Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe
U.S. Representative to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR)
Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
September 19, 2012
Ambassador Donahoe: We are really honored to have Assistant Secretary Michael Posner from the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor with us from Washington. I think his presence here signifies both the importance that the U.S. puts on the UPR process generally, but specifically the Bahrain UPR process that was undertaken today.
He’s going to make some comments more on substance and what happened today. I just want to make a brief comment about the UPR process itself. I think this example of Bahrain’s UPR highlights a few important things.
This is considered one of the most important tools that was created with the Human Rights Council specifically and very simply because it’s universally applicable. All member states in the UN system participate. To date we’ve had one hundred percent participation in it. It is also voluntary and cooperative. So it’s different from many of our other tools.
Why is it important? It facilitates important self-reflection on domestic human rights records that might not otherwise happen. It facilitates communication at least, dialogue with civil society. And it also requires public presentation to the international community of the Human Rights Council. So those three elements convey why it’s a valuable tool. These are things that would not otherwise happen but for this mechanism.
Bahrain was the first country to go through the UPR process four years ago and is the first country to have completed the second round today.
As you all know, and you’ve reminded us on several occasions, Bahrain is a country that has gone through a lot of difficulty, particularly in the past year, and there has been a fair amount of interest here in having the council focus on Bahrain.
As you also know, we have been predominantly preoccupied with the situations in Syria and before that Libya. We’ve had multiple urgent sessions and urgent debates, special sessions. So today the simple fact that we had Bahrain come and present its UPR, that we had this mechanism in place to provide a setting for them to come and present their own reflections on not only the human rights record but their specific efforts to implement their own BICI plan, and recommendations proposed by other countries at a time when it’s really relevant to the progress, is very important. And I think this particular example, perhaps more than any other we’ve had, demonstrates the value of this tool. This was needed. It’s a country situation that we were not addressing otherwise. It’s a relevant timeframe. They have engaged with civil society. They brought high level people including their foreign minister to present to the international community. I think, as a tool, having their fulsome participation is important and I think it’s a constructive contribution to the track of having them improve their human rights record.
Mike’s going to say a few words on his own thoughts and then I think take a few questions on the merits.
Assistant Secretary Posner: Thanks, Eileen.
Let me say first of all how proud we are of Ambassador Donahoe and the great job that she is doing. Also that we really do believe, as she said, the UPR process has evolved in to something that really has great potential. We participated. I participated in 2010 when we presented the U.S. report under the UPR. And as Secretary Clinton likes to say, we want to lead by example. It’s hard to do that in practice, but we continue to follow up on some of the recommendations that were made here in addressing our own human rights record at home.
With respect to Bahrain, it’s I think an important sign that the government sent a very senior delegation. There was also a very lively group from civil society, both organizations highly critical of the government and some supportive of the government. The government has undertaken in the last year, year and a half, a review under what was called the BICI commission, an independent commission brought from outside. They made a slew of recommendations in a 500 page report. They’ve implemented some and they haven’t implemented some.
What we said today is that progress is slowing down, and that’s a concern. The government needs to be attentive to accountability, and the fact that a number of people who committed, police and others who committed violations last February and March have not been held accountable. There are a number of people in jail or in criminal process for cases that appear to us to be based on an expression of peaceful dissent, and in our view everyone who is peacefully dissenting and expressing their views has the right to do that and shouldn’t be prosecuted.
There are also issues relating to police reform, issues relating to labor.
We will continue to raise these issues on a bilateral basis with the government of Bahrain. We appreciate the fact that they’re open to that discussion but there is a long way to go.
A final comment. The human rights discussion, the BICI discussion, the UPR is set in a broader context. These issues, these human rights issues need to be addressed to provide an environment where the society can engage in a meaningful dialogue or negotiation over its political future. That’s where Bahrain needs to go. Bahraini people need to do it. It needs to be the government and the various opposition forces coming together to decide their political future.
I’ll stop with that and take questions.
Media: How do you balance the fact that Bahrain is a key U.S. ally and dependent on a lot of U.S. support, the U.S. needs Bahrain in the region, and yet you’re pushing. Do you not push as hard as you would like to? Or are you pushing as hard as you can?
Assistant Secretary Posner: The United States has multiple interests in lots of countries. We have a strong security relationship with Bahrain which has existed for 60 years. We’ve made it clear that that’s a relationship that’s ongoing and important to us, particularly in light of things going on in the Gulf now.
But at the same time on a parallel track, in what President Obama has called principled engagement, the human rights issues are as important, and they’re raised by both people in the State Department, people in the Defense Department, people in the White House.
Human rights is part of our foreign policy, and the human rights issues in Bahrain are critically important and they actually help reinforce our security interests. A stable, healthy democratic Bahrain, one where human rights issues are dealt with appropriately, is a country that’s going to be a strong ally and we need that.
Media: You talk about the importance of the universality of the UPR process. Is this threatened now by Israel’s withdrawal from the Council and its participation in UPR?
Assistant Secretary Posner: I would just say for us it’s critically important, and we will keep encouraging every government to participate in this process. It is universal. We’re proud to participate. I’m proud and pleased that other governments have stepped up and we will encourage everyone to continue that process.
Media: Can you tell us on the Syria resolution, how confident are you of that possibly this time being adopted by consensus? And what are the sort of minimums that you’re willing to —
Ambassador Donahoe: As you all know, each time we’ve had a resolution, I think we’ve had eight or something along those lines, we have a very strong core group — Arab members, all the GCC, Turkey, all of the EU, the United States are the primary, Morocco is in there. We have burden-shared. So the responsibility for drafting has been rotated. We have all taken our turn at being the center point of negotiations. This time it happens to be the Arab group has the pen and they’re negotiating.
So the resolution will have very strong support if not consensus. If it’s not consensus I can say it’s very specifically because there are certain bottom line requirements that are needed by all the other members of the Council but there would be very few, perhaps two, who may not choose to support it. And no one else is willing to drop below that threshold.
Media: You just said that in the case of Bahrain the progress is slowing down concerning the implementation. So could you be more specific on that slowing down?
Second question, are you going to meet the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bahrain, Sheikh al Khalifa in Geneva? Thank you.
Assistant Secretary Posner: The second question, I am going to meet with him later today.
And when we say that the progress is slowing down, I’d say that in two respects. One, we have yet to see a successful prosecution of anyone in connection with some of the torture cases of people who were in custody last year. It’s not a long period.
There are a number of cases involving the doctors, some of the prominent political opposition figures, human rights activists, that are still either in detention or cases pending, and those cases need to be resolved.
We also are concerned about the violence on the street. It’s both Molotov cocktails, young kids throwing things at police, but then the police overreacting and using excessive force, large amounts of tear gas.
Those are things that are not helping to lead to an environment where a real negotiation nor dialogue is going to be fruitful.