December 21, 2011 / 6:34 PM / 8 years ago

U.N. rights head: Bahrain failing to punish abuses

DUBAI (Reuters) - The United Nation’s top human rights official said on Wednesday Bahrain was failing to prosecute security forces who tortured people during anti-government protests in February and was still using excessive force against civilians.

Riot police is seen engulfing the roundabout where anti-government protesters are staging a sit-in on Budaiya highway west of Manama, December 18, 2011. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

“We continue to receive reports of the repression of small protests in Bahrain,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a statement.

“...although some security officers have reportedly been arrested, we have yet to see any prosecution of security forces for civilian injuries and deaths.”

Her comments follow a critical government-commissioned report released last month which surprised many in its candor. It rejected the Sunni-led government’s claim that Iran had orchestrated the protests through Bahrain’s Shi’ite majority and found that detainees had been tortured to death.

Shi’ite opposition groups, angry at what they saw as discrimination by the ruling family, took to the streets as the “Arab Spring” swept the region. But backed by Saudi troops, the protests were crushed, killing 35, according the Bahraini inquiry.

Pillay, whose team met with government officials, victims and civil society groups, said officers who had committed torture - sometimes fatal - had to be brought to book.

“Such impunity, at all levels, is a serious impediment to national reconciliation.”

“The Bahraini authorities need to urgently take confidence-building measures including unconditionally releasing those who were convicted in military tribunals or are still awaiting trial for merely exercising their fundamental rights.”

Calls to a Bahraini government spokesperson regarding Pillay’s statement went unanswered on Wednesday evening.

The gulf state said earlier on Wednesday it would reinstate public sector workers sacked over the protests, in line with its own inquiry’s recommendations. The United States has said a $53 million arms sale to Bahrain is contingent on the report’s recommendations being heeded.

Campaigners say the government continues to meddle with the institutions vital to maintaining human rights.

Human Rights Watch on Wednesday pointed to a decision to annul a leadership ballot by the Bahraini Lawyers’ Society as evidence that the country was still violating international standards for freedom of association.

In September, the island state also dissolved the teachers’ union and sentenced its head to 10 years in prison for threatening national security by backing the protests.

Editing by Ben Harding

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