The BICI Report deals with controversial matters of importance. The commission has sought to establish the true facts of a period of painful unrest, which has affected all of Bahrain. The commission understood the unprecedented challenges faced by our authorities. They have recognised the need for our authorities to re-establish public order in the face of violence and intimidation against ordinary people as well as against the nation’s essential institutions. At the same time, they have also identified serious shortcomings on the part of some organs of our government, particularly in failing to prevent instances of excessive force and of the mistreatment of persons placed under arrest.
Some may wonder why we asked a commission of foreign experts to examine the events of February and March 2011 and their subsequent ramifications. The answer is that any government which has a sincere desire for reform and progress understands the benefit of objective and constructive criticism.
There are many examples of this around the world. For example, in Europe, we see that leading national governments are routinely criticised by external institutions which they have themselves created. Yet the governments of these countries do not denounce the European Court of Human Rights. They do not protest or boycott the judges who criticised them. To the contrary, they are grateful to the court for having identified the ways they must improve if they are to be in harmony with international law and morality. Nor does the international community conclude that these are oppressive governments. They are seen to follow a path of wisdom, acknowledging they benefit from neutral investigations and from trusting their own capacity to use criticism constructively in their people’s interest.
We are determined to ensure that the painful events our beloved nation has experienced are not repeated, but that we learn from them, and use our new insights as a catalyst for positive change.
Even before receiving the BICI Report, we have introduced proposals to amend our laws to give greater protection to the valuable right of free speech and to expand the definition of “torture” to ensure that all forms of ill treatment are covered by our criminal laws. Both of these proposals would place our laws in full conformity with international human rights standards. We have addressed issues of due process in criminal trials, in particular for the medical professionals. We have reviewed, and are continuing to review, the circumstances of job dismissals and expulsions from educational institutions. In addition to retrials and reinstatement, affected persons have access to many remedies, including the newly established Victims Compensation Fund.
The BICI Report is lengthy and detailed. We must study it with the care it deserves. As the first step, a working group of government members conducted an in-depth reflection on the findings and recommendations. This working group will then urgently propose concrete responses to the recommendations. We intend to waste no time in benefitting from this report. It provides an historic opportunity for Bahrain to deal with matters that are both serious and urgent. Officials who have not been up to their task must be held accountable, and will be replaced. Above all, we must conceive and implement reforms that satisfy all segments of our population. That is the only way to achieve reconciliation and to heal the fractures in our society. In order to ensure there is no return to unacceptable practices once the commission has left Bahrain, we have decided to engage with international organisations and eminent individuals to assist and advise our law enforcement agencies, and to improve their procedures.
We believe that the release of this report has opened a new page in history, which has been made possible by the grace of God and because we have had the confidence to resort to an objective and impartial body. Again, the nations of Europe are routinely held to account before the European Court in Strasbourg. That court, through its judgements, has set the standard for modern international human rights. The same is true of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica. The whole world benefits from the jurisprudence of these courts. This shows us there is something missing. Surely, the Arab nations, with our ancient transitions of fairness and justice, also have something to contribute. Surely, we too need to show that our officials are subject to a higher law, and that we can be proud of our traditions of respect for human rights.
Bahrain was an immediate supporter of the Arab Charter of Human Rights 15 years ago, but in truth this text has not created a system like those of Europe and the Americas. I will propose to our fellow Arab states that we now move concretely toward the creation of an Arab Court of Human Rights to take its proper place on the international stage.
Bahrain assumes its international responsibilities seriously. Indeed, it has taken the initiative to contribute to collective international action by providing facilities for multilateral organisations. In 2009, during the visit of Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the UN, we dedicated a significant plot of land in our capital, Manama, to serve the community of the UN; it now houses a regional office of the UN Development Programme. We would welcome other UN agencies, perhaps, for example, by the establishment of a regional office of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
Such international cooperation will of course not replace national initiatives. We previously announced the establishment of the National Institution for Human Rights as an independent body possessing its own organic law, to operate in accordance with the Paris Principles, which embody international human rights standards relevant to functioning national institutions.
As for the government response to the report’s findings and recommendations, I say again that they involve fundamental issues, and must be dealt with urgently.
All of this being said, we cannot fail to extend our gratitude to our armed forces and law enforcement agencies who restored public order in the face of intimidation and violence; to our GCC allies who participated in helping protect key installations by deploying the Peninsula Shield Force, without any confrontation with civilians; and to the multitude of ordinary Bahrainis who took a stand against the forces of violence and sectarian division in our kingdom.
We have every sympathy for those who sincerely and peacefully seek reforms within a pluralistic society where the rights of all are respected, but not for those who seek to impose totalitarian rule. Our desire for liberal reform goes hand in hand with our deep disappointment, after having extended so many times the hand of friendship, towards the Islamic Republic of Iran, which with the around-the-clock broadcasts in Arabic given by Iranian state-controlled radio and television stations, incited our population to engage in acts of violence, sabotage and insurrection. Iran’s propaganda fuelled the flames of sectarian strife – an intolerable interference in our internal affairs from which Bahrain has suffered greatly. As the chair of the commission correctly said, the government of Bahrain is not in a position currently to provide evidence of links between Iran and specific events in our country. But this propaganda, an objective fact to be observed by all who have eyes and ears and comprehend Arabic, not only directly challenges our country’s stability and sovereignty, but also poses a threat to the security and stability of the GCC countries. We hope that the Iranian leadership will reflect and abandon this policy of enmity and discord.
We affirm our commitment to ensuring the safety and security of our nation and its people, and our commitment to reform and to the rectification of errors in all transparency. We urge all our people to reflect upon their own attitude and intentions, to address their mistakes and to do their civic duty to contribute to national unity within a community of tolerance. Our highest objective, after pleasing God, is to promote brotherhood, harmony and tolerance amongst our people, within the environment of a pluralistic, cohesive and prosperous society; a society guaranteeing the rule of law and human rights; a society ensuring the tranquil pursuit of opportunities and fulfilment for everyone.
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