The US Congress recently reached on deal on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 appropriations act. Included is the Senate committee report (linked here), which mandates that the US Department of State will have to submit an updated assessment report on the Bahraini government’s implementation of the recommendations in the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI). The 2017 report is due within 45 days of passing.
Similarly, the FY 2016 appropriations mandated that State Department submit a report on the implementation of the BICI recommendations. In addition to being late, the 2016 report failed to accurately assess the implementation of the BICI recommendations and included no clear status of implementation. For instance, the State Department found Bahrain’s National Institute for Human Rights (NIHR) to be “administratively independent” and adherent to the relevant international regulations, known as the Paris Principles. This conclusion was inconsistent with the decision of the International Coordinating Committee (ICC) of the Paris Principles earlier that same month, which reportedly assigned the NIHR a “B” partial compliance rating, indicating a failure to achieve full accreditation.
With a number of key actions carried out just this year by the Bahraini government, the assessments will be expected to reflect the reversal of previously-implemented recommendations. On 5 January 2017, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, king of Bahrain, issued Royal Decree 1/2017, which states: “Officers and members of the National Security Agency (NSA) have the power to order detention in terrorism crimes.” This decree directly contradicts BICI recommendation 1718, which was one of the few recommendations fully implemented following Royal Decree 115/2011 that stripped the NSA of its arresting powers. Since the announcement in January, the use of live ammunition has been used against protesters by individuals whose physical description is consistent with the BICI description (page 270) of NSA agents. This resulted in the death of 18-year-old Mustafa Hamdan.
Additionally, the Government of Bahrain in February 2017 passed an amendment to the Constitution that allows military courts to try civilians in cases defined by the government as relating to national security, likely including cases that fall under Bahrain’s anti-terror laws. This is in direct violation of the spirit of recommendation 1720, which called for cases heard in military courts during 2011 to be transferred to civil courts. The recommendation stated that in military courts, “fundamental principles of a fair trial, including prompt and full access to legal counsel and inadmissibility of coerced testimony, were not respected.”
Human rights defender Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, first tried in military courts, is currently serving a life sentence for false terror-related charges. Journalist Sayed Ahmed al-Mousawi has been subjected to more than three years in prison for terror charges against him. And just today, reports indicate that the first case since the promulgation of the new amendment, the case of Fadhel Abbas Radhi, will be referred to a military court. Fadhel Abbas Radhi, arrested on 29 September 2016, has been in detention without access to a lawyer and limited access to his family via telephone. His whereabouts are unknown, and the government reportedly has not yet brought charges against him.
In the upcoming BICI implementation report from the State Department, the assessments of each recommendation should be updated to accurately reflect the situation on the ground. Specifically, in response to the NSA again having arrest powers and military courts’ ability to try civilians, at least two of the State Departments assessments must change. Additionally, in the 2017 report, the State Department should include in its reporting a status of “implemented” or “not implemented” for each BICI recommendation.