11/23/2011

US demands accountability in Bahrain

(AFP) – WASHINGTON

The United States Wednesday called on Bahrain to punish those guilty of human rights abuses in anti-government violence this year, and said it would closely follow its ally's actions. The statement followed the publication of a special independent commission report in Bahrain that found police used "excessive force" and tortured detainees in a crackdown on the Shiite-led democracy protests in March. The White House welcomed Bahraini King Hamad's commitments to pursue reform in the wake of the report, which he commissioned to probe allegations of government misconduct and human rights abuses against protesters. "It is now incumbent upon the government of Bahrain to hold accountable those responsible for human rights violations and put in place institutional changes to ensure that such abuses do not happen again," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "King Hamad's decision to establish the commission was a courageous one, and we commend him for it."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also issued a statement praising King Hamad's initiative and expressed deep concern about human rights abuses detailed in the report. Both Carney and Clinton also noted the deep security ties between the United States and Bahrain, headquarters of the US Fifth Fleet, and hinted that future relations could be influenced by the government's actions. "Our countries have many shared, strategic interests and a relationship that includes decades of working together to defend regional security," Clinton said. "In this context, it is essential for Bahrainis themselves to resolve the issues identified in the report and move forward in a way that promotes reform, reconciliation, and stability." Carney said Bahrain was "a long-standing partner of the United States."
"We urge the government and all parties to take steps that lead to respect for universal human rights and to meaningful reforms that meet the legitimate aspirations of all Bahrainis." The report acknowledged that the commission did not find proof of an Iranian link to the unrest, dispelling widespread allegations by Sunni Gulf leaders that Tehran played a role in instigating the mainly Shiite protests. The mass demonstrations that rocked the Sunni-ruled kingdom earlier this year were violently crushed as government forces used live ammunition and heavy-handed tactics to scatter protesters.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry noted the events had been "highly traumatic" for Bahrain but said "what's important now will be accountability for the grave human rights abuses" the report detailed. The Democratic lawmaker also called for "irreversible" political reform in Bahrain, saying it "will not come easily, but it is critical for the healing process." The report said the death toll from the unrest reached 35, including five security personnel and five detainees who were tortured to death while in custody. Hundreds were also injured. The findings, which studied events in February and March, said that 11 other people were killed later. The commission concluded that a total of 2,929 people were detained during the protest movement and at least 700 remain in prison. The 500-page report said there was also evidence that Sunni Muslims "were the target of... humiliation, physical assaults, and attacks against their property."