Ali Alaswad, a resigned Bahraini MP, has written an open letter to Cherif Bassiouni, the Head of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, criticising his claim that there is no more torture in Bahrain. Bassiouni made the claim in this interview with Sir David Frost on Al Jazeera English.
Below is the letter which can also be found here.
Dear Prof. Cherif Bassiouni,
I feel compelled to write to you as someone who had genuine faith in your commission from the very beginning, on the date of the report from the Implementation Commission.