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US State Department reviews BICI implementation

On 21 June, the US State Department submitted an extensive report reviewing implementation of the 26 recommendations of the 2011 Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry.

In its opening summary, the State Department said: “The Government of Bahrain has made progress towards implementing the reforms recommended by the BICI following the 2011 unrest. The Bahraini Government has rebuilt demolished religious structures; reinstated employees dismissed in 2011; investigated claims of torture, which led to convictions in numerous cases; and compensated families of victims of state violence. Police and security forces have undergone human rights training. However, more work needs to be done.”

Although the State Department recommends a number of additional measures to consolidate the achievements in implementing the BICI, the report demonstrates that at least 20 of the recommendations have been completed according to the criteria set out by the BICI. In several areas the Government has already gone beyond what was stipulated.

There were only three main areas where work is still ongoing to fully deliver on the BICI, as acknowledged by the Government itself:

  • Although 20 of the demolished religious structures have been fully rebuilt, the Government is committed to surmounting planning obstacles and finishing work on the remaining ten sites.
  • Bahrain is still awaiting parliamentary ratification of a media law for protecting the rights of journalists and securing constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms of expression.
  • With the stalling of the National Dialogue, further progress needs to be made on national reconciliation, which all sides acknowledge is a long-term process.

Predictably, many opposition entities have reacted angrily to the report as it goes against their claims that there has been no progress on any of these important reforms.

 

Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry Recommendations

The below analysis uses four criteria for levels of implementation:

Implemented – Judged by the Bahrain Government and State Department to be fully implemented.

Implemented/Additional steps – Judged to be implemented according to the strict definition of the BICI recommendations, but with further action proposed by State Dept or others.

Partially implemented

No action taken

Note that all the quotes below are taken directly from the State Department report itself.

 

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

The National Commission to Review the Recommendations of the BICI Report was established by royal decree in 2011 staffed by a broad range of national figures, with four opposition members appointed. A BICI follow-up unit was established under the Ministry of Justice which published reports in 2012, 2013 and 2014 regarding implementation. A ministerial-level working group chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister oversaw coordination of the various ministries in implementing the BICI.

 

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

All allegations of cruel and inhumane treatment were transferred in 2011 to the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The Public Prosecutor, Nawwaf al-Hamza then established the Special Investigations Unit in 2012 for evaluating these cases.

“The SIU can appeal verdicts in cases against security officers accused of torture or abuse when it believes that a higher punishment is more appropriate”.

 

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 Implemented

A 2012 royal decree established an Ombudsman within the Interior Ministry which began its work in 2013. Between May 2014 and April 2015 the office received 908 complaints and requests for assistance.

“As a result of investigations by the Ombudsman 19 police were referred to the criminal courts and 14 to disciplinary courts. The office has made recommendations to the MOI which have resulted in increased prisoner protections and better policing. The office has a permanent office at Jaw Prison to receive complaints and has installed complaint boxes at other locations. The office investigated every death of a detainee or inmate, including those that were the result of natural causes or suicide. We assess that the office is able to operate independently from the MOI heirachy and control its own operating budget”.

 

1718 – (a) Amending the decree establishing the NSA to ensure that the organization is an intelligence gathering agency without law enforcement and arrest authorities Implemented

“In 2011 King Hamad revoked the NSA’s law enforcement and arrest powers by royal decree. There are no verified reports of NSA officers arresting civilians since 2011. An independent Inspector General Office and Professional Standards Office have been created within the NSA”.

 

1719 – Adopting legislative measures requiring the Attorney-General to investigate claims of torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment Implemented/Additional steps

In 2012 the Cabinet gave the Attorney General jurisdiction to investigate torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.

“While the SIU has and continues to investigate allegations of torture and mistreatment, to more fully investigate this recommendation, Bahrain could implement further legal measures to mandate that the Attorney General investigate all credible claims of torture, whether through the SIU or other domestic or international mechanisms”.

 

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

The Government disbanded the National Security Courts and all cases were passed on to civilian courts for adjudication. The Supreme Judicial Council furthermore reviewed all remaining NSC judgments.

