x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Bahrain cannot move forward if violence persists

The government of Bahrain has made the right statements, but after a 14-year-old boy was killed, the violence must end for there to be any progress.

In Bahrain, it seems every step forward has been followed by several steps back. Last week the government dismissed charges against a number of pro-democracy protesters and promised compensation for prisoners who had been abused by security forces. There was scepticism from the opposition, but also at least the beginnings of movement beyond Bahrain's problems.

Several days later, that momentum hit a brick wall when a 14-year-old boy was killed, apparently unintentionally, by security forces.

Reconciliation efforts have barely made any progress. The national reconciliation dialogue in July was unrepresentative and came to nothing after the main opposition party Al Wefaq walked out. A more promising initiative has been the Independent Commission of Inquiry investigating human rights violations, which has reportedly led to 157 detainees being released.

But even there, the news is mixed. Protesters who were released have told about abuse in the prisons. A hunger strike of about 20 doctors on trial for aiding protesters puts the government in an even worse light.

The message is clear: Bahrain urgently needs to move towards reform and reconciliation through a political process - but that is impossible unless the bloodshed ends. It is a lesson the security forces should have learnt a long time ago.

Last week, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called for the release of all political activists being held in Bahrain. The government is clearly not ready for that, but a start should be a clear accounting of who is being held and for what reasons.

The release of prisoners and limited amnesty were supposed to begin healing the wounds inflicted during the demonstrations, which, at their worst, turned into running street battles. Low-intensity protests have been ongoing since the state of emergency was dropped in June, and the security forces' killing of Ali Jawad Ahmad, the 14-year-old boy hit in the face by a tear gas canister, has only worsened the situation.

The government has a difficult task ahead. It has to convince the opposition and the public that its efforts towards reconciliation are genuine; it must continue to investigate the violence of the past months that has claimed at least 42 lives; and finally there has to be a measured commitment towards reform.

Everybody loses if the violence continues. The government and security forces have to find a way to establish stability without any more violence worsening the situation.