Bahrain rights probe head says torture systematic

DUBAI Tue Nov 1, 2011 10:17am EDT

DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahrain said on Tuesday it would push ahead with parliamentary reforms it hopes will end unrest in the Gulf Arab country in an announcement that came a day after the head of a rights commission said he had found evidence of systematic abuse.

The justice minister said constitutional amendments based on the results of a national dialogue launched this year to discuss reforms in the island kingdom would be presented to parliament after the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday, which falls next week.

The statement came a day after the head of a fact-finding mission set up to investigate allegations of human rights violations in Bahrain during months of unrest said he now believed torture had been a systematic, though limited, policy.

The commission is due to present its final report to King Hamad on November 23. Several months ago Cherif Bassiouni had said he did not believe maltreatment was systematic, comments that provoked an angry reaction from majority Shi'ites in the Sunni-run kingdom.

"It is not possible to justify torture in any way, and despite the small number of cases, it is clear there was a systematic policy," Bassiouni said in an interview with Egyptian daily Almasry Alyoum on Monday.

"I investigated and I found 300 cases of torture and I was helped in that by legal experts from Egypt and America."

Bahrain crushed a pro-democracy protest movement earlier this year which was led mainly by Shi'ites, saying the uprising was sectarian in motive and backed by Iran.

Around 40 people have died, more than 1,000 detained and thousands lost their jobs in the unrest, which has continued despite the reforms promised by the national dialogue.

Bahrain invited an independent panel of high-profile international lawyers to look into protests and crackdown.

Bahrain has admitted there were isolated violations of human rights, but denies there was ever a policy to use excessive force against protesters and detainees.

The commission's final report was due in late October, but the deadline was pushed back by a month at the last minute, two days after the U.S. State Department said a $53 million (33 million pounds) arms sale was being put on hold until it had seen the findings.

(Writing by Isabel Coles and Andrew Hammond; Editing by Jon Hemming)