“While the Government of Bahrain successfully transferred cases to civilian courts it is unclear whether the civilian courts which reviewed NSC judgments gave sufficient consideration to claims by some that their incriminating testimony was given under coercion”.

 

1722 (a) – Effective investigations of all the deaths that have been attributed to the security forces Implemented/Additional steps

Bahrain amended the penal code in 2012 to more clearly define torture and criminalize all acts which came under this definition. All such allegations were referred to the Public Prosecutions Office and were investigated by the newly-established Special Investigations Unit. 227 cases were referred to the SIU which has so far passed on eight cases to the courts. The SIU reported a further 40 complaints in late 2015.

Examples of measures taken:

  • Jan 2016: SIU successfully appealed two year sentence for two police convicted of killing Isa Saqer. These policemen were re-sentenced to 7 years in prison.
  • Dec 2015: SIU successfully prosecuted a policeman – 2 year sentence.
  • May 2015: 6 MOI personnel, including 3 high-ranking officers received jail terms from 1-5 years relating to Nov 2014 death of Jaw Prison inmate Hassan al-Shaikh.

“To more fully implement this recommendation we encourage the Government to increase transparency regarding incarceration policies and suspension from duty of cases involving security personnel”.

The Prisoner and Detainee Rights Commission was established in 2013, chaired by the Ombudsman with representatives from civil society. The PDRC received training by British experts and conducts unannounced inspections of detention facilities.

The National Institution for Human Rights was re-established in 2012 with powers meeting international standards “we assess that it is administratively independent. It’s first annual report criticized the Ombudsman and SIU… urged the Govt to schedule a visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, named ministries that failed to comply with requests and made numerous other important recommendations”,

 

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 Implemented

Outside advisors including a range of high-level British specialists have supported the MOI on rules governing the use of force and exercising restraint, with a new code of conduct being approved in 2012. Over 8,000 police officers have received public order training since 2011. The SIU and NIHR provide frequent seminars and training sessions for officers.

“We assess that these institutional reforms have been generally effective, resulting in fewer incidents of use of excessive force by police against public demonstrations, no reports of protester deaths in 2015 and no reports of inmate deaths stemming from abuse in 2015”.

 

1722 (d) – To avoid detention without prompt access to lawyers and without access to the outside world for more than two or three days. In any event, all detention should be subject to effective monitoring by an independent body Implemented/Additional steps

“The Ombudsman’s Office monitors detention and corrections facilities through announced and unannounced visits”.

Numerous international organizations have conducted inspections of prisons and prisoners are informed how to file complaints and conduct appeal procedures. There are clear procedures for contacting families, family visits and access to lawyers.

“To more fully implement this recommendation, the government should ensure that all those arrested and detained have access to legal representation at all stages of the process by simplifying the process by which a lawyer gains access to his/her client”.

 

1722 (e) – The GoB should establish a programme for the integration into the security forces of personnel from all communities Implemented

Beginning in 2012 the Government planned to recruit 500 new police officers annually from all communities in community policing programmes. Thus, between 2012 and 2015 1,500 officers were recruited from both sects.

“The Government of Bahrain notes its difficulty in recruiting Shia, likely due to a cycle of mutual mistrust, and that it continues actively to recruit and employ Shia throughout the Public Security Forces… this may require broader trust-building efforts with these communities beyond the scope of this specific BICI recommendation.”

 

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

By 2013 at least two-thirds of the judiciary had received training in protecting human rights in criminal procedures, including courses through prestigious international organizations.

“The judicial system is making efforts with help from the UK and US to refrain from reliance on confession-based evidence obtained by coercion or duress; this is also consistent with Article 15 of the UN Convention Against Torture”.

 

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

CCTV cameras have been installed in police facilities, including prisons interrogation rooms and holding cells.

”Officials from the US Embassy have observed these cameras and contacts have confirmed that statements to the police were filmed”.

 

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

2,178 of those detained under the 2011 National Safety measures were released without charge, with a further 441 charged with various crimes.

“We encourage the Government of Bahrain to be consistent with the substance and spirit of this recommendation, to include review of cases of others who have been arrested and imprisoned on charges involving non-violent political expression since March 2011.”

 

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

“The death sentences of the four individuals sentenced to death in relation to the death of police officers in the February/March timeframe have been commuted, in many cases to life imprisonment.”

 

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

The Civil Settlement Office approved $26 million “to provide compensation to citizens and residents negatively impacted in 2011”. From 39 applications from families of the deceased $6.2 million was disbursed. Personal details about the claimants was not released “for fear of reprisals by hardline anti-government activists”.

 

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

The Civil Settlements Office selected 193 from 421 applications for financial settlements.

“Beyond the settlements associated with 2011, the Government has continued to offer compensation to victims through other mechanisms”.

For example, five claims against the police for damages were addressed in 2015. However, it was noted that some families refused to accept compensation requiring them to acknowledge that the case was settled and committing them not to pursue further measures.

 

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

“All public sector employees dismissed from their jobs in February-March 2011 have been reinstated or have had their cases resolved… As of January 2014, only 49 of the 2,462 private sector employees’ cases were still unresolved… 37 of these workers are in the Ministry of Labour’s job placement programme.”

 

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

419 students were reinstated by the University of Bahrain and Bahrain Polytechnic and 97 scholarships were reinstated. Procedures where changed to address the cases of students charged with violent crimes through new disciplinary measures.

 

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

The Government has pledged to rebuild all 30 religious structures cited in the BICI report.

“By February 2016, 22 of these specific mosques had been reconstructed… due to ongoing procedural and legal hurdles the Government has not yet begun rebuilding three of the mosques that were identified in the BICI report”.

 

1724 (a/b) – To consider relaxing censorship and allowing the opposition greater access to television broadcasts, radio broadcasts and print media. To establish professional standards for the media and other forms of publications that contain an ethical code and an enforcement mechanism Partially implemented

In September 2015 the Cabinet approved new media regulations.

“A draft media law that would have stipulated only non-custodial sentences for journalists and media professionals was approved by the Cabinet in 2014 but never approved by Parliament… We encourage the Government of Bahrain to take additional steps to safeguard fundamental freedoms for the media, including strengthening legal protections for freedom of speech and ensuring that laws and regulations are applied evenly regardless of content or message”.

The Information Affairs Agency and the Bahraini Journalists Association introduced a code of ethics for journalists in consultation with outside bodies.

“We encourage the Government of Bahrain to work with Parliament and journalists to pass a law that establishes professional media standards consistent with protection of freedom of expression, including for the media.”

 

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

A number of legislative measures have been introduced targeting sectarian language and incitement.

The Ministry of Justice in 2014 banned from preaching the prominent Sunni cleric Adel Hassan al-Hassan and in mid-2015 suspended Sunni cleric and former MP Jassim al-Saeedi. Journalist Tariq al-Amer was fired from Al-Bilad newspaper and faced criminal measures for anti-Shia comments. Meanwhile, although figures like Ibrahim Sharif and Khalil Marzouq have been recently released, Al-Wefaq Secretary General Ali Salman remains in detention for inciting violence.

 

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

The Government has worked with UNESCO’s International Bureau of Education for revising curricula and textbooks, along with training for those in the field of education for raising awareness of human rights and political and civil education, including 400 lectures on religious and ethnic tolerance. There have also been a range of sporting and social initiatives for bringing communities together and promoting national unity. For example, the Bahrain Foundation for Reconciliation and Civil Discourse has hosted a range of public events and joint Sunni-Shia prayer services in 2015.

 

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 Partially implemented

“The Government’s 2014 National Dialogue with the political opposition and civil society resulted in modest political reforms but did not win broad support from the opposition or ultimately advance the reconciliation process. We assess that national reconciliation as envisioned by the BICI report has not yet been achieved. Accordingly to more fully implement this recommendation we continue to encourage the Government of Bahrain to take additional meaningful steps to create conditions that foster reconciliation with the segments of Bahraini society that feel disenfranchised.”

 

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