Bahrain Admits "Excessive Force" During Unrest

Bahrain's government admitted excessive force and prisoner mistreatment during unrest in the kingdom earlier this year.

Gabe Kahn. ,

Bahrain Trade Center
Bahrain Trade Center
Wikimedia Commons

Bahrain's government on Monday admitted the use of excessive force and mistreatment of detainees during the unrest that rocked the country in February and March.

The Sunni Arab monarchy became the center of world attention earlier this year when its Shiite majority rose against the government leading to a fierce crackdown and an intervention by its Gulf Cooperation Council Allies who sent in the Saudi Arabia dominated Peninsula Shield force to restore order.

In the aftermath of the unrest a royal marriage was arranged between the royal houses of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia - seen by many as a means of strengthening Bahrain's monarchy and geopolitical position. Both nations have accused Shiite Persian Iran of provoking Shiite communities in the region to destabilize their regimes.

"This is what is required for the government to appraise its performance, to learn from our mistakes, and to enact reforms that serve Bahrain and all the Bahraini people," a statement from the cabinet said - two days before the highly anticipated report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) is released to the public.

King Hamad Bin Eisa Al Khalifa ordered the creation of the BICI in June to look into allegations of human rights violations in the still tense Gulf Arab monarchy. The report was originally scheduled to be released on October 30, but was deferred to November 23 "due to the amount of work required.".

"The report is the embodiment of many months of intensive work as well as His Majesty the King's absolute commitment to determine the truth even if that means highlighting mistakes made by the state and its apparatus," the government said.

"BICI has been given every opportunity to fulfill its mandate for truth with distinction. No question has been left out of its scope of inquiry into the events of this year. It is comprised of internationally eminent commissioners having vast relevant experience and no links to Bahrain.

"The Commissioners and their staff worked under the protection of full legal immunity so that they carried on their work without any apprehensions, while the government opened its doors to them."

The government said that it carried out its own assessments and conducted its own investigations.

"These investigations have revealed things to praise as well as things to deplore. Regrettably, there have been instances of excessive force and mistreatment of detainees. This was in violation of government policy and 20 prosecutions against the officers involved have been initiated. This is in no way the limit of the steps that will be taken," it said.

"Our police forces have generally shown admirable restraint when faced with great provocation. Every civilian casualty is a defeat for the government. The extremists know this, and have engaged in reckless provocation. The police have suffered 846 injuries since the beginning of the events as well as four deaths and innumerable threats and insults, especially to their families."

However, the government said that it did not seek to excuse any wrongdoing.

"The BICI has stated publicly that it has investigated the instances of mistreatment. We can expect that its report will be very critical of these occurrences and the government's responsibility for failing to prevent them.

"The government expects such criticism. We cannot condone mistreatment and abuses by our officials. There will be no impunity. All those responsible for abuses will be held accountable," it said.

The statement said that the government and the nation have taken significant steps to address and remedy injustice within the Bahrain society.

"We have established a Special Fund for Victims to ensure that those who suffered in any way from the violent events of February and March are rightly compensated. There are also before the parliament amendments to the law that would greatly enhance freedom of expression in accordance with international human rights laws. The right to speak freely is to be protected, and not criminalized," it said

The government statement also said the nation's penal code was being amended to criminalize all forms of torture with no statute of limitations so as to bring Bahrain's laws "in line with international human rights standards." 

Leading opposition figures, however, say the government's early public embrace of the coming BICI report may not result in meaningful change and is, instead, an attempt to assauge the public before a potentially explosive series of revelations that could destabalize the monarchy are brought to light.