Dunia Leo: Bahrain’s minority regime empowers military tribunals to brutalize civilians
Bahrain’s self-styled King Hamad bin Isa Aal-e Khalifah has instructed military tribunals of the repressive minority regime to subject civilians to more brutal measures, initiating yet another wave of crackdown against the popular movement for freedom of the Persian Gulf island state.
According to reports, Hamad on Monday made changes in the constitution to drop a clause limiting trials to members of the armed forces and other security branches, thereby empowering the military tribunals to court-martial all civilians accused of activities against the repressive Aal-e Khalifa minority.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has severely denounced these changes, saying, “Bahraini courts – civilian as well as military – have been part of the machinery of repression that makes a mockery of fair trial standards when it comes to political dissent.”
The latest move by the Bahraini regime to further suppress the mass popular movement is in clear violation of Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which maintains that “everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal.”
Amnesty International, in a strongly-worded statement, also severely criticized the measure, calling the constitutional change “a disaster for the future of fair trials and justice in Bahrain. It is part of a broader pattern where the government uses the courts to crackdown on all forms of opposition at the expense of human rights,” said Lynn Maalouf, the head of research at the UK-based rights group’s regional office in Beirut.
Ali’s brother, a political activist, has already been sentenced to 15 years in prison by the Bahraini judiciary.
Another minor summoned to the court on Sunday over “illegal assembly” was Hussein Marhoun, 16. He was handed a four-month imprisonment sentence by the Bahraini regime court.
A Bahraini rights group revealed last month that the regime in Manama had detained scores of children taking part in protest rallies against the ruling Al Khalifah monarchy. According to a report released by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights [BCHR], there were 187 children among those arrested by regime forces in 2016.
Last year, the judiciary issued 91 life sentences and four death penalties, while the citizenship of 204 people was revoked, the BCHR added.
Rights group Amnesty International warned the Manama regime last month about an imminent human rights catastrophe in the country, which is notorious for its systematic and harsh crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.
“Bahrain is at a tipping point. The first two months of 2017 alone saw an alarming upsurge in arbitrary and abusive force by security forces as well as the first executions since the uprising in 2011,” said Amnesty International’s Beirut office Deputy Director Lynn Maalouf.
The Trump administration has decided to remove any conditions regarding human rights from sales of F-16 fighter aircraft and other arms to Bahrain. The rationale for doing so is the idea that hard power considerations ought to come before softer concerns for the rights of someone else’s citizens.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker, in applauding the decision, said arms sales should be decided by American strategic needs and not commingled with any pressuring of “allies” to change domestic behavior.
Bahrain hosts the headquarters of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, and the island nation is hardly the only place where military access rights have been involved in the United States overlooking abusive domestic policies. Egypt comes to mind as another such country.
But at the center of the decision regarding Bahrain is, as David Sanger and Eric Schmitt put it in their coverage in the New York Times, “the Trump administration’s growing determination to find places to confront Iran.”
Seeking confrontation is usually not a good thing, and it is not in this case either. It is better first to determine what conflicting objectives, if any, would underlie a confrontation and then, if such a conflict of objectives is found, to find ways either to resolve the conflict or to manage it without the risk of costly escalation. In the case of Bahrain there also is a misconception, implied by Corker’s comments, that the human rights issue is an entirely separate consideration that conflicts with strategic objectives.
The New York Times reported last Thursday that the US State Department has decided to lift human rights as a condition for the sale of F-16 fighter jets and other weapons to Bahrain, a small, Sunni, family-ruled kingdom in the Persian Gulf. Ostensibly, the justification that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gave for his decision was that Bahrain is a key ally in the fight against Iran-supported Houthis in Yemen. The US Navy Fifth Fleet is also home-ported in Bahrain.
This policy, however, clearly shows the growing influence of Bahrain’s lobbyists in Washington and the cozy relationships that Tillerson, the former head of global giant Exxon, as well as Secretary of Defense James Mattis and some current and retired military officers and diplomats, have forged with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and other member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council. These Sunni countries, the largest of which is Saudi Arabia, are ruled by tribal potentates who violate their citizens’ basic human rights blatantly, viciously, and systematically.
In addition to Bahrain, the Trump White House and the Tillerson State Department are planning to jettison the human-rights requirement as a condition for arms sales to other Middle Eastern autocratic regimes, including Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. These countries, especially the UAE, have been feverishly lobbying Washington’s power elites and opinion makers, including think tanks and high-powered consultants, to remove the human-rights requirement and focus instead on Iran and terrorism. Trump plans to convey this “good” news to Egypt’s autocrat Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on the latter’s visit to Washington. The same message would be relayed to Jordan’s King Abdullah when he comes calling.
The State Department is ignoring human rights violations in Bahrain, so we can sell them nineteen F-16 jets in a nearly $3 billion deal.
The sale of the military planes was originally approved by the Obama administration, but a bipartisan group of Senators, including Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Tim Kaine, objected to the deal because of Bahrain’s violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in the country. Obama then inserted human rights stipulations into the deal to gain congressional approval for the $2.8 billion sale.
Apolitical uprising has raged in Bahrain since the Arab Spring of 2011. The House of Khalifa, Bahrain’s Sunni ruling monarchy, has been accused of beating, jailing, and torturing Shia dissenters for as little as reading pro-democracy poetry, with the help of troops from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Now, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is waiving the stipulations and turning a blind eye to Bahrain’s human rights violations to push the deal forward. Critics of the move say that it could set a dangerous precedent to other countries, signaling that the United States simply does not care how a country treats its people.