Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions

Bahrain is a monarchy led by King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa, who also heads all branches of government. The king appoints a cabinet of ministers, half of whom are members of the Al Khalifa royal family. The 2002 constitution established a bicameral legislature consisting of a 40-member Shura (consultative) council appointed by the king and a 40-member elected chamber of deputies (Nawwab). The law authorizes registered political societies to run candidates and participate in other political activities; however, it prohibits organizations that call themselves political parties. Trained local observers did not report significant problems in the 2006 elections, although there were allegations that the government manipulated general polling center vote counts in some cases and gerrymandered political districts. The government restricted civil liberties, including freedoms of press, speech, assembly, association, and some religious practices. The citizen population is predominantly Shia, but Sunnis dominate nearly all government sectors, hold the majority of cabinet positions, and occupy 22 out of 40 seats in the elected house of parliament. Trafficking in persons and restrictions on the internationally accepted rights of expatriate workers remained problems.

Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

The U.S. Government works toward broadening political participation and strengthening the rule of law to achieve greater trust and cooperation among citizens, civil society, and the government. To that end, the United States encourages the government to adopt greater transparency. The U.S. Government considers parliament a key element of the political reform process and an important voice for the country's citizen population. Many citizens do not trust the court system and argue that judges lack training or are subject to government influence. Thus, the U.S. Government seeks to reform the judicial system to improve both its reputation and its reliability. The embassy also seeks to raise public awareness and works with the government to combat the significant problem of trafficking in persons and to improve the treatment of foreign workers and women. U.S. officials maintain close relationships with many political and civil society groups, enabling them to assess the views of the groups and other advocates of reform when establishing reform priorities.

Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance

The United States supports a number of activities that improve the political environment and broaden political participation. The U.S. chief of mission and other U.S. officials regularly engage the government and opposition political leaders, influential members of the press, and local civil society organizations and NGOs that respect and promote the rule of law. As part of U.S. activities, the chief of mission maintains positive relationships with the leaders of political societies, including those represented in parliament and many not currently represented. U.S. officials attend the open meetings that some members of parliament hold for constituents. During these events, embassy officers encourage continued participation in the political process and listen to citizens' concerns regarding the status of local reforms. The U.S. Government funds programs that address political participation; provide training to NGOs, labor groups, and government officials; promote the rule of law; and support media freedom. The United States has expanded its public affairs outreach and education programming in order to help prepare the next generation of leaders to continue the country's reform efforts.

The United States supports the country's efforts to build an experienced, effective, and accountable parliament. A U.S.-funded NGO conducts several training programs for parliamentarians, their staff, and other political societies. The U.S. Government has arranged travel and consultations with Congress and state legislatures for two local parliamentarians to visit the U.S. in the summer of 2009 and intends to cooperate with an international NGO to bring representatives of all parliamentary parties to the United States later in the year. The U.S. Government is also coordinating a program to familiarize local election officials with polling procedures and the latest voting technology with the intent of increasing transparency in the electoral process prior to the 2010 parliamentary elections.

As part of a U.S.-funded program geared toward judicial reform, an experienced American attorney works as a consultant in the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and transparency of the judicial system. The government regularly lauds the program for its impact and has requested additional support to modernize further its judicial system. To respond to the government's efforts in this area, the U.S. embassy works with the Ministry of Justice's Judicial and Legal Studies Institute (JLSI) to conduct specialized training for judges, lawyers, law schools, and the bar association. The U.S. Government and JLSI are jointly developing a training module for prosecutors to investigate bulk cash smuggling. The United States also provides funding to combat domestic violence.

The U.S. Government uses a range of resources to address the problem of trafficking in persons and alleged forced labor in the country. The United States seeks to enhance the abilities of the government, domestic and foreign worker groups, and the NGO sector to enforce worker rights and combat trafficking in persons through grants for capacity building, training, and awareness campaigns. U.S. officials continually stress to government officials of all levels the country's responsibilities for combating trafficking in persons. The United States funds training for journalists to cover trafficking in persons and for these journalists to work with the government to monitor government efforts on this issue. U.S. officials also coordinate with government officials from labor-sending countries to facilitate information exchange on the status of foreign workers, including through an online forum created by U.S. embassy personnel.