22nd Nov, 2013 –
The Government claims that all 26 of the Recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) have mostly been implemented. The opposition and some human rights groups argue that because of certain omissions there has been no real progress.
Here, we try and get behind the rhetoric of those who claim that the Recommendations are more than 80% fulfilled; and their opponents who say that more than 80% are incomplete. We will take a qualitative look at where each of the Recommendations stand:
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 Bahraini public figures, was quickly established and continues to engage the Government on a number of questions regarding implementation of the BICI Recommendations. 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.
International organizations agree that these Recommendations for the NSA have been implemented in full*. Successful implementation: 5/5
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.
This is probably the most controversial issue. Investigations were pursued into all the notorious incidents cited by the BICI and numerous security officials have been brought to trial. The opposition have alleged that the investigations haven’t gone far enough and that sentences haven’t been sufficiently harsh. However, the authorities have responded that where sufficient evidence of foul play exists action has been taken. Successful implementation: 3/5
Reconfiguring the security forces
1722 (c) – Implementing a program of public order training for the public security forces, the NSA and the BDF, including their private security companies, 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 a lot of time and effort was put into police retraining and issuing new codes of conduct explicitly prohibiting torture. Numerous international experts were brought in to facilitate this process. The installation of CCTV across all police centres was also an important measure.
Despite increasing levels of militancy from rioters, the police’s record has improved greatly in its ability to contain rioting without resorting to excessive force; however, continuing complaints must be followed up. Successful implementation: 3.5/5
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 a lot of progress in strengthening the rule of law and improving access to lawyers and due process. However, there have been criticisms, which suggests that it will take time for these cultural changes within the judicial system to become entrenched. Successful implementation: 4/5
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. A high proportion of sentences were reduced and many were given minimal sentences, fines or released. After the long-running 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 carried out and nobody faces the death penalty. Successful implementation: 4/5
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 and several million dollars have been allocated. However because of ongoing legal procedures, the compensation process is still ongoing at a relatively slow pace. Accelerating this process and being seen to compensate those who suffered at the hands of the security forces would be a significant step in the reconciliation process. Successful implementation: 3/5
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.
This has been one of the most successful areas of implementation with nearly all public sector employees returning to their jobs and only small numbers of private sector employees who have not been reinstated or reached a satisfactory agreement with their employers. According to statistics, 98% of employees are reinstated**. The process of reinstating students has been similarly successful and these measures have been welcomed 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 that are to be rebuilt work is in progress on 5 and the others are pending approval, however more could be done to expedite the process of rebuilding religious structures and recommending new locations for mosques previously located in inconvenient areas. 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. However, arguably more needs to be done to further this agenda. Successful implementation: 3/5
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 promoting reconciliation.
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
Activist groups like “Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain” (http://adhrb.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/BICI-Report-Updated-2013.pdf) have tried to present most of the BICI Recommendations as unimplemented, because for each of the criteria there is still a certain amount of work to be done. Although in some areas the authorities certainly could have moved more quickly, many of the changes required are cultural changes which take many years to become properly entrenched; such as the radical changes in which the security forces go about their work or the reconciliation process necessary to heal the wounds in Bahraini society.
In response to those who claim that nothing has been done on these Recommendations, we would say look carefully at the facts. However, we would also urge the authorities to answer their critics by continuing to act on all these important areas of work and ensuring that they properly explain their progress to the outside world.
Note: For a comprehensive list of the recommendations and a full description of what action has been taken, see the website of the National Commission to Review the Recommendations of the BICI Report: http://www.biciactions.bh/wps/portal/BICI
*See page Recommendation 1718, page 8 of ADHRB Report (link above).
**See Table 3 of U.S. Department of Labor Report (http://www.dol.gov/ilab/programs/otla/20121220Bahrain.pdf).