The King: These Painful Events Will Not Re-Occur and Upcoming Reforms Will Fulfil Citizens’ Aspirations

Upon receiving the final report of the National Commission for implementing BICI’s recommendations, The King’s speech on 20 March 2012 raised many important issues which will shape Bahrain’s future. The speech merits close reading because it conveyed messages for all political parties, as well as international human rights and political bodies.

The first issue: turning a new page with regards to human rights violations. The King vowed once more and affirmed the commitment that ‘the painful events our beloved nation has just experienced are not to be repeated, but instead we will learn from them, and use our new insights as a catalyst for positive change”. However, turning a new page requires the mechanisms highlighted in Bassiouni’s report, such as introducing new laws and regulations, better training for the law enforcement agencies and the adoption of administrative procedures so that change is reflected practically on the ground.

The implementation of Bassiouni’s recommendations is a real test for Bahrain as a State and a political system, as well as a society which aspires for change and reform. This is especially true since the report has become a national term of reference in the human rights field particularly. In his speech, the King described the implementation of BICI recommendations as a challenge, due to their large number and comprehensive nature. He added that implementing these recommendations ‘demonstrates the impressive beginning of that positive change we had hoped to see, and are proud of’. He also listed the steps that the Government has taken with a great deal of transparency, including: ‘security and judicial reform, enhancing educational curricula, establishing a detailed plan to reform the media, working tirelessly to ensure that employees are reinstated, establishing compensation schemes to provide redress to the victims as soon as possible, commencing programmes for national social and economic reconciliation, establishing an independent ombudsman office at the Ministry of Interior and the office of the inspector general at the National Security Agency and, most importantly, establishing a Special Investigation Unit to hold accountable those that have erred during the events of last year.’

The King hopes that the Legislative Authority will hasten the ratification of draft laws related to this matter, as was the case with laws relevant to the freedom of expression and the legal definition of torture as well as other laws.

The second issue: concerns the importance of further developing the political system, in spite of the many political reforms enacted since 2000. This is because limits cannot be placed on reforms, as it is in the nature of all societies to constantly strive for more change. The King’s speech also stressed Bahrain’s commitment to reform in all fields: ‘Reform is an on-going process. Development is the path of life. Ever since we ascended to the throne, our policy has been to evolve while preserving the principles of our religion and traditions, and the customs of our society. We reaffirm our commitment to go a head with the reform process which satisfies the hopes and ambitions of our people. In the meantime to be open to different international experiences in order to take from them the good for our people and preserves the unity and strength of our community. This to take place without the exclusion of anyone, or favouring the interest of one group over another, as our nation is for all. And the doors of dialogue have and continue to be open’.

The King also said that political societies and civil society institutions bear part of the responsibility regarding the current crisis, and not only the Government: ‘National responsibility also falls on all members of society, and political societies, and civil society institutions, to do their part to participate and support democratic practices in accordance with the law and the public order. Everyone should keep in mind the events we have been through, and should benefit from experience to move towards the future at a confident pace, and with honest intentions.’

The third issue: stressing the local aspect of the Bahraini crisis, despite the regional and international dimensions it took on, which further complicated the situation. The King believes that the problem can only be solved locally, and the establishment of the follow-up committee ‘confirms that Bahrain is able, with the support of its people, to rise to the ranks of advanced countries in democratic practices, and benefit from international expertise in establishing legal principles which enhance public security, strengthen human rights and guarantee freedom of expression where it does not interfere with the rights and freedoms of others’. Also, the King did not forget to thank all friendly countries and international organisations for providing Bahrain with advice and lessons from their own experience and expertise. He also stressed the importance of stability and security: ‘Countries do not seek stability solely in the interest of economy, but also to protect the sovereignty and integrity of the country, and we will never relinquish this at all. The hands of time never turn backwards’.

The fourth issue relates to the transitional justice such as compensating the victims of recent events: ‘With regard to the compensation of the victims, and in addition to the National Victims’ Compensation Fund, which was created according to the highest international standards, Specialized Courts were established to review claims for compensation and expedite the settlement of the claims. In this regard, we note the Civil Settlement Initiative adopted by the National Commission charged with the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry Report, and that all possible measures are taken to expedite fair compensation to the victims’. Of course there are other issues, such as finding and holding those responsible for violations accountable, which follows separate legal channels, and is a work in progress in Bahraini courts.

The fifth issue relates to the remaining 350 detainees in Bahraini jails. Bassiouni’s report drew attention to this issue, and called for their immediate release. The King responded by saying: ‘We also emphasise the importance of finalising all cases related to freedom of expression without unnecessary delay, in accordance with the law, and which do not include incitement to violence, whatever the status of the perpetrator or his profession’.

The sixth issue relates to freedom of worship, which has badly affected Bahrain’s reputation, and caused the Government much embarrassment by taking on both local and international dimensions. The Government has taken some steps to rebuild religious sites, despite the fact that some of these were illegally established. In his speech the King said that ‘the State is entrusted to build the places of worship and care for them, we instruct that work continues in accordance with laws and regulations, in coordination with the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs and the Departments of Religious Endowments (Waqfs) and the relevant authorities so as not to repeat the same mistakes of the past.’