x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Truth in Bahrain first, followed by reconciliation

Bahrain's investigation of abuses is revealed today. An honest inquiry into the violence is essential, but policy has to follow to heal the divide.

Bahrain's best chance at reconciliation, on hold since March, begins today in earnest. Results of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Investigation are scheduled to be formally presented to the king, and when they are, a door to dialogue will finally be opened.

An honest conversation on Bahrain's trauma is itself a step forward. After several fruitless attempts at reconciliation following the violence that began in February, the BICI was commissioned by the government in June to conduct an independent, fair investigation.

There was no way to move forward without this inquiry. There have been too many accounts of security forces using excessive and even lethal force, the torture of detainees and the persecution of medical professionals. This had to be credibly investigated.

On paper, the mandate exceeded many expectations. Five international legal experts, given open access to government officials, activists and security forces, were promised full cooperation and immunity. Bahrain's cabinet released its own conclusions on Monday, finding that security forces had violated the law and abused prisoners. The statement also acknowledged government responsibility for not preventing the violence.

The timing of that announcement pre-empted statements yesterday by Bahrain's largest opposition party Al Wefaq that not only was violence by security forces common, it was a "systematic" policy. Even if the BICI's investigation is considered credible by all parties, they are still very far apart.

What is needed now, more than ever, are new policies to heal a deepening sectarian and political crisis. Bahrain's cabinet already announced a series of reforms, among them stricter sentencing guidelines for the crime of torture.

But all of this is just attempting to heal the divisions created by the violence. The protests began in Pearl Roundabout in February calling for relatively modest political reforms - after this painful period, substantive reforms are all the more important.

Bahrain Royal Decree 28, which established the independent commission, states "the commission's work does not involve political issues or negotiations". Today we will see the report in full. Very soon after the political issues and negotiations of reconciliation must follow.