Bahrain pledges to act on criticism of crackdown

By Andrew Hammond
MANAMA | Sun Nov 27, 2011

MANAMA (Reuters) - Bahrain has promised to act on the recommendations of a hard-hitting inquiry that said detainees faced systematic abuse during a government crackdown on pro-democracy protests.
The U.S. administration has said it will delay a $53 million arms sale to Bahrain, which is home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, pending the government's response to the inquiry.
Protesters, mainly from Bahrain's majority Shi'ites, took to the streets in February demanding a bigger role for elected representatives and less power for the ruling al-Khalifa family. Some groups sought an end to the monarchy.
"The National Commission will study the recommendations and put forward proposals including with regards to the recommendation on necessary amendments in laws and regulations and how the recommendations can be implemented," a statement on the official BNA news agency said late on Saturday.
"The Commission will end its work by the end of February in a framework of transparency," it said, citing a royal decree from King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.
It did not say who would lead the Commission or if it would include figures from opposition groups, dominated by Shi'ite Islamist group Wefaq.
King Hamad established the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) in June, after the end of two months of martial law and repeated complaints of abuse, including torture, as security forces moved to squash protests.
The government brought in troops from Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates to crush the uprising, which it said was driven by Shi'ite sectarian motives and fomented by Shi'ite power Iran.
The BICI inquiry asked for an "independent and impartial national commission" from the government, opposition parties and civil society to implement its recommendations.
Those included legal and disciplinary action against "those in government who have committed unlawful or negligent acts resulting in the deaths, torture and mistreatment of civilians."
It said security forces should include Bahrainis from all communities. Shi'ites say they suffer discrimination that shuts them out of many state jobs, and say the presence of naturalized migrants from Sunni countries in security forces proves a policy of sectarian rule.
It said sentences linked to political expression should be reviewed, sacked workers given their jobs back, and compensation paid to families of the deceased -- 35 died during the unrest -- and those who suffered torture and incommunicado detention.
It also called on state media to relax censorship and give fair access to the opposition.
The inquiry also recommended a "national reconciliation programme" to address political, social and economic grievances.
It is not clear how far the government is prepared to go in fresh negotiations with opposition groups. A "national dialogue" was held in June that said parliament would get more powers of monitoring but stopped short of fundamental changes.
The foreign minister told Reuters on Friday that opposition parties including Wefaq should take part in the National Commission and that all issues would be on the table. He later issued a tweet saying he was not suggesting the creation of a new political dialogue.
(Writing by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)