Bahrain report must lead to action over protest abuses

The publication this week of a report on events surrounding pro-reform protests in Bahrain earlier this year is an opportunity for the government to deliver justice for the victims of human rights violations, Amnesty International said today. The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report’s findings will be made public on 23 November in Manama, following months of investigation into alleged abuses during and after the protests in February and March. “The publication of this report gives Bahrain’s authorities a key opportunity to demonstrate that they intend to deliver justice to victims of abuse and carry through on promises of reform,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Acting Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “Allowing this independent inquiry into the Manama protests and their aftermath was a very welcome move, but the whole exercise will have been meaningless if the report’s recommendations are not translated into real action to redress abuses.”Established by a royal decree on 29 June, the BICI is chaired by Cherif Bassiouni, a respected Egyptian law professor who is a UN war crimes expert. The panel was given access to official documents and interviewed the alleged victims of abuse in the aftermath of protests at Manama’s Pearl Roundabout – now called GCC Roundabout – in February and March. Those interviewed for the report included a large number of victims of human rights abuses, eyewitnesses, detainees, members of the security forces, political parties and government officials. Wide-ranging allegations of abuse surfaced following the Bahraini authorities’ attempt to stop the protests. These included beatings of protesters by security forces, mass arrests of mainly Shi’a opposition activists, multiple incidents of torture and four deaths in custody. At least 35 people have died during and in connection with the protests since February.Bahraini security forces detained more than 500 people in the protests’ aftermath. Almost 2,000 employees of state-funded institutions were dismissed or suspended from work on suspicion of supporting the protests, and many have yet to be reinstated. Dozens of professionals, including doctors and teachers, were brought before an unfair military court on trumped-up charges linked to the protests. While their cases have since been transferred to civilian courts, many still remain unresolved. As recently as last Saturday, a 16-year-old boy was killed after being run over by a police vehicle during a demonstration. Bahraini authorities say the vehicle skidded on an oil slick laid by anti-government protesters. On Sunday, security forces reportedly fired tear gas at mourners gathered for the boy’s funeral.   “It is crucial that the BICI report’s recommendations lead to a serious effort by the Bahraini government to implement lasting measures that improve the human rights situation in the country,” said Philip Luther.“Besides bringing to justice all those who carried out human rights violations, the authorities must provide reparations to the victims, reinstate those who were dismissed from work and reform legislation that criminalizes public gatherings.”Amnesty International and other independent human rights organizations will attend the BICI report launch at the invitation of the Bahraini government.A number of Bahraini civil society organizations plan to publish their own collective report on 22 November into the protest aftermath, and demonstrations are planned to coincide with the BICI report launch.