It has been two years since the King of Bahrain's acceptance of the exhaustive report and accompanying recommendations presented by Dr. M. Cherif Bassiouni and the participants of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI). At the time, the international community (including the US, UN, EU, and UK) hailed Bahrain's acceptance of the report as a welcome step towards greater transparency and accountability.
Unfortunately, the eloquent posturing of the Bahrain government following the release of the BICI report has only served to mask the increasingly desperate situation on the ground.
Independent assessments have reported only half-hearted efforts by the Bahrain government to implement the recommendations of the BICI report. Indeed, implementation of many of the most critical recommendations, such as judicial and legislative reforms ensuring fair trials, an end to torture, and criminal accountability for rights violators, have failed completely, while such abuses continue unabated in Bahrain.
Faced with increasing criticism of its commitment to implement the BICI report, the Bahrain government often complains that such implementation "takes time." Yet the Commission intended for its recommendations to be implemented quickly and comprehensively, in a way that would demonstrate earnest commitment to addressing grievances and rebuilding trust with aggrieved parties. Instead, the Bahrain government's reluctant, piecemeal implementation of the process has been referred to as a 'whitewash' by Dr. Cherif Bassiouni, the head of the Commission.
Don't be fooled: this plodding pace is not caused by an incapacity for action, but rather the government's purposeful determination to maintain the status quo. Take, for example, the dubious 'anti-terror' laws, which have been used to criminalize public demonstration and free speech. The most recent rash of such laws, introduced by the National Assembly in late July, are being implemented in their entirety without hesitation or delay.
The recommendations made by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry require no radical, revolutionary overhaul. In fact, it is the modesty of the recommendations that makes their rejection that much more objectionable. Implementation of the BICI recommendations would reform institutionalized antagonism against historically marginalized groups and bring justice to the perpetrators of the 2011 violence in a neutral, non-partisan way. By disregarding these recommendations, the Government of Bahrain continues to compromise its integrity, marginalize its people and trivialize its promises to the international community.
Given the current situation, it would seem that the failure of the Bahrain government to implement the BICI recommendations was purposeful and premeditated. By establishing an independent commission of inquiry with the purported intention of noncompliance, the Government of Bahrain has strung along the international community while shielding itself from criticism. The international community should be gravely concerned by this apparent manipulation. If the Bahrain government is not held accountable for its intentional derogation of the BICI recommendations, it will set an alarming precedent for all governments facing human rights crises: promises are as easily forgotten as they are made.