It is exactly one year today since the report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) was published. The anniversary has brought a deluge of criticism from NGOs – all basically saying the government has done far too little during the last 12 months to implement the BICI's recommendations. Here is a round-up:
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
The BICI report was a scathing critique of the authority’s behaviour in the months following the start of the pro-democracy demonstrations in February 2011. It found that torture, extrajudicial killings, and warrantless arrests were common practice in Bahrain ...
The King’s promise that he would implement sweeping reforms to address these violations was initially met with a cautious degree of optimism by the authors of this report and many governments and NGOs around the world. Swift and earnest reforms could have represented a strong step forwards towards national reconciliation.
One year later, the government has had ample time to act, but has, in general, only made superficial progress. Today, we look at Bahrain and see a government that puts its efforts into presenting the image of reforms, while continuing to commit the same human rights violations; in certain respects, the situation has grown worse.
Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
The Government of Bahrain has fully implemented three of the BICI report’s 26 recommendations. Two other recommendations were impossible for us to properly evaluate due to a lack of available information, and 15 recommendations have only been partially implemented.
Finally, the government has made no meaningful progress toward six of the recommendations, which are precisely the most important steps that need to be taken – accountability for officials responsible for torture and severe human rights violations, the release of political prisoners, prevention of sectarian incitement, and the relaxation of censorship and controls on free expression.
Nearly as troubling as the failure to address key areas has been the unrealistic assessment by the Government of Bahrain of its own progress. Bahraini government officials, including the Ambassador to the United States, have claimed in public statements to have fully implemented 18 of the 26 recommendations. It is difficult to expect the government to make significant progress on the many unfulfilled recommendations while it maintains that most of those steps have already been completed.
A year after the groundbreaking report of the BICI, in light of the developments and steps taken in Bahrain, such as verdicts upholding prison sentences for opposition leaders, the jailing of activists, the ban of all protests, one is forced to wonder where Bahrain stands, and whether the reform process which initiated with the establishment of the BICI is now moribund, and Bahrain in full-scale repression.
The legacy of the BICI report is fading fast, increasingly overshadowed by ongoing impunity for torture, the jailing of activists, and the ban on all protests. In the face of what increasingly appears to be a defunct reform process, those who have championed Bahrain’s record on reform must be increasingly forced to challenge the charade.
Human Rights Watch
“Bahrain deservedly got a lot of credit for appointing an independent body to assess the government’s violations, but a year later, authorities have still not carried out the key recommendations,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “In fact, in many ways Bahrain’s human rights situation has only deteriorated since the king accepted the commission’s findings and recommendations.”
... The head of the independent commission, the Egyptian-American jurist M. Cherif Bassiouni, told Human Rights Watch that the government’s implementation of the BICI recommendations has been inadequate.
“A number of recommendations on accountability were either not implemented or implemented only half-heartedly,” Bassiouni said. “The public prosecution has yet to investigate over 300 cases of alleged torture, some involving deaths in custody, and there has been no investigation, let alone prosecution, for command responsibility, even at the immediate supervisory level, of people killed in custody as a result of torture.”
Human Rights First
The situation in Bahrain is sliding in a frightening direction. The United States government must urgently reassess its position. The US presence in Bahrain is based on its strategic interests in the region. But if it continues to publicly support the King and give only muted support to human rights defenders and peaceful protesters, those strategic interests could land the US with a violent conflict.
US interests explained why the administration gave the Bahraini regime a chance to reform, but now those same interests must guide the US government to acknowledge that the Kingdom failed, and it needs a new strategy.
Now it’s time for the United States to get more public and more specific. It should immediately and publicly call for the release of political prisoners and introduce visa bans on those it believes responsible for violations until Bahrain demonstrates a real commitment to reform and an end to abuses. It should also appoint a senior representative to advocate for US interests in Bahrain, and to engage with the regional players who also have an interest in Bahrain’s stability.
The Bahrain crisis won’t just sort itself, and the longer it takes for any political negotiation to begin the more difficult it will be. Things have to turn around fast. If they don’t, it’s hard to imagine what things might look like this time next year.
Bahrain Justice and Development Movement
On 23 November 2011, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry published its report ... The King of Bahrain stood in front of the world and accepted the report's findings and promised full implementation ...
And yet one year on international rights groups, opposition groups, observers, governments and more all deny that full implementation has taken place ...
One major complaint of those in Bahrain is that, despite official claims of implementation, nothing on the ground has changed in any shape or form. The violations highlighted in the report are continuing to this day on a regular basis and in recent weeks have escalated further.
Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain(ADHRB)
Noting that the king of Bahrain publicly accepted the BICI’s findings and agreed to fully implement its 26 core recommendations, the ADHRB has now issued a report card, together with a more detailed analysis, arguing that Bahrain has failed on implementation of all but one of the 26 recommendations.
Posted by Brian Whitaker, 23 November 2012.