(Senate - February 14, 2013)

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[Pages S765-S766]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []

                        BAHRAIN TWO YEARS LATER

  Mr. WYDEN. Mr. President, 2 years ago today thousands of Bahrainis 
took to the streets to call for political reform and an end to ongoing 
human rights abuses in their country. The government responded to these 
peaceful demonstrations not by addressing grievances or offering to 
work with the aggrieved, but by unleashing its state security forces 
upon them. The security forces fired on the protesters with tear gas 
and live ammunition; although many protesters were rounded up, 
arrested, and tortured, their spirit would not be broken.
  I am deeply disappointed that the government of Bahrain continues to 
stall, to stonewall, and to stymie any progress on addressing the root 
causes of the protesters' grievances. I shared the initial hopes of 
many Bahrainis, who viewed the establishment of the Bahrain Independent 
Commission of Inquiry, BICI, as a positive step on behalf of the 
government. I was encouraged when the final BICI report detailed the 
government's systemic use of intimidation, violence, abuse, and 
detention that documenting these abuses would lead to real reform. As 
outlined in the BICI report, over the weeks and months of its initial 
crackdown, more than 30 protesters were killed, nearly 1,800 were 
tortured, and 4,500 were fired from their jobs. Religious sites were 
destroyed and doctors who treated injured protesters were arrested, 
tortured, and imprisoned.
  The Bahraini government has spent considerable time and resources to 
convince the world that progress has been made, but I am sorry to say 
that the facts do not bear this out. Banning peaceful protests is not 
progress. Using tear gas as a weapon is not progress. Shooting 
teenagers is not progress. There is, quite frankly, little to be 
optimistic about if one examines the regime's track record over the 
last 2 years. According to the Project on Middle East Democracy, POMED, 
the government of Bahrain has only fully implemented three of 26 
recommendations in the BICI report. Even worse, POMED found no 
meaningful progress whatsoever toward six of the BICI recommendations. 
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights similarly finds that the government 
of Bahrain has taken only superficial steps ``while continuing to 
commit the same human rights violations.''
  Although the Bahraini government offered to engage in a national 
dialogue, my staff and I have read reports that the government may only 
be planning to moderate a discussion between political parties, rather 
than act as a full and productive participant in the dialogue. I 
sincerely hope that is not the case, and I call on the government of 
Bahrain to live up to its rhetoric, engage in genuine and sustained 
dialogue, and work to see that real progress is made. As a first step 
to restoring some of the trust it has lost, the Bahraini government 
should immediately implement all 26 BICI report recommendations and 
immediately release all political prisoners in Bahrain.
  After 2 years, surely the government of Bahrain is tired of fighting 
its own

[[Page S766]]

people--people who wish nothing more than to have a greater voice in 
their political process. The government may be surprised that this 
fight has lasted 2 years, but I am not. My staff and I have met with 
some of them and know them to be passionate, devoted to their cause, 
and willing to face continued persecution for what they believe.
  Sometimes folks ask me why I care so much about such a small island 
country or why America should concern itself with Bahrain's internal 
politics. I explain to them that Bahrain may be small, but that it is a 
key ally in a troubled and volatile region. I also explain that the 
regime's current strategy of violence and repression is bound for 
failure, and that Bahrain must reform to remain stable. If America has 
learned anything in the last few decades it is that continuing to 
support governments that use violence, torture and repression to stifle 
dissent is short sighted. Washington must instead use what influence it 
has to push such countries toward more representative forms of 
government, not just because it is the right thing to do for the 
citizens of those countries, but because it is the right thing to do 
for this country. That is why this issue remains so important to me and 
why I hope that next year, on this date, I can come to the Senate floor 
and talk about the many new reforms in place instead of the Bahraini 
government's continued repression of its people.