On February 14, 2011, the Bahraini people began protests demanding greater civil and political rights; the same day the first demonstrator was killed by security forces. The ensuing government crackdown led to a continuing human rights crisis: excessive force was repeatedly used by security forces against peaceful protesters. Close to 50 people were killed and hundreds injured. Hundreds were arrested and tried before military courts, many reporting torture or ill-treated in detention. More than 4,000 protesters were dismissed from their jobs or expelled from university.
One year ago, on 14 February 2011, the majority of Bahraini people began protests demanding greater civil and political rights; the same day the first demonstrator was killed by security forces. Over the course of the following months the country entered an acute human rights crisis: excessive force was repeatedly used by security forces against peaceful protesters and close to 50 people were killed and hundreds others injured. Hundreds of people were also arrested and tried before military courts, with many reporting they were tortured or otherwise ill-treated in detention. More than 4,000 protesters were dismissed from their jobs or expelled from university for having participated in the protests.
In spite of the Bahraini security forces' demonstrated willingness to use excessive force to repress protesters, the United States Department of State announced a planned sale of $53 million of weapons and equipment to Bahrain. In response to concerns raised by activists, Members of Congress and others that vehicles, weapons and munitions proposed are likely to be used against the civilian population, the sale is on hold. However, the administration recently announced its intention to proceed with a smaller transfer, including spare parts and maintenance equipment. Despite assurances that nothing in this transfer will be used to commit human rights violations, the burden of proof in this regard in on the US government. Without full transparency, we cannot count on such assurances. Any US arms transfers must be subject to public scrutiny.
On 23 November 2011 the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), set up by royal decree on 29 June, presented its findings to the King of Bahrain. The BICI's report concluded, amongst other things, that excessive force had been used against protesters, that torture was widespread and that many people were on trial or had been sentenced to prison terms for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. The report made a number of recommendations which the King promised to implement.
Despite some steps being taken, such as the opening of the trial of eight policemen, five of them Pakistani, one Yemeni and two Bahrainis accused of mistreating prisoners and killing protesters and bringing in international human rights experts and policing experts to train the police, Amnesty International is not aware of any serious steps taken to ensure accountability. Most glaringly, no action is known to have been taken so far against any high-ranking security officers or government officials for their involvement in human rights abuses. Neither have any outcome of investigations into alleged torture been made public. Despite the fact that several private companies announced the reinstatement of employees who had been dismissed because of their participation in protests, hundreds of people have yet to be reinstated. Dozens of university students are still waiting to be allowed to resume their studies. Most worryingly, excessive force continues to be used against protesters on almost a daily basis and the death toll mounts. Reports of torture and ill-treatment continue to reach Amnesty International.
Many continue to face injustice. Twenty doctors and nurses sentenced to up to 15 years in prison for their involvement in protests are currently appealing their sentences. Fourteen opposition activists, including Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and Ebrahim Sharif, remain behind bars, having been sentenced to up to life in prison in an unfair trial by a military court. These are only a few examples amongst hundreds of similar stories.