It's been two years since the King of Bahrain commissioned human rights lawyer Cherif Bassiouni to investigate the events of February and March 2011. The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) duly confirmed in November 2011 what Human Rights First and other leading international human rights organizations had already reported -- that dozens of people had been killed, thousands had been arrested, and there had been widespread use of torture in custody.
The King promised to put things right and implement all of the recommendations made in the BICI report. It hasn't happened. The culture of impunity identified in the BICI hasn't been properly addressed, and this month has seen a new spate of torture allegations.
Prominent human rights defender Naji Fateel claims to have been tortured in custody, including being electrocuted in his genitals, suspended from the ceiling and threatened with rape. He is one of 50 defendants charged with terrorism-related offenses in the 14th of February Youth Coalition Cell case which opened on July 11. Others accused for their involvement with that coalition report having been forced to sign confessions under torture. A young woman activist, Rihana Almousawi, appeared in court this month and said she had been stripped naked during detention, reportedly threatened with rape and electrocution. It is also reported that she was forced to stand naked in front of an open door so those outside could see her.
On July 1, Bahraini courts acquitted two security officials, Lt-Colonel Mubarak ben Huwail, Director of Drug Detection, and Lieutenant Noora Bint Ebrahim Alkhalifa, of torturing medics during March and April 2011. Human Rights First has received consistent and credible reports from a number of former detainees alleging that Ben Huwail and Al Khalifa (a member of the ruling family) tortured or mistreated them in detention.
Within a week of the acquittal, a film appeared on YouTube apparently showing Bahraini Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa telling Mubarak Ben Huwail:
We do not allow any harm towards you. These laws, no one implements them on you. Our relationship with you, what is implemented on you is implemented on us. We are one body.. As I told you, I came here to thank you for your patience, and for your kind work. The work of this whole family, is the reason behind your reputation which can't get any better. I came here to thank you all, and to thank Mubarak. He is our son, and nothing shall harm you, wherever you are, I'll always be there for you.
These recent reports do little to dispel the notion that Bahrain is doing little to fight the culture of impunity identified in the BICI report. Its chief author, Cherif Bassiouni, noted in late 2012:
A number of recommendations on accountability were either not implemented or implemented only half-heartedly... the public prosecution has yet to investigate over 300 cases of alleged torture, some involving deaths in custody, and there has been no investigation, let alone prosecution, for command responsibility, even at the immediate supervisory level, of people killed in custody as a result of torture.
Earlier this year the Bahraini authorities withdrew an invitation to U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez to visit the country, just as they had done last year.
With few consequences from the U.S. government and the international community for its failure to tackle impunity and stop torture, Bahrain shows little sign of improving its dismal human rights reputation. Two years later, those who were tortured remain without justice as those who tortured them remain free and unpunished.