DUBAI (Reuters) - Torture and other forms of ill-treatment persist in Bahrain despite reforms introduced by the Gulf Arab kingdom to address alleged human rights abuses after a 2011 uprising, Amnesty International said on Monday.
An Amnesty report assessing the work of oversight bodies set up to deal with grievances or guard against further abuses said it had found “serious shortcomings” in the work of two British-supported institutions whose work is cited by Bahraini and UK authorities as evidence of progress in upholding human rights.
The Bahraini oversight agencies are the Ombudsman of the Ministry of Interior and the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) within the Public Prosecution Office, which were established in 2012. Both receive training and capacity building from Britain, a staunch ally of Bahrain.
“There is no denying that the Bahraini government has taken a step in the right direction by setting up institutions to investigate human rights violations and hold those suspected to be responsible accountable,” Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Director for Research at Amnesty International’s Beirut Regional Office, said in a statement.
“Sadly these reforms remain woefully inadequate. Torture and other ill-treatment by security forces persist within a system of entrenched impunity marked by the lack of an independent judiciary,” she added.
The Ombudsman’s office questioned the report’s accuracy on some specific cases, said it was proud of what it had achieved so far and noted that any shortcomings were expected given the fact that the program is new and has no relevant local experience to draw upon.
“For our part, we will study carefully the full content of the Amnesty report in the context of our ongoing development plan and commitment to service,” the Ombudsman said in a statement.
Officials from the Western-allied Gulf Arab government did not respond to a request by Reuters for a comment on the report. The government strongly denies any systematic abuse by police.
The report said that while at least 93 members of the security forces had been charged with alleged involvement in unlawful killings, injuries, torture and other ill-treatment since November 2011, only a small number had been convicted and most sentences failed to reflect the gravity of the crime.
“No senior officers or officials have faced prosecution for the serious human rights violations committed during the suppression of the 2011 uprising, despite the BICI’s call for further investigations and criminal prosecution of those suspected of being responsible,” the report said, referring to an international inquiry that investigated how authorities dealt with the protests led by Bahrain’s majority Shi’ite Muslims.
Host of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, Bahrain is seen by other Sunni Muslim-ruled Gulf kingdoms like Saudi Arabia as a bulwark against the influence of their Shi’ite adversary Iran.
But the island has seen years of low level violence between Shi’ite protesters and police, and the government has repeatedly come under criticism, accused of heavy-handed tactics.
Bahrain has repeatedly pointed to the existence of the Ombudsman and the SIU to deflect international criticism of alleged continued human rights violations and assert its commitment to human rights and accountability, Amnesty said.
“In reality, the creation of the Ombudsman and the SIU does not appear to date to have significantly deterred human rights violations,” the report said.
Reporting by Sami Aboudi; editing by William Maclean/Mark Heinrich