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Have the BICI Recommendations been implemented?

2nd Jan, 2014 -

During November 2013 Citizens for Bahrain issued a report looking at the 26 Recommendations from the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) and evaluating progress in implementing them. On 1 December the BICI Follow-Up Unit published its own report, gathering together evidence from a variety of Government departments.

We have modified our evaluation of implementation of the BICI recommendations based on this evidence. For those concerned with this issue, it is worth reading the Follow-Up Unit’s report in full. However, our summary below sets out briefly and straightforwardly where work stands on each of the key areas from the BICI recommendations.

Following up the BICI Recommendations

1715 – Establishing an independent national commission to follow up and implement the Recommendations of the BICI.

The “National Commission to Review the Recommendations of the BICI Report”, comprising a broad range of public figures, was quickly established and to engage the Government on implementation of the BICI Recommendations. Furthermore, a ministerial working group chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister oversees coordination of the various ministries; and the BICI Follow-Up Unit in the Ministry of Justice works with relevant departments to ensure compliance. Successful implementation: 5/5

Accountability

1716 – Establishing an independent mechanism to determine the accountability of those in government who have committed unlawful or negligent acts.

1717 – (a) Placing the office of the Inspector General in Ministry of Interior as a separate entity whose tasks should include those of an internal ―ombudsman‘s office.

1719 – Adopting legislative measures requiring the Attorney-General to investigate claims of torture.

1722 (a) – Effective investigations of all the deaths that have been attributed to the security forces. (b) Establishing a standing independent body to examine all complaints of torture or ill-treatment, excessive use of force or other abuses.

The new Special Investigation Unit was charged with determining criminal liability of government officials. All complaints submitted were investigated, including those outside the BICI’s remit. The Unit referred 39 cases to the courts, including 95 defendants. 13 people were convicted; 15 were acquitted; other cases are under way.

The opposition alleged that the investigations haven’t gone far enough and that sentences were too lenient. However, the authorities argue that where sufficient evidence of foul play exists action has been taken. Successful implementation: 4/5

Remodeling the National Security Agency

1718 – (a) Amending the decree establishing the NSA to ensure that the organization is an intelligence gathering agency without law enforcement and arrest authorities. (b) The NSA should also have an independent office of inspector general to carry out ombudsman functions. (c) Legislation should be adopted to provide that even during the application of a State of National Safety the arrest of persons should be in accordance with the Code of Criminal Procedure.

According to the Decree, the NSA’s mandate is limited to intelligence gathering, without law enforcements and arrest authorities. Observers agree that Recommendations for the NSA have been implemented in full. Successful implementation: 5/5

Reconfiguring the security forces

1722 (c) – Implementing a program of public order training for the public security forces, the NSA and the BDF in accordance with UN best practices. To ensure future compliance with the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials

1722 (e) – The Commission recommends that the GoB establish a programme for the integration into the security forces of personnel from all communities.

1722(g) – Audiovisual recording of all official interviews with detained persons.

During 2012 effort was put into police retraining and new codes of conduct explicitly prohibiting torture. International experts were brought in to facilitate this process. The BICI Follow-Up Unit’s report details the training courses and revised procedures. Installation of CCTV across all police centres was an important measure.

Despite increasing levels of militancy from rioters, resulting in the deaths of 8 police officers and over 2,300 police injuries; the police’s record has improved in its ability to contain rioting without resorting to excessive force. Successful implementation: 4/5

Strengthening the judicial system

1722 (d) – (a) To avoid detention without prompt access to lawyers and without access to the outside world for more than two or three days. (b) In any event, all detention should be subject to effective monitoring by an independent body. (c) Moreover, every person arrested should be given a copy of the arrest warrant and no person should be held incommunicado.

1722 (f) – Training the judiciary on the need to ensure that their activities contribute to the prevention of torture and ill-treatment.

A lot of work has been done in retraining the judiciary, including extensive international training courses. There has been progress in strengthening the rule of law and improving access to lawyers and due process (see the full BICI Follow-Up report). However, it will take time for these cultural changes within the judicial system to become entrenched.Successful implementation: 4/5

Reviewing sentences

1720 – To make subject to review in ordinary courts all convictions and sentences rendered by the National Security Courts.

1722 (h) – Reviewing convictions and commuting sentences of all persons charged with offences involving political expression, not consisting of advocacy of violence.

1722 (i) – Commuting the death sentence imposed for murder arising out of the events of February/March 2011.

