from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Accountability in Bahrain

September 1, 2015

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The continuing crisis in Bahrain is leading to bipartisan Congressional efforts to bring American pressure to bear--and to keep the United States away from involvement in repression there.

Senators Marco Rubio and Ron Wyden, a Republican and a Democrat, have introduced S. 2009, which would bar selling or giving to Bahrain materiel that could be used not for national security but for internal repression: "(1) Tear gas, (2) Small arms, (3) Light weapons, (4) Ammunition for small arms and light weapons, (5) Humvees, (6) Other items that could reasonably be used for crowd control purposes."

The bill is entitled ‘‘The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) Accountability Act of 2015," a reference to the Commission that in 2011 made 26 sensible suggestions for addressing Bahrain’s deep social and political divisions between the Sunni royal family and the majority Shia population. The King’s apparent willingness, back then, to adopt the Commission’s report was the last moment of real optimism that Bahrain was on the road back to social peace. But alas the government did not follow through, and S. 2009 says that until it does American weapons should not be used against peaceful demonstrators. The government must be held accountable, the bill says, and none of the listed arms may be sold to it "until the Secretary of State certifies that the Government of Bahrain has fully implemented all 26 recommendations set forth in the 2011 Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report."

Rep. Jim McGovern has announced that he will introduce a companion measure in the House.

The usual objection to such efforts is that we have real national security reasons to remain close to the government of Bahrain: the Fifth Fleet is based there, and Bahrain is an ally against Iran and against ISIS. But those are the very reasons why we should be concerned about the ever-deepening divisions there, and the real repression (much of it recounted in S. 2009’s findings). The government’s treatment of the Shia is opening a huge opportunity for Iran, and is assuring that internal stability is at risk. This is what threatens our future use of the base in Bahrain, not congressional action to protect the United States from involvement in repression of peaceful dissent there.

 

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