Perceptions from the Lantos Commission Hearing

August 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

On Wednesday, with some trepidation, I attended a hearing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on the implementation of the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry as a member of the audience. The individuals invited to give testimony represented a veritable “who’s who” of critics of Bahrain in Washington. As expected, some of these individuals made inaccurate statements and drew inapposite comparisons about the situation in Bahrain. I am concerned that members of Congress, and the American public, who may be unfamiliar with the facts are being provided a singular narrative, misinformed and exaggerated by campaigning activists.

But the hearing was not all unproductive. I was very pleasantly surprised that a few participants took a nuanced view of the facts on the ground and elucidated what those facts mean for U.S. policy. I can highlight one instance here: those who conducted recent multi-stakeholder consultations in Bahrain highlighted the opposition’s failure to join in dialogue with HRH the Crown Prince during the unrest as a significant error. As one participant noted, HRH the Crown Prince’s proposals of 13 March 2011 went significantly beyond anything ever before. At the time, these proposals were accepted by a majority of the relevant parties save one. The rejectionist stance by this single group, as the BICI Report itself noted, had catastrophic consequences and constituted a missed opportunity of major proportion: “If HRH the Crown Prince’s initiative and proposals had been accepted at the time, it could have paved the way for significant constitutional, political and socio-economic reforms and precluded the ensuing negative consequences.” (paragraph 1692). It is vital that the American public and policy establishment appreciate that no lasting solution can emerge from those who reject inclusive dialogue and boycott Parliamentary process but rather escalate tensions and attempt to control the law by controlling the street.

In order to make future U.S. deliberations on Bahrain more beneficial from a policy standpoint, I would recommend including persons with direct knowledge of the facts on the ground and of the Government’s efforts in implementing the BICI recommendations in Bahrain. One such person who cannot be said to have a “dog in the fight” is Dr. Cherif Bassiouni – the Chairperson of the BICI and a former Nobel Peace Prize nominee. I understand he was invited to appear but unable to attend due to scheduling difficulties. I suggest in future the Lantos Commission staff make greater efforts at either establishing a schedule to accommodate uninterested but well-informed persons or include someone in a position to make authoritative comments.

The Ministry of Justice’s BICI Follow-up Unit is headed by Ms. Dana al-Zayani. Her team recently released its interim report in June detailing the significant actions taken by the government over the past eight months. This report was not made part of Wednesday’s record nor were its contents reflected in the proceedings. By inviting someone from the Follow-up Unit, or a member of the National Commission tasked with the initial responsibility of implementing the recommendations, members of Congress would have been able to address their concerns directly with empowered persons. These persons would also be in a position to challenge the unfounded testimony and accusations of some of the other interested witnesses.

Credibility in international relations depends on reciprocity and mutual respect. This requires that statements are meticulously checked for factual accuracy, for without the facts there can be no credibility. The Kingdom of Bahrain values its long-standing relationship with the United States and shares this great country’s steadfast commitment to the cause of universal human rights. Our countries have shared a close cooperative relationship ever since my country’s independence some forty years ago. We have always maintained the highest levels of cordiality and frankness in our communications. In the customary spirit of good relations between our nations, I look forward to working with Congress, and the Lantos Commission, on the work currently being done in Bahrain. To this end, I encourage any member or Commission of Congress to contact my office to address any concerns they may have directly.

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