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article imageOp-Ed: Reforms in Bahrain progress very slowly a year after report

By Ken Hanly     Nov 24, 2012 in Politics
Manama - Reforms in Bahrain are progressing very slowly after a landmark report on violence and torture a year ago. The author of the report disputes claims that many of his recommendations are being implemented.
The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report, commissioned by King Hamad himself, turned out to be a comprehensive and damning indictment of the actions of the Bahrain government. The author, Cherif Bassiouni, an Egyptian lawyer, said to Human Rights Watch: "A number of recommendations on accountability were either not implemented or implemented only half-heartedly."
Bassiouni was very critical of the Bahrain's highest court's decision to allow evidence probably gained through torture. In one case a defendant's confession was allowed because it happened several days after torture. Bassiouni holds that Bahrain violated the convention against torture to which it is a signatory. Bassiouni continued: "You can't say that justice has been done when calling for Bahrain to be a republic gets you a life sentence and the officer who repeatedly fired on an unarmed man at close range only gets seven years."
The government claims that no other country has voluntarily opened itself to such scrutiny as Bahrain. While the king himself did order the report, he also has failed to follow many of its recommendations. At present all demonstrations are banned in Bahrain.
Bahrain has had numerous protests for the last 18 months, often violent. At least 60 people have been killed. Mr. Bassiouni was appointed after protesters were forcibly driven from the Pearl Roundabout, now dismantled, in March of 2011. The king had declared a state of emergency and troops were brought in from Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Gulf states.
There were thousands of arrests and trials by military courts. Thousands of Shia also lost their jobs for participating in protests. The report concluded that the authorities had used excessive force. The government accepted this conclusion as well as admitting torture in detention and the dismissal of 4,000 employees. To be fair, the authorities' response is at least a frank admission of failings, quite exceptional as the government claims.
The document made 26 recommendations that called for many judicial, legislative, and policing reforms. Human rights groups claim the government is not only dragging its feet over some recommendations but the situation is deteriorating for human rights in the kingdom.
A new report by Amnesty International claims a marked decline in the status of human rights in Bahrain. The report titled "Bahrain: Reform Shelved, Repression Unleashed", claims that torture allegations are not properly investigated, that children are detained, and that activists are harassed. One author, Covadonga de la Campa, pointed out that recently the citizenship of 31 Bahrainis had been revoked, and all public gatherings had been banned, as evidence of the worsening situation
Kahlil al-Marzook of the opposition al-Wifaq society told BBC that it would sit down and talk with the government but thinks that hardliners within the government do not want compromise or dialogue:"They have the upper hand over the moderates and they will do whatever is necessary to stop the process of reform."
The U.S. State Department spokesperson, Victoria Nuland, urged the Bahraini government to exercise restraint in its response to protests and said that she was concerned that police, protesters, and bystanders, have been killed in recent clashes. The Bahraini response has been to ban all public gatherings and protests.
Bahrain is an important U.S. ally and home to the U.S. fifth fleet. The protesters are mostly Shia who are the majority in Bahrain but are ruled by the Sunni Khalifa family in effect.
Nuland noted that there have been delays in ending "limits on freedom of expression and assembly" and in reforming "a political environment that has become increasingly inhospitable to reconciliation." In spite of these setbacks to human rights, U.S. military aid to Bahrain continues.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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