Bahraini reforms progressing slowly

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Bahraini authorities have taken key steps in establishing democratic reforms after their crackdown on protesters last year, but they still have much to do, the author of a withering report on the violence says.

Cherif Bassiouni, chairman of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, said authorities have reinstated nearly all students and public-sector workers who had been expelled or dismissed for political reasons.

But he expressed concern with the pace of criminal investigations into cases of torture and excessive force against protesters, which he attributed to an understaffed attorney general’s office.

“You’re dealing with a governmental system — and particularly a system of justice — which was not equipped and ready to receive the types of cases that the events produced,” Mr. Bassiouni said, noting that only seven indictments had been issued since the Nov. 23 release of his report.

“The seven indictments were low-level enlisted men,” he said. “Not a single officer was charged, and the major cases have still to be looked at. So, if anything, it shows good faith or good intentions, but it’s far too slow.”

Mr. Bassiouni returned to Bahrain last week to assess the steps authorities have taken in response to his report, which found systematic torture and instances of excessive force against demonstrators during the protests that rocked the tiny island kingdom in February and March 2011.

“[The king] said to me, ‘You know, the reason I’ve asked you to come back is precisely because I want an honest assessment of what’s being done,’” Mr. Bassiouni said in a phone interview Wednesday.

His assessment: “I would say at the decision-making level it’s an A, and the execution level it’s probably a C+.”

Mr. Bassiouni said he will return to Bahrain next month before issuing a report assessing the authorities’ performance in implementing his recommendations.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author

Ben Birnbaum

Ben Birnbaum is a reporter covering foreign affairs for The Washington Times. Prior to joining The Times, Birnbaum worked as a reporter-researcher at the New Republic. A Boston-area native, he graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University with a degree in government and psychology. He won multiple collegiate journalism awards for his articles and columns in the Cornell Daily Sun.

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