Even by Bahrain's ruling family's standards, yesterday's event was bizarre -- a ceremony to somehow mark the full implementation of human rights reforms set out in 2011. At one of the kingdom's lavish palaces the king's uncle (Prime Minister) and son (Crown Prince) joined other senior ruling family members at an orgy of self-congratulation to listen to their cousin (the Minister for Justice) deliver a long-winded list of accomplishments on human rights over the last five years, culminating in the startling claim that the implementation of the recommendations is now complete. I was there in November 2011 when the initial report -- the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry -- was presented to the king. I listened to its chief author, international lawyer Cherif Bassiouni, deliver a 45 minute summary of the report's main findings, including that the king's security forces were responsible for mass arbitrary arrests and widespread torture. In the years since, a handful of the report's recommendations have been significantly addressed, including monetary compensation for some of those attacked by security forces. But the fundamental problems have been left untouched -- no senior government figure has been brought to account for the torture, trials are still grossly unfair, and people are still routinely imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their views. Bahrain's state news agency dutifully covered yesterday's event in depth, reporting that Cherif Bassiouni was at the ceremony and had been awarded a medal by the king. "Professor Bassiouni expressed gratitude and appreciation for being honored with the Bahrain Medal of the First Class, stressing that Bahrain was able, under the leadership of HM the King, to deal with 2011 incidents wisely. He added that the implementation of the recommendations took place thanks to the dedicated efforts of all those who were keen on Bahrain's security, stability and prosperity," it reported. It's wise not to take the Bahrain News Agency's stories at face value, and I've written before about its fabrications and distortions. Indeed, within hours of the reports emerging Bassiouni was quoted as saying the views attributed to him were "wrong," but as yet has failed to clarify what was wrong about them and what his real views on the implementation of the report are.
Publicly clarifying his analysis of what progress has been made would be helpful, because we and other international human rights organizations are still receiving regular, credible and consistent reports of unfair trials, the targeting of human rights defenders and torture in custody. "Bassioni's silence on this makes him look complicit," said prominent human rights defender Maryam Al Khawaja, whose father, sister, and 17 month-old nephew are in prison in Bahrain. Bipartisan legislation before Congress aims to ban the sale of small arms to Bahrain until all of the BICI recommendations are fully implemented. But saying they have been doesn't make it so, and the State Department is producing its own assessment of how the recommendations have been addressed. Yesterday's ceremony was irresponsible and dangerous, a display of a regime wishing away its problems, akin to a hospital a declaring an All Clear on a virus because it's tired of the bad publicity. Bahrain's government still has a very long way to go before it can declare victory over its human rights crisis. Yesterday's ceremony only encourages a dangerously false sense of accomplishment, fueling a complacency while abuses continue.