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Bahrain: 'Bassiouni' inquiry could be 'sea change' on human rights

Switch to civilian courts also welcomed - an ‘overdue’ step

An independent commission set up by the King of Bahrain to investigate alleged human rights abuses during recent protests in the country is a significant step forward but must lead to justice for the victims, Amnesty International said today.

The five-member investigation panel comprises individuals of internationally-recognised independence, integrity and expertise. It is expected to report on its findings in October.

The commission will be chaired by Professor Cherif Bassiouni, who has led UN investigations into alleged war crimes in Bosnia and Libya. The four other members are Sir Nigel Rodley, a former Amnesty staff member, former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and currently a member of the UN Human Rights Committee;  Justice Philippe Kirsch, a former judge at the International Criminal Court; Dr Mahnoush Arsanjani, a former UN legal advisor; and Dr Badria al ‘Awadhi, an expert on international and Sharia law at the Freedom House Foundation in Washington DC.

According to the Royal Decree issued by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the Bassiouni inquiry will have access to officials and official documents. The committee members, will be able to interview alleged torture victims and others in confidence, and to make recommendations for further action by the King and the Bahraini authorities.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Programme Director Malcolm Smart said:

“This is certainly an impressive line-up of independent international experts.

“Moreover, the terms of the King’s decree make clear that they will have the authority to carry out a full investigation into the widespread human rights violations allegedly committed by government forces when they crushed the February and March protests and in their aftermath.”

“The appointment of this international commission appears to represent nothing less than a sea change in Bahrain.

“Until now, the government has signally failed to rein in its security forces, investigate torture allegations and ensure accountability, while using special military courts to prosecute its critics. This now appears to be changing, and not a day too soon.

“However, it also needs to lead to accountability, justice and reparations for all those whose rights have been violated.  Whether or not the government delivers that will be the true test."

In another landmark move, the King also announced that all military court trials connected with the February-March protests will be moved to civilian courts. Those already sentenced will also have their cases reviewed by civilian courts.

Malcolm Smart added:

“This too is a very welcome, if overdue step. Civilians should never be tried before military courts and if this now spells the end of the National Safety Court, so much the better for Bahrain. That court has been a travesty of justice and a stain on the Bahraini authorities’ claim to uphold the rule of law. It will not be missed.

“All those facing trial or sentenced solely for exercising their legitimate right to freedom of expression should be released immediately.”

At least 500 people have been detained in Bahrain since pro-reform protests began in February and four have died in suspicious circumstances in detention. Almost 2,000 people have been dismissed or suspended from work.

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