Bahrain criticised for ‘inadequate’ reforms

Amnesty International says government did little to bring justice to protesters after inquiry proved rights violations.

Protesters gathered in Bahrain to show their anger against the planned Formula 1 race [EPA]

Rights violations continue in Bahrain and the government’s response to the findings of an international commission of inquiry have proved inadequate, Amnesty International has said.

In a report released on Tuesday, the rights group found that Bahrain had failed to achieve justice for protesters with the piecemeal reforms implemented following the November 2011 report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI).

The BICI, set up by King Hamad bin ‘Issa Al Khalifa submitted a hardhitting report of its investigation into human rights
violations committed in connection with the anti-government protests last year.

It found that security forces had used excessive force to suppress protests and tortured detainees to extract confessions.

Amnesty’s investigation found that despite some institutional and other reforms, Bahrain’s overall response to those findings has been inadequate.

“The authorities are trying to portray the country as being on the road to reform, but we continue to receive reports of torture and use of unnecessary and excessive force against protests. Their reforms have only scratched the surface,”  said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director.

“The government’s huge financial investment in international experts to help them reform will go to waste unless it shows real political will to take difficult decisions – in particular, holding to account senior members of the security forces accused of violations, releasing prisoners of conscience and addressing the underlying discrimination against the Shia majority population.”

Formula 1

“With the world’s eyes on Bahrain as it prepares to host the Grand Prix, no-one should be under any illusions that the country’s human rights crisis is over,” Sahraoui said.

Formula One drivers are making their way to Bahrain for the race set to take place there this weekend, despite hundreds of protesters who continue to clash with police in what has become a regular occurrence in the capital Manama.

Riot police fired tear gas to disperse protesting crowds on Monday, as they gathered to show their anger against the government and the planned race.

“I think it’s problematic to hold an event like this in a place where such human rights abuses have been taken place. Where the government hasn’t lived up to its obligations where we haven’t seen the kind of steps of progress that were called for by this independent international commission,” Suzanne Nossel, the executive director of Amnesty in the US told the Reuters news agency.

“If you’re going to turn on the tv and focus on Bahrain this weekend you ought to focus on the full picture, ” she said.

Last year’s race was cancelled due to the political uprising in the gulf nation.

Held to account

Amnesty’s report found that no senior members of Bahrain’s security forces, including the National Security Agency and Bahrain Defence Force, had been held to account for their part in last year’s violence.

It also said that some security officials accused of using torture methods, and a few who were found to be responsible for the deaths of protesters, still remained in their posts.

The special office created to investigate violations against protesters also lacked independence, Amnesty said, with only a small number of low-ranking officials having faced trial so far.

In practice, Bahrain’s security forces remain largely unaffected by the changes called for in the BICI, Amnesty said, despite the government introducing a new code of conduct for members to follow.

Detainees also continue to face ill-treatment, including torture, in unofficial detention centres.

Dozens of prisoners who were tried for participating in anti-government protests without using or advocating violence have still not been released, the rights group found.

Amnesty called on the government to release all prisoners of conscience, and ensure that the changes called for in the commission of inquiry be fully implemented.

“Nearly five months after the report’s publication, real change has not materialised,” Amnesty’s Sahraoui said of the BICI findings.

“It is time for the Bahraini government to match its public pronouncements with genuine actions.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies