Bahrain and the Need to Correct Mistakes
Last Wednesday, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) issued its report on the developments in that country during people's demonstrations against the government in February- March this year. The Commission led by Cherif Bassiouni, a well-known Egyptian-American lawyer, was established in the summer at the order of the King of Bahrain who was also present when Mr. Bassiouni presented his report at a news conference last week.
The BICI report which contained more than 500 pages of interviews, investigations and analysis presented clear cases of human rights violations at the hands of government security forces. It found that excessive force including torture resulting in the death of five detainees and extraction of forced confessions was used against detainees. It stated that the security forces "followed a systematic practice of physical and psychological mistreatment, which amounted in many cases to torture, with respect to a large number of detainees." The report also referred to the government's use of force as "on many occasions, unnecessary, disproportionate and indiscriminate."
One of the most important parts of the Commission's report which attracted worldwide media attention relates to the alleged role of Iran in disturbances in Bahrain. It said that there was no clear evidence that Iran had incited the uprising. Despite this clear-cut position, Bahraini officials have insisted that Iran intervened in the uprising. In this regard, the King said "Iran's propaganda fueled the flames of sectarian strife-- an intolerable interference in our internal affairs from which Bahrain has suffered greatly." However, as reported by the British paper Independent, "Middle-aged hospital consultants were forced to sign confessions admitting that they were members of an Iranian revolutionary plot." In this context, the government later introduced a very clumsy argument suggesting that due to security reasons it did not provide the Commission with the evidence pointing to Iran's incitement of unrest in Bahrain.
There are two broad areas where the BICI report did not touch upon properly. One is the consequences of the presence of Saudi forces in the unrest in Bahrain. Although there appears to be no report of direct Saudi forces' involvement in assisting the Bahraini security forces during the uprising, the report would have carried a much better weight had it touched upon this important issue. Second is the fact that it did not mention who ordered the killing and torturing of the people. The latter point has been emphasized by the opposition who argue that the report has failed to point the finger at senior officials.
Two reasons are mentioned for the initiation of the inquiry by the Bahraini King. The first is that by calling for an investigation and later accepting its outcome, the King wanted to clear himself from any blame for what has happened in his country as regards the suppression of people’s uprising. The second is that he wanted to portray himself as a leader determined to correct the wrongdoings thus gathering international admiration. After the release of the report, he said that Bahraini officials engaged in abuses would be accountable and replaced.