All cases tried through the National Security Courts were transferred to the civilian court sector and all those convicted through this system were given right of appeal. The review committee went beyond the BICI’s recommendations by reviewing all cases, not just rulings.

A high proportion of sentences were reduced and many were given minimal sentences, fines or released. Regarding the issue of the medics put on trial for seriously breaching their professional duties, these individuals were initially released from prison and then pardoned. No death sentences have been, or will be, carried out. Successful implementation: 4/5

Compensation

1722 (j) – Compensating the families of the deceased victims in a manner commensurate with the gravity of their loss.

1722(k) – Compensating all victims of torture, ill-treatment or prolonged incommunicado detention.

A compensation fund was established based on international best practice. Families of all 35 fatalities cited in the BICI report were compensated, including a number of additional cases identified by the investigation. $6.2m was allocated. The 421 claimants for injury have been assessed and will receive compensation commensurate with the seriousness of their injuries. Successful implementation: 4/5

Reinstating dismissed employees and students

1723 (a) – Ensuring that the remaining dismissed employees have not been dismissed because of the exercise of their right to freedom of expression.

1723 (b) – Ensuring that public corporations and other employers who dismissed employees for failure to appear for work at the time of the demonstrations treat them in a way that is at least equal to civil servants.

1723 (c) – (a) Reinstating all students who have not been criminally charged with an act of violence and (b) to put in place a procedure whereby students who were expelled on legitimate grounds may apply for reinstatement after a reasonable period of time, (c) and to adopt clear and fair standards for disciplinary measures.

All public sector employees returned to their jobs. Only a tiny number of private sector employees have not been reinstated. In mid-2012 a visiting ILO delegation found the reinstatement percentage to be 92%. This subsequently rose to 98.7%. All students were quickly re-admitted. These measures have been confirmed by international observers.Successful implementation: 5/5

Rebuilding religious structures

1723 (d) – Rebuilding some of the demolished religious structures in accordance with administrative regulations.

This has been a difficult process because many of the affected structures were built illegally or in impractical locations, such as infringing on a major highway. Out of 12 Mosques which are to be rebuilt work is in progress on 5 and the others are pending approval, or planning agreements for rebuilding in alternative sites. Eight million dollars has been allotted for rebuilding. Successful implementation: 2/5

Freedom of expression & the media

1724 (a) – To consider relaxing censorship and allowing the opposition greater access to television broadcasts, radio broadcasts and print media.

1724 (b) – To establish professional standards for the media and other forms of publications that contain an ethical code and an enforcement mechanism.

1724 (c) – To undertake appropriate measures including legislative measures to prevent incitement to violence, hatred, sectarianism and other forms of incitement.

A number of legislative measures have been introduced recently targeting sectarian language and incitement. New measures are also being introduced for improving media standards and reinforcing freedom of expression, including reinforced protections for journalists. The Media and Communication draft law currently being worked on takes as its starting point international human rights norms.Successful implementation: 4/5

Reconciliation

1725 (a) – To develop educational programs at the primary, secondary, high school and university levels to promote religious, political and other forms of tolerance, as well as to promote human rights and the rule of law.

1725 (b) – The Commission recommends to the GoB the development of a national reconciliation programme that addresses the grievances of groups which are, or perceive themselves, to be deprived.

The Government has embarked on a number of educational initiatives for strengthening religious tolerance and social cohesion. The Government has also supported civil society initiatives for reconciliation. See the BICI Follow-Up Report for a list of projects.

A number of initiatives are in place for addressing many of the core grievances of the opposition, such as housing programmes, empowering elected MPs, strengthening the rule of law and supporting small businesses harmed by the unrest.

Regrettably, the reconciliation initiatives have not received the public support that they deserve because for most Bahrainis the political crisis is not yet over, and as a result the time is perhaps not yet right for genuine reconciliation and overcoming the social divisions. Successful implementation: 3/5

Conclusion

The BICI Follow-Up Unit’s report illustrates that, despite the perception that implementation of the BICI Recommendations has been slow and incomplete, a lot of work has actually been done to bring Bahraini institutions in to line with international human rights norms; learn lessons from events during 2011; and to move forward as a nation.

To counter criticism that not enough has been done, we would strongly recommend visible efforts over the coming weeks and months to expedite remaining investigations into abuses; consolidate institutional reforms and to embark on a society-wide process of reconciliation.

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