Bahrain: The Right Thing To Do
On May 9, 2016, Professor M. Cherif received the Order of Bahrain, First Class, from the King of Bahrain, marking the fifth year since the submission of the report and recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. The report and recommendations can be found at http://www.bici.org.bh/. During these five years the government has undertaken a number of initiatives to implement the BICI recommendations, as well as other initiatives on reconciliation.
On the formal occasion, mentioned above, Professor Bassiouni issued a statement in Arabic, which is attached. The English translation which was published in the official Bahrain media was not accurate and Professor Bassiouni issued his own corrected translation, which is also attached.
Unfortunately, there was some confusion with respect to the inaccurate English translation, and as a result Professor Bassiouni felt it necessary to clarify his position in the following statement:
In 2011 the Kingdom of Bahrain went through an existential crisis. A confrontation took place between a segment of the Shicā population and the government, along with its Sunni supporters. The latter saw this as a precursor to revolutionary regime change. Gulf forces entered the country, which was on the brink of civil war. Violence and repression ensued.
With moral and political courage almost unprecedented in the Arab World, King Hamad appointed an International Commission of Experts to investigate the events and make recommendations for accountability and enhancing reconciliation, stability, and peace in that country.
The Commission, consisted of five world renowned distinguished jurists. It had total freedom of action in investigating what had occurred and received the full cooperation of all government agencies. This too was unprecedented in the Arab World. The commitment and dedication of the commissioners and the staff won nationwide recognition from all factions, as well as international recognition. Its members need to be recognized: Philippe Kirsch, former President of the ICC and former Canadian Ambassador; Sir Nigel Rodley, world reknowned, long time activist and scholar in the field of Human Rights and Professor at University of Essex, UK; Mahnoush Arsanjani, former director of the UN’s Codification Division; Badria Al-Awadhi, former Dean of Kuwait University Law School; and myself as Chair.
The report was delivered at a formal ceremony convened by King Hamad and attended by over 600 persons from the government, parliament, other state institutions, academia, the diplomatic corps, representatives of civil society, and the media. I delivered a public summary, which lasted close to an hour, presenting the facts and the Commission’s recommendations. The report was published, distributed widely, and put on a publically accessible website. It became the basis of in-country efforts to achieve accountability and justice. The King, the Crown Prince, and a number of members of the Cabinet, particularly the Ministers of Interior, Justice, and Education worked diligently to implement the 26 recommendations and to establish a reconciliation dialogue with the Shicā opposition. Over the last five years, these efforts have, regrettably, not all been successful. But these efforts must be continued, particularly in light of the ongoing tragic events in the Arab region.
On May 9, 2016, five years after the completion of the Commission’s work, I was honored by the King at a formal ceremony in Manama. On that occasion I issued a public statement acknowledging efforts undertaken thus far, including the establishment of governmental follow-up commissions. Positive accomplishments must be acknowledged. But of the Commission’s 26 recommendations, only 10 have been substantially implemented, while the other 16 have only been partially implemented. Two of them should remain a priority of the government, namely: the release of persons convicted on the basis of their political beliefs and actions, based on freedom of opinion and expression. This includes 16 high-level persons convicted on such grounds. And, the pursuit of investigations of those responsible for the killing of five persons under torture and the ascertainment of their superiors’ responsibility.
The government’s task is not over, even though the Commission’s is. This is not only required by justice, but it is needed to advance social justice and political reconciliation. Bahrain needs it for its future. And the region needs a positive example of an enlightened government and society in a region rife with human tragedies and human rights abuses. It is time for rulers and peoples in that region to do what is right, because it is the right thing to do, and end violence and repression.
The original article, in Arabic, published by the Bahrain News Agency on May 9, 2016 is available at http://www.bna.bh/portal/news/726406#.VzCkwmXekvc.gmail.
Following is Professor Bassiouni’s approved translation of his statement on this occasion:
Professor M. Cherif Bassiouni, who chaired the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), said that the formation of the BICI was a landmark in the history of commissions, and that the commissioners were among the foremost international authorities on human rights and humanitarian law who were highly recognized for their competence and independence.
They were able to complete their work and to draw on the full and unconditional cooperation of the government and all competent authorities, resulting in a report that was well received locally and internationally, which is a testimony to the bold and wise decision by HM King Hamad to set up the commission, Professor Bassiouni added.
Professor Bassiouni said that, during this visit, he was informed of the latest developments concerning the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission and it appeared to him that the Government implemented the recommendations on reinstating the students to their universities and the employees to their previous employment, and that the injured and victims received financial compensation without prejudice to their right to resort to competent civil courts. Moreover, a Special Investigation Unit was established in the Office of the Public Prosecution, and the establishment of an office of Inspector General in the National Security Agency, as well as an Ombudsman Office and retrials for those who were convicted before the National Safety Courts; the punishment of transgressors; changes in certain laws such as the Code of Criminal Procedure and Criminal Code; the training of police officers, judges, public prosecutors; and, the regularization of condition of places of worship.
Bassiouni added that the Government had adopted additional measures that included the establishment of the Prisoners and Detainees Rights Commission in order to protect them and guarantee there are no abuses.
All these measures taken by Bahrain indicate that serious efforts have been exerted to overcome the events of 2011, he added.
Professor Bassiouni said that the Government undertook the development of the necessary measures and programs to enhance national cohesion between all components of the Bahraini society and to improve the capabilities of the security services.
Professor Bassiouni added, during this visit, he was briefed with respect to several security reports which were not available in 2011 when the BICI was preparing its report and which indicate the existence of interference by regional foreign parties.
He added that Bahrain has emerged from a difficult period, and that the Government has dealt with the events through an integrated system of reforms and efficient actions that helped to overcome the 2011 events in light of new conditions and variables in the region.
He said that Bahrain was moving forward with reforms, which prompts the statement that the objectives of the Commission have been achieved, and that the main guarantee to maintain and build upon what has been achieved is a continuation of the reforms project launched by HM the King.
Apparently, what was published substituted the word “recommendations” for “objectives” in the final paragraph, above. Thus giving the impression that all of the Commission’s recommendations have been fully and completely implemented. That is not the case, as described above. What was accomplished were the objectives of the Commission, namely: to investigate, to establish the facts, and to make recommendations. The Commission was not tasked, nor was it authorized, to follow up on the implementation of its recommendations. That responsibility is incumbent upon the government of Bahrain.