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Fri 23 Nov 2012 11:57 AM

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Rights groups slam Bahrain over reform pledge

Amnesty Int'l, Human Rights Watch criticise authorities for 'making mockery' of promises

Rights groups slam Bahrain over reform pledge
(Photo for illustrative purposes only)

International human rights groups have slammed Bahraini authorities for "making a mockery" of its promises to bring in reforms following serious unrest in the country.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said the Gulf kingdom now faces a stark choice between the rule of law or sliding into a downward spiral of repression and instability.

Amnesty's new report also warned that Bahrain’s close allies - including the UK and the USA - "can no longer insist that Bahrain is currently committed to meaningful reform".

Amnesty’s report comes ahead of the first anniversary of a landmark report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), established last year by the country’s authorities to investigate abuses during the 2011 anti-government protests.

The BICI report found that the Bahraini government had been responsible for gross human rights violations in its response to demonstrations in the country in 2011.

It made a series of recommendations including calling on the authorities to bring to account those responsible for human rights abuses and to carry out independent investigations into allegations of torture and other violations.

“Bahrain deservedly got a lot of credit for appointing an independent body to assess the government’s violations, but a year later, authorities have still not carried out the key recommendations,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

“In fact, in many ways Bahrain’s human rights situation has only deteriorated since the king accepted the commission’s findings and recommendations.”

HRW also quoted the head of the BICI, the Egyptian-American jurist M Cherif Bassiouni, as saying the government’s implementation of its recommendations had been inadequate.

Amnesty claimed the Bahraini authorities have actually responded with further repression, culminating last month in the banning of all rallies and gatherings and the stripping of Bahraini nationality from 31 opposition figures on November 7.

Amnesty’s report documents widespread recent violations by the Bahraini security forces, including the use of unnecessary and excessive force against protesters, sometimes fatal.

It also claimed an increasing number of children aged between 15 and 18 have been held in adult prisons and detention centres in Bahrain during recent months.

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa deputy director, said: “The scale and nature of the violations unleashed in Bahrain since the BICI made its recommendations are making a mockery of the reform process in the country.

“The authorities have reneged on their promises to pursue the path of reform. Any claim by the government that it is committed to the rule of law and to improving human rights sounds hollow, in the face of a moribund reform process.

“As the country is engulfed in entrenched unrest and instability looms, the international community, and especially Bahrain’s allies, have a duty to condemn what is happening in the country and to stop using the BICI report as a shield to avoid having to criticise the Bahraini authorities.”