Drummond

To contact the reporter on this story: Nicole Gaouette in Washington at ngaouette@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net


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