The Cable

In Bahrain, Valentine’s Day is a day of struggle

While Americans celebrate the annual Valentine's Day ritual of flowers and chocolate, in Bahrain, Feb. 14 marks the two-year anniversary of the struggle for human rights and fundamental freedoms against the regime -- and blood has already been shed.

It was two years ago today,  on Feb. 14, 2011, that protesters encamped in the Pearl Roundabout in Manama and began the Bahraini version of the Arab Spring. Three days later, the authorities conducted a night raid on those protesters in what became known locally as "Bloody Thursday," and the violence and tension continues to this day.

"Today is the anniversary of the uprising," Jalila Al-Salman, the vice president of the Bahrain Teachers Society, told The Cable today in an interview. "There is a real strike in Bahrain today as a peaceful objection of to what's going on there."

Early in the morning, around 2 a.m., protesters in villages all over Bahrain barricaded the entrances of their neighborhoods as part of a plan to hold a nationwide strike, she said. The police came through around 4 AM to remove the barricades but new ones were set up by around 6 a.m., and shops and restaurants inside the villages did not open. After morning prayers, the villagers started protesting.

"There are rallies all over Bahrain right now and the riot police are spread all over Bahrain to face that. We are expecting injuries all over Bahrain today," she said. "This is just one part of what's happening in Bahrain. It's not a new thing, it's a continuation of what's been going on in Bahrain for two years on a daily basis."

As of Thursday morning , there was already one death as a result of police clashes with protesters. Hussain Al-Jaziri, 16, was killed by a police officer using a shotgun in the village of Daih, according to Mohammed Al-Maskati, president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, who also sat down Thursday for an interview with The Cable.

"I just spoke with his father by phone," Al-Maskati said as he displayed gruesome photos of the boy's gunshot ridden body. The police prevented the boy's friends from taking him to the hospital and he died while waiting for the ambulance to arrive, he said. "The ambulance driver said it was already too late."

At last December's Manama Security Dialogue, Bahraini Crown Prince Salman Bin Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa  told an international audience that the tension and violence in Bahrain had largely subsided.

"You are aware we had our own experience with the so called ‘Arab Spring' last year," he said. "While relative calm has returned to the kingdom, there are many wounds to be healed on all sides."

"I don't know how they can say that, of course it continues," said Al-Salman. "There are marches every day all over the country."

The government initiated the latest in a series of dialogues with the opposition two weeks ago that was encouraged by the Obama administration.

"The United States welcomes the start of Bahrain's National Dialogue. We're encouraged by the broad participation of Bahraini political groups in the dialogue," outgoing State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Feb. 11. "We view the dialogue as a positive step in a broader process that can result in meaningful reform that meets the aspirations of all of Bahrain's citizens. We believe that efforts to promote engagement and reconciliation among Bahrainis are necessary to long-term stability."

But Al-Salman and Al-Maskati said the dialogue is not a fair process because participation is weighted heavily toward civil-society representatives that are connected to the government. Also, government and police action against peaceful protesters have continued despite the dialogue.

"After the dialogue was announced, the government arrested 45 protesters in one march," Al-Maskati claimed. "And this week, the security services raided several villages to track down and arrest leaders of the protest movement." (This information could not be independently confirmed.)

Al-Salman, Al-Maskati, and Maryam al-Khawaja, the acting head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, are in Washington this week to ask the Obama administration to stand up for human rights in Bahrain. Nabeel Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, is serving a three-year jail sentence for insulting the regime.

President Barack Obama, in his State of the Union address, called for respect for human rights in all countries affected by the Arab Spring.

"In the Middle East, we will stand with citizens as they demand their universal rights, and support stable transitions to democracy. The process will be messy, and we cannot presume to dictate the course of change in countries like Egypt; but we can -- and will -- insist on respect for the fundamental rights of all people," Obama said.

Al-Salman and Al-Maskati said the U.S. government is not acting on Obama's promise with respect to Bahrain.

"The basic thing we need from the U.S. is to change their foreign policy toward Bahrain. They haven't gained anything from the policy over the last two years," said Al-Salman. "They have to push for a solution to the crisis ... if they really care we have to see that in practice."

The activists noted that Secretary of State John Kerry is new in office and this presents an opportunity for new measures to pressure the Bahraini regime, perhaps through targeted sanctions against human rights violators. Kerry has yet to mention Bahrain since taking office.

"It's a good time to tell John Kerry that you need to change your foreign policy toward Bahrain. Words without actions aren't effective anymore," said Al-Maskati.

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The Cable

Congress to unveil new North Korea legislation

Not content to wait for the Obama administration or the United Nations to act, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is working on a new bill to punish North Korea for conducting yet another nuclear bomb test.

The Cable has obtained the latest draft of the "North Korea Nonproliferation and Accountability Act of 2013," a bill that was brought up in today's Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting but not approved. One member of the committee, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), held up the bill Wednesday over fears it could "authorize force" so a new committee meeting is being scheduled for Thursday so the bill can be considered again, perhaps with minor language changes meant to mollify Paul.

"There has been extensive military cooperation between the Governments of North Korea and Iran that dates back to the 1980s," the draft reads. "The latest provocative and defiant action by the Government of North Korea represents a direct threat to the United States and to our regional allies and partners."

The latest North Korean test is a violation United Nations Security Council Resolutions 825 (1993), 1540 (2004), 1695 (2006), 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), and 2087 (2013), the bill declares, and the United States and its partners should impose sanctions provided for under those resolutions.

"The United States Government should seek a new round of United Nations Security Council sanctions, including the public identification of all North Korean and foreign banks, business, and government agencies suspected of violating United Nations Security Council resolutions, and implementing necessary measures to ensure enforcement of such sanctions," the bill reads.

It also calls on all U.N. member states to increase their efforts to prevent the export of military and dual-use technologies to North Korea and step up efforts to prevent financial transactions that benefit the North Korean government.

The U.S. government should explore ways to increase military cooperation with Asian allies and push the U.N. General Assembly and the U.N. Human Rights Council to adopt the recommendation in the recent report of Marzuki Darusman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, that an inquiry mechanism should be established to investigate North Korea's "grave, widespread and systematic violations of human rights," the law states.

The law in its current form would also require Secretary of State John Kerry to report to Congress by May 15 on U.S. policy towards North Korea "based on a full and complete interagency review of current policy and possible alternatives, including North Korea's weapons of mass destruction and missile programs and human rights atrocities. The report shall include recommendations for such legislative or administrative action as the Secretary considers appropriate in light of the results of the review."

The committee also finalized new subcommittee leadership posts at the business meeting today.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) retains her chairmanship of the subcommittee on international operations and organizations, human rights, democracy, and global women's issues, but she will now have to contend with Paul as the new ranking Republican on that panel.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) takes over the subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs following Jim Webb's retirement, and his new Republican is Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who gave up his leadership post on the subcommittee on Western Hemisphere affairs, perhaps to bolster his non-Latin foreign policy bonafides ahead of a 2016 presidential run.

New SFRC member John McCain (R-AZ) replaces Rubio as ranking Republican on the Western Hemisphere panel, working now with subcommittee chairman Tom Udall (D-NM). Bob Casey (D-PA) remains chairman of the subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian affairs, with ranking Republican James Risch (R-ID).

Chris Coons (D-DE), the only Swahili-fluent member of Congress, will stay as African affairs subcommittee head and he will be paired with freshman senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ). Christopher Murphy (D-CT) takes over the European affairs subcommittee from Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). Ron Johnson (R-WY) will be the ranking Republican for Europe. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and John Barasso (R-WY) will lead the subcommittee on international development and foreign assistance.