Your Highnesses, Excellencies
Professor Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni, Chair of the Commission,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Having heard the important speech of the Chair of the Independent Commission of Inquiry, we extend our sincere thanks to the Chair and the Commissioners, as well as their staff, for their remarkable efforts. You merit our deep appreciation. Your Report is of profound value to us. By taking to heart your findings and recommendations, the people of Bahrain can make this day one that will be remembered in the history of this nation.
Your Report deals with controversial matters of importance. You have sought to establish the true facts of a period of painful unrest which has affected all of us. You have understood the unprecedented challenges faced by our authorities as they confronted relentless provocation, from hostile sources both inside and outside the country. You have recognised the need for our authorities to re-establish public order in the face of violence and intimidation against ordinary people as well as against the essential institutions of the nation. At the same time, you have also identified serious shortcomings on the part of some organs of our Government, particularly in failing to prevent instances of excessive force and of the mistreatment of persons placed under arrest.
Some may wonder why we asked a commission of foreign experts to examine the events of February and March 2011 and their subsequent ramifications. The answer is that any Government which has a sincere desire for reform and progress understands the benefit of objective and constructive criticism.
There are many examples of this around the world. For example, in Europe, we see that the leading national governments are routinely criticised by external institutions which they have themselves created. The European Court of Human Rights frequently sanctions European States for violations of human rights. Leading European powers, notwithstanding their long traditions of human rights, have been condemned in literally hundreds of cases for denial of justice, and for the torture and ill treatment of detainees.
And yet the governments of these countries do not denounce the European Court. They do not protest or boycott the judges who have criticised them. To the contrary, they are grateful to the Court for having identified the ways in which they must improve if they are to be in harmony with international law and morality. Nor does the international community conclude that these are oppressive governments. They are seen to follow a path of wisdom, acknowledging that they benefit from neutral investigations and from trusting their own capacity to use criticism constructively in the interest of their people.
The question is then, Members of the Commission: what will we do with your Report, so that we derive maximum benefit from it?
The answer is that we are determined, God willing, to ensure that the painful events our beloved nation has just experienced are not repeated, but that we learn from them, and use our new insights as a catalyst for positive change.
We do not want, ever again, to see our country paralysed by intimidation and sabotage. We do not want, ever again, to learn that our expatriate work-force, which makes such valuable contributions to the development of our nation, has been repeatedly terrorised by racist gangs. We do not want, ever again, to see civilians tried anywhere else but in the ordinary courts. We do not want, ever again, to experience the murder of policemen and the persecution of their families for the work they do in protecting us all; nor do we want, ever again, to discover that any of our law enforcement personnel have mistreated anyone.
Therefore, we must reform our laws so that they are consistent with international standards to which Bahrain is committed by treaties. Even before receiving your Report, we have introduced proposals to amend our laws to give greater protection to the valuable right of free speech; and to expand the definition of “torture” to ensure that all forms of ill treatment are sanctioned by our criminal laws. Both of these proposals would place our laws in full conformity with international human rights standards. We have addressed issues of due process in criminal trials, in particular for the medical professionals who are now being re-tried in ordinary courts. We have reviewed, and are continuing to review, the circumstances of job dismissals and expulsions from educational institutions. In addition to retrials and reinstatement, affected persons have access to a range of remedies, including the newly established Victims Compensation Fund.
And of course, as I said on the day your Commission was established, we do not tolerate the mistreatment of detainees and prisoners. We are dismayed to find that it has occurred, as your Report has found, and we will not accept any excuse based on national exceptionalism.
Distinguished Members of the Commission,
Your Report is lengthy and detailed. We must study it with the care it deserves. As a first step, a working group of members of the Government will immediately be asked to conduct an in-depth reflection on your findings and recommendations. This working group will then urgently propose concrete responses to your recommendations. We intend to waste no time in benefitting from your work. Your Report provides an historic opportunity for Bahrain to deal with matters that are both serious and urgent. Officials who have not been up to their task must be held accountable, and be replaced. Above all, we must conceive and implement reforms that satisfy all segments of our population. That is the only way to achieve reconciliation, to heal the fractures in our society. In order to ensure that there is no return to unacceptable practices once the Commission has left Bahrain, we have decided to engage international organizations and eminent individuals to assist and advise our law enforcement agencies, and to improve their procedures.
