Inside Story
Is Bahrain's reform real or cosmetic?
As the government is praised for implementing reform, we ask if the country has embarked on the path to real change.
Last Modified: 21 Mar 2012 09:49

Following the uprising in Bahrain, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa ordered what he called an independent fact-finding commission.

"The UN highlighted today their concern about the use of excessive tear gas. That is a very clear message that Bahrain didn't implement anything from the recommendations in terms of human rights… abuses, clashes are ongoing in Bahrain."

Ali al-Aswad, a former Bahraini opposition MP

That culminated in the release of a 500-page report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) in November last year.

The report included 9,000 testimonies, and documented 46 deaths and 559 allegations of torture. It also outlined recommendations for the Bahraini government.

On Tuesday, the National Commission met with King Hamad to discuss the implementations of these recommendations.

While the government claims they have achieved 90 per cent of what the report set out for them, the opposition says the figure is closer to 10 per cent.

But the Bahraini government insists that most of the recommendations outlined in the report have been met, while the opposition refutes this claim.

"This is just a cosmetic change that is not fundamentally going to address the structural inequalities that were in the system in Bahrain before February 2011. The government is right to point to some of the advances that it has made but that won't be enough."

- Michael Stephens, a researcher for the Royal United Services Institute

Speaking to Al Jazeera earlier, Abdel Jalil Khalil, a former MP from the Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society said, among other things, that none of the high-ranking officials responsible for the alleged killing and torture have gone on trial or even being investigated.

He also said that while about 38 Shia mosques were destroyed during the uprising, only five have been reconstructed, and no changes have been made to the legal system despite Tuesday's report.

Rupert Colville, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement: "We have been receiving worrying reports of the disproportionate use of force by Bahraini security forces including the excessive use of tear gas… We call on the Government of Bahrain to investigate the alleged use of such excessive force."

In this show we ask: Is Bahrain on the path to real reform? And was the BICI aiming for comprehensive or cosmetic change?

Joining Inside Story for the discussion with presenter Dareen Abughaida are guests: Jamal Fakhro, the deputy chairman of the Shura Council, Bahrain's upper house of parliament; Michael Stephens, a researcher for the Royal United Services Institute; and Ali al-Aswad, a former opposition MP and member of the Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society.

"A special unit to handle [cases involving high-ranking officials and security officers allegedly behind the protest killings] was established on February 27… Until today 121 individuals working within the police are being questioned by the unit. It will take some time... to issue those orders."

Jamal Fakhro, the deputy chairman of Bahrain's Shura Council

Key findings and recommendations:

  • Alleged torture with electric shocks, beatings, and threats of rape;
  • The use of force against protesters;
  • A government review of all jail sentences issued by state security courts;
  • The reinstatement of sacked employees and dismissed students;
  • Better training for security forces;
  • The rebuilding of places of worship demolished during the uprising;
  • To overturn convictions from unfair trials of demonstrators, human rights defenders and activists, as well as their immediate release.
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