3rd Mar, 2013 –

Once again Human Rights Watch has proceeded to paint an unrealistically depressing picture of the situation in Bahrain by focusing almost exclusively on one issue and ignoring the many reforms which have been introduced to fulfill Bahrain‘s human rights commitments.

In this instance the issue obsessing Human Rights Watch is Bahrain’s failure to take action against high-level officials in response to abuses, which took place during the unrest in early 2011.

Human Rights Watch’s logic is that because human rights abuses took place, Ministers and senior officials should ultimately be held responsible. However, they ignore the following factors:

1.      Security personnel have been put on trial and in some cased faced prison sentences as a result of some of the most outrageous abuses.

2.      Human Rights Watch and other organizations have taken exception to the fact that two police officers were recently found innocent of the charges against them. In doing so they risk adopting the lynch mob mentality that anyone accused of a crime deserves what’s coming to them. HRW shouldn’t need to be reminded of the principle of “innocent until proven guilty”.

3.      HRW commits the opposite sin in the case of opposition detainees, ignoring all the charges against them and superficially portraying them as “prisoners of conscience”.

4.      Human Rights Watch ignores the bigger picture. Bahrain’s leadership in early 2011 was struggling to manage one of the worst periods of civil crisis during our history, during which civil order came close to collapsing entirely and we seemed on the brink of an inter-sectarian conflict. Bahrain’s leaders have rightly acknowledged significant failings, but we should also credit the leadership for overcoming this crisis. The King in his wisdom chose the path of the independent inquiry, reforms and National Dialogue – in complete contrast with other leaderships in this region.

5.      The report is wrong to talk about “scores” of protesters being killed. The BICI report documents relatively small numbers of tragic casualties, including policemen, bystanders, expat workers who were attacked by protesters, and those who fell victim to sectarian violence or bomb attacks. The opposition’s casualty list is significantly inflated by what it calls “tear gas casualties”, many of whom were older people who died natural deaths, or those with respiratory complications who died after a prolonged period in hospital.

6.      Human Rights Watch completely ignores continuing human rights abuses by the opposition which has sought to terrorize civilians. A widely circulated recent official leaflet from the leading 14 February Movement threatened children that they would “suffer the consequences” if they attended school during strike days and threatened to unleash a situation of “total war” against the public. Militants have used lethal explosive devices against civilians and hundreds of police officers have been seriously injured in attacks with firebombs and other weapons. The opposition has continually used children to manufacture Molotov Cocktails, build roadblocks, attack police, destroy property and threaten civilians. In doing so they have radicalised and brain-washed a generation.

7.      The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry found no evidence for a purposeful and systematic use of force during the unrest. Incidents of abuses tended to be attributed to individuals. In regard to the use of force against demonstrators, the BICI made the following findings:

 “The available evidence and the progression of events during these days do not indicate that orders were issued to the police to use lethal force against demonstrators.”

“The Commission has not found evidence establishing a purposeful practice of excessive use of force by Bahrain Defence Forces units.”

“The Commission has not found any evidence establishing the excessive use of force by either National Guard or NSA units.”

HRW does not cite in the Government’s favour the fact that HRW was granted five-star access both to Bahrain’s leadership and to prominent detainees. In doing so, the authorities have acted with transparency and fairness, showing that they have nothing to hide.

Let’s once again remind Human Rights Watch and others of some of the reform measures which have been taken, allowing Bahrain during its Human Rights Council Periodic Review to have implemented over 95% of the recommendations made:

·         Over 17 officers face trial over torture or violence charges, including senior figures. A further 30 security personnel face charges; over 122 further cases are under investigation.

·         Unfair dismissal: 98% of protesters dismissed from jobs have been reinstated.

·         $6m compensation disbursed to the 36 families of those who died; & 116 cases of injury.

·         Thousands of police have received human rights training, with a new code of conduct, prohibiting all forms of torture. Installation of CCTV cameras at police centres.

·         Transfer of all trials to civilian justice. Training for judges in international legal standards.

·         Freedom of expression legislation protects journalists and civilians.

In an attempt to meet the protest movement half way, the King announced a series of far-reaching constitutional reforms for empowering the elected house of Parliament:

·             MPs have new powers to question Ministers and to remove Ministers.

·             The Parliament has the power to reject policy proposals from the Cabinet.

·             Elected MPs have the right to take a vote of no confidence against the Prime Minister.

·             The King must consult heads of parliament before dissolving the legislature.

We note that certain individuals from Bahrain’s authorities are urging action against Human Rights Watch following the publication of yet another one-sided report. Citizens for Bahrain would caution against such a measure against a globally respected human rights organization.

However, HRW should take note that in publishing such unfair material it ignores the substantial progress which has been made (and we agree that much more still has to be done), HRW risks undermining its own position and that of the moderates within Bahrain’s governing system who believe in reform and addressing the mistakes of the past.

If important reforms and Constitutional amendments are repeatedly ignored, then it becomes more difficult to argue that continued reform is fruitful and worthwhile.  

This report is both a gift to secular and militant elements of the opposition who want to undermine the National Dialogue and justify violence and terrorism. It is likewise a gift to Sunni extremists who want to thwart all efforts at reconciliation.

The King is still a highly popular figure who has always advocated a reformed Constitutional Monarchy. It was the King who transformed the human rights situation of Bahrain for women, religious minorities, oppositionists, and all sections of society when he ascended to the throne over a decade ago.

In seeking to undermine the Bahrain governing system, Human Rights Watch should not strive to be more revolutionary than those militants who have done so much to crush over the rights of ordinary Bahrainis.

If you are serious about real reform and progress in Bahrain then work with the moderates of the Bahraini Administration who advocate dialogue and reform – not against them.

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