Bahrain's Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa (L) and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (3rd R) arrive to speak to reporters ahead of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Ministerial meeting in Manama, Bahrain April 7, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst(reuters_tickers)
MANAMA (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday that respect for human rights and an inclusive political system were essential for Bahrain, a Sunni-ruled Gulf monarchy with a restive Shi'ite Muslim majority.
Rights groups accuse Bahrain of failing to implement reforms to give its Shi'ites a bigger share in government. They also accuse security forces of using torture against opponents, arresting political leaders and revoking the citizenship of activists, charges that Bahrain denies.
“Here, as in all nations, we believe that respect for human rights and an inclusive political system are essential in order to allow citizens to be able to reach and live out their full potential,” Kerry told a news conference.
Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa said Bahrain planned to free rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja, who was detained last month to serve a prison sentence for tearing up a picture of the king, and took her infant son with her.
“This is a humanitarian issue and Zainab al-Khawaja will be released, pending her case in the court. She will be sent to her home and to be with her family and with her child in a better surrounding but the case will continue ... She will be going home.”
Kerry was asked about a report by the U.S. based campaign group Human Rights Watch that U.S. weapons had been used in an air strike by a Saudi-led coalition on a market in Yemen that killed 97 people last month.
“I don’t have any solid information, any documentation with respect to what weapon might or might not have been used," he said. "There are questions being asked.”
“Whatever weapons are being used, our preference is that all shooting stops.”
Kerry also said it was "not constructive" for Iran to be sending weapons to zones where Washington was trying to contain conflict, an apparent reference to Yemen, where Saudi Arabia has led an intervention by Sunni Arab states to try to restore the Saudi-backed president.
The U.S. military said on Monday that U.S. Navy ships in the Arabian Sea had intercepted and seized an arms shipment from Iran likely to have been intended for the Shi'ite Houthi militia who control large parts of Yemen including the capital, Sanaa.
(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed, writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Kevin Liffey)