Thousands rallied for reform this week in Bahrain as an international panel set up by King Hamad began to investigate Shi’ite-led mass protests and the brutal crackdown by the government. The Bahraini monarchy has been accused of killing over 30 people and detaining and torturing many others; the crackdown is still underway.
Human Rights Watch recently demanded justice regarding Bahrain’s arrest and abuse of medical professionals who helped treat anti-government protesters, among other crimes. Amnesty International voiced concern over the detention of Bahraini teachers who called for a strike. An al Jazeera documentary recently showed Sunni minority ruling elites belittling the protesters’ grievances, laying blame for the uprisings on a meddling Iran, and denying responsibility for crimes like destruction of Shi’ite mosques.
There is some dissent, however, as this international panel has been widely approved by rights groups and a Saudi princess has even called Saudi Arabia’s harsh military intervention on behalf of Bahrain’s government “a faux pas.”
Despite Bahrain’s recent human rights violations, the U.S. has remained a close ally. While there have been some considerations of relocating the massive U.S. base for the Navy’s Fifth Fleet from the capital, these are mostly because the monarchy’s abuses have become a public relations problem for the Obama administration.
Still, Bahrain remains important to Washington as it directs operations from Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, and Arabian Sea and secures the Straits of Hormuz, through which 40 percent of the world’s seaborne oil passes. Further, continuing U.S. support — $26.2 million in aid for 2012 and probably much more in weapons trading — is also meant to counter Iranian influence, something Washington is willing to secure, however terribly Bahrainis are treated.