Middle East

Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry excerpts

An independent Commission of Inquiry in Bahrain has published its report into the protests in February and March and the subsequent declaration of a State of National Safety on 15 March. The panel, led by Egyptian-American international law expert Cherif Bassiouni, was formed and funded by Bahrain's government five months ago in an attempt to address charges of human rights abuses during the government's response to the unrest.

Here are some key observations and recommendations from the report of the Commission.

On deaths during the unrest

Thirty-five deaths occurred between 14 February and 15 April 2011 that have been linked to the events of February and March 2011. The deaths of 19 of these civilians have been attributed to Security Forces - the Ministry of Interior (MoI), the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Bahrain Defence Force (BDF); the deaths of two civilians have been attributed to other civilians; and the deaths of nine civilians have not been attributed to any specific perpetrator, group or government agency. Five of the 35 deaths were members of security forces. The deaths of three police officers have been attributed to demonstrators; that of one police officer has been attributed to the BDF; and that of one BDF officer has not been attributed to specific perpetrators.

On the use of torture by security forces

Five persons allegedly died as a result of torture. Many detainees were subjected to torture and other forms of physical and psychological abuse while in custody. This again indicates certain patterns of behaviour by certain government agencies. Not all of the detainees were subjected to all of the techniques of mistreatment. Rather, there was a more discernible pattern of ill-treatment with regard to certain categories of detainees. The extent of this physical and psychological mistreatment is evidence of a deliberate practice, which in some cases was aimed at extracting confessions and statements by duress, while in other cases was intended for the purpose of retribution and punishment.

Image caption The report says "excessive force" was used by security forces against protesters

The Commission received 559 complaints concerning the mistreatment of persons in custody. All but nine of these complainants were Shia Muslims.

The most common techniques for mistreatment used on detainees included the following: blindfolding; handcuffing; enforced standing for prolonged periods; beating; punching; hitting the detainee with rubber hoses (including on the soles of the feet), cables, whips, metal, wooden planks or other objects; electrocution; sleep-deprivation; exposure to extreme temperatures; verbal abuse; threats of rape; and insulting the detainee's religious sect (Shia).

The Commission is of the view that the lack of accountability of officials within the security system in Bahrain has led to a culture of impunity, whereby security officials have few incentives to avoid mistreatment of prisoners or to take action to prevent mistreatment by other officials.

On the security forces response to demonstrations

In many situations, the security forces violated the principles of necessity and proportionality, which are the generally applicable principles in matters relating to the use of force by law enforcement officials. This is evident in both the choice of the weapons that were used by these forces during confrontations with civilians and the manner in which these weapons were used. The security forces did not, at all times, strictly comply with their legal obligation to target the individuals in a manner that would disable or incapacitate the individual. The available evidence, including forensic and ordnance reports, indicates that on a number of occasions the security forces fired their weapons without taking due care to ensure that individuals were not fatally injured.

On attacks on foreign nationals

The Commission also finds sufficient evidence to establish that some expatriates, particularly South Asian workers, were the targets of attacks during the events of February/March 2011. Pakistanis, in particular, were targeted owing to the membership or suspected membership of some Pakistanis in the BDF and police force. Various neighbourhoods where expatriates lived in Bahrain were the subject of sporadic violent attacks creating an environment of fear, resulting in many expatriates leaving their homes and living in shelters. Because of this atmosphere of fear some foreign nationals were afraid of returning to work or places of business. The Commission notes that four expatriates were killed and many were injured by mobs as a result of these attacks.

On arrests under martial law

Between 21 March and 15 April 2011, security forces systematically raided houses in order to arrest individuals, and in so doing terrified the occupants. These arrests were performed during the night and in pre-dawn raids by hooded persons, who intentionally broke down doors, forcibly entered and sometimes ransacked the houses. This practice was often accompanied by sectarian insults and verbal abuse. Women and children and other family members frequently witnessed these events. In many of the reported cases, the women were asked to stand in their sleeping clothes, thus humiliating the women and other relatives present, and terrifying the children. The arrested persons were taken blindfolded to places of detention that at the time were unknown to the arrested persons. The pattern of these arrests indicated the existence of an operational plan which involved personnel from three government agencies, the MoI, the NSA and the BDF.

Overall, the total number of persons arrested pursuant to the declaration of a State of National Safety was 2,929. Of those, 2,178 were released without charge.

The Commission recommends: To make subject to review in ordinary courts all convictions and sentences rendered by the National Security Courts where fundamental principles of a fair trial, including prompt and full access to legal counsel and inadmissibility of coerced testimony, were not respected be subject to full review in the ordinary courts.

On allegations that Iran was involved in the unrest

The evidence presented to the Commission in relation to the involvement of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the internal affairs of Bahrain does not establish a discernible link between specific incidents that occurred in Bahrain during February/March 2011 and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

On forces deployed by the Gulf Cooperation Council

The Commission has not found any evidence of human rights violations committed by the Gulf Cooperation Council Peninsula Shield Force units deployed in Bahrain starting on 14 March 2011.

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