We trust that all will understand that this day, this day which turns a new page of history, has been made possible by the grace of God and because we have had the confidence to resort to an objective and impartial body. To repeat: the nations of Europe are routinely held accountable before the European Court in Strasbourg. That Court, through its hundreds of judgments, has set the standards for modern international human rights. The same is true of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica. The whole world benefits from the jurisprudence of these Courts. Surely, this shows us that there is something missing. Surely, the Arab nations, with our ancient transitions of fairness and justice, also have something to contribute. Surely, we too need to show that our officials are subject to a higher law, and that we can be proud of our traditions of respect for human rights.
Bahrain was an immediate supporter of the Arab Charter of Human Rights 15 years ago, but in truth this text has not created a system like those of Europe and the Americas. I will propose to our fellow Arab states that we now move concretely toward the creation of an Arab Court of Human Rights to take its proper place on the international stage.
The Kingdom of Bahrain assumes its international responsibilities seriously. Indeed, it has taken the initiative to contribute to collective international action by providing facilities for multilateral organisations. In 2009, during the visit of Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, we dedicated a significant plot of land in our Capital, Manama, to serve the community of the United Nations; it now houses a regional office of the UN Development Programme. We would welcome other UN agencies, perhaps, for example, by the establishment of a regional office of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
Such international cooperation will of course not replace national initiatives. Just the day before yesterday, we announced that the National Institution for Human Rights is henceforth established as an independent body possessing its own organic law, to operate in accordance with the Paris Principles, which embody international human rights standards relevant to the functioning of national institutions.
As for the Government's responses to the findings and recommendations of your Report, I say again that they involve fundamental issues, and must be dealt with urgently.
All of this being said, we cannot fail to extend our gratitude to our armed forces and law enforcement agencies who restored public order in the face of intimidation and violence; to our GCC allies who participated in protecting key installations by deploying the Peninsula Shield Force, without any confrontation with civilians; and to the multitude of ordinary Bahrainis who took a stand against the forces of violence and sectarian division.
We have every sympathy for those who sincerely and peacefully seek reforms within a pluralistic society where the rights of all are respected, but not for those who seek to impose totalitarian rule. Our desire for liberal reform goes hand in hand with our deep disappointment, after having extended so many times a hand of friendship toward the Islamic Republic of Iran, by the around-the-clock broadcasts in the Arabic language by Iranian state-controlled radio and television stations, inciting our population to engage in acts of violence, sabotage, and insurrection. Iran’s propaganda fuelled the flames of sectarian strife – an intolerable interference in our internal affairs from which Bahrain has suffered greatly. As you have just correctly said, Chair of the Commission, the Government of Bahrain was not in a position to provide evidence of links between Iran and specific events in our country this year. But this propaganda, an objective fact to be observed by all who have eyes and ears and comprehend Arabic, not only directly challenges the stability and sovereignty of our country, but also poses a threat to the security and stability of the GCC countries. We hope that the Iranian leadership will reflect, and abandon this policy of enmity and discord.
We affirm our commitment to ensuring the safety and security of our nation and its people, and our commitment to reform, and to the rectification of errors in all transparency. We urge all our people to reflect upon their own attitude and intentions, to address their mistakes, and to do their civic duty to contribute to national unity within a community characterised by tolerance. Our highest objective, after pleasing God, is to promote brotherhood, harmony, and tolerance among all our people, within the environment of a pluralistic, cohesive, and prosperous society; a society that guarantees the rule of law and human rights; a society that ensures the tranquil pursuit of opportunities and fulfillment for everyone.
We thank you all for joining us here on this historic day for our beloved nation.