Letter to HM King of Bahrain Regarding the Commission Investigating the events which occurred in Bahrain in February/March 2011

Press release
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FIDH welcomes the initiative by His Majesty regarding the opening of an investigation into some of the events and the appointment of a commission of well known and highly respected international human rights experts to lead that investigation; however FIDH would like to highlight some points of concern with regard to the mandate of the commission and in particular to the very limited time frame of the investigation.

Indeed, we understand from the decree Royal Order No. 28 of 2011 that the Commission will investigate and report on the events which occurred in Bahrain in February/March 2011 focusing on but not limited to alleged acts of violence, alleged police brutality, circumstances of arrests and detention, and allegations of torture and disappearance.

In this respect, while recalling that serious human rights violations were committed after March 2011 as reported by reliable sources in Bahrain, by international human rights organizations and by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, FIDH believes that the investigation should also cover the current situation and in particular the continuing mass arrests of human rights activists and political opponents, the military trials conducted in June 2011, extra-judicial killings, the targeting of people, villages and worshiping places due to their support or involvement in the protests and the four deaths at custody due to torture of Ali Issa Saqer, Kareem Fakhrawi, Zakariya Al Ashiri, and Hassan Makki .

Secondly, FIDH would like to highlight the fact that the mandate of the investigation commission does not include inquiry into the mass sackings of employees due to their sectarian background where the numbers have reached 4000 people, noting that only 2300 are registered .

Furthermore, The mandate does not mention the status of the military trials against peaceful demonstrators and human rights activists. FIDH recalls that no civilian should be brought before military courts as military trials for civilians constitute violations of basic fair trial rights. International human rights bodies over the last 15 years have determined that trials of civilians before military tribunals violate the due process guarantees found in article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which affirms that everyone has the right to be tried by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal. These bodies have consistently rejected the use of military prosecutors and courts in cases involving abuses against civilians, by stating that the jurisdiction of military courts should be limited to offenses that are strictly military in nature.

FIDH welcomes the prevention of the recurrence of similar events as stated in the mandate; however we are deeply concerned about the lack of accountability processes for those who committed human rights violations. FIDH stresses the importance of fighting against impunity and believes that the recommendations of the investigation commission should encompass this demand.

On June 22nd 2011, 21 prominent Bahraini human rights activists and opponents to the regime were given harsh sentences by the special military court which was set up to prosecute those who have voiced their opinion and demanded their basic human rights. Eight of them were given life sentences while 13 were given two to fifteen years in prison. In this regard, FIDH is asking the Kingdom’s authorities to review the possibility to try again these people before civil ordinary courts if there are serious criminal charges against them or otherwise release them immediately as human rights activism cannot be assimilated to a terrorist activity.

FIDH remains extremely concerned by the reports of torture and ill-treatment of those arrested and detained. Our organizations have documented the case of Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, former Director of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), who was beaten severely and had to undergo major surgery due to his injuries. Despite the brave display of Mr. Al Khawaja during his hearing, the judges refused to acknowledge his claim of having been subjected to torture. These acts of torture and ill-treatment are not limited to detention centers, but have managed to infiltrate hospitals as well. According to the information we received, in Salamiya hospital, many of those wounded were beaten three times a day. FIDH has learned that torture has been practiced in both military and police hospitals as well.

Furthermore, FIDH condemns the ongoing harassment of journalists, doctors, lawyers, human rights defenders and their families, among which FIDH’s Deputy Secretary General Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, who was prevented from leaving the country and remains under threat and harassment by the security forces.

FIDH stresses the need for the investigation to be thorough, independent and impartial as stated in the mandate. We encourage the commission to meet with representatives of all civil society organizations in Bahrain, international human rights organizations who have been documenting abuses of human rights in the past months, as well as with all political parties from the opposition.

Finally, FIDH believes that the investigation conducted by the Commission should not be exclusive of any other independent international investigation by the UN or an international human rights organization.

We encourage the Government of Bahrain to take into account our recommendations as should be seen as a pre-requisite to any sustainable national dialogue between the Bahraini civil society and the authorities.

Sincerely Yours,

Souhayr Belhassen

FIDH President

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