09 Aug 2011 Open Letter:

Professor M. Cherif Bassiouni Commission Chair, Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry

Dear Sir,

Subject: Your interview with Reuters on 5 August 2011

Your appointment to the independent commission tasked with investigating recent human right abuses in Bahrain was encouraging news for all those involved in the field of human rights. It is, therefore, with deep disappointment and regret that we at the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) read your recent comments. The comments suggest that, without completing anywhere near a full investigation, you are willing to espouse the view of the political establishment whilst paying lip-service to the concept of a fair and independent enquiry.

This is all the more surprising as your hasty comments contradict a vast range of published reports by well respected human rights groups who have spent time and resources investigating the situation in Bahrain. Indeed, your comments that “there was never a policy of excessive use of force” in Bahrain contrasts grimly with the news, published just days before, of an armed raid on the offices of Médecins Sans Frontières by the Bahraini authorities. Claims of torture by detainees are so widespread that it is hard to believe that they were carried out by a few bad eggs within the security forces.

Countless reports catalogue a range of human rights abuses which targeted specific segments of society, most notably medical workers. The well respected human rights group, Physicians for Human Rights, published a thorough report which detailed the systematic persecution of medical workers. Such organised, wide scale discrimination strongly indicates the collusion of high ranking government officials and renders your initial judgment that such abuses were “a case of people at the lower level acting, and there not being an effective chain of communication, control" premature and, potentially, extremely damaging to the credibility of the commission.

Even if we were to accept the extremely unlikely situation that the Minister of Interior (as currently suggested by you) was unaware of the actions of lower level government officials, Bahrain is still subject to the obligations outlined in the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment which requires it, in Article 16, to prevent acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment when such acts are committed by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. Bahrain has clearly failed to maintain its obligations under this Convention.

Your current views seem to be based on a range of false assumptions. Most notably, that “it’s totally untrue that people are afraid of coming forward”. These comments are surprising, as those interviewed by the commission thus far are not representative of the vast range of people affected by the governmental crackdown on protestors. We are aware of a number of individuals who, initially subjected to torture, have since been subjected to further torture as punishment (and as a warning to others) for speaking out about the treatment they received. Whilst we, and a number of other organisations, are strongly encouraging individuals to come forward and speak to the commission about their treatment, the off-hand comments of the commission are insulting to those who have suffered, and continue to suffer, under the policies of the current regime and discourage participation in the commission’s investigation.

These concerns lead us to seriously question the legitimacy of this commission and its ultimate findings. You appear to have accepted without question the assertions of the government as to the number of political prisoners, the treatment they received and the governments “willingness” to rectify the mistakes of “rogue” individuals within the government framework. Because the Ministry of the Interior is ‘extraordinarily willing’ to listen to the commission, it does not follow that there was not a systematic policy of violence. This argument is a non-sequitur and questionable at best.

This defies the very objective of the commission; to reach an independent and impartial conclusion as to the human rights abuses committed in Bahrain and the cause of such abuses. Recent news regarding the release of prisoners, whilst encouraging, should in no way subtract from the commission’s stated goal.

Nabeel Rajab President Bahrain center for Human Rights 09 Aug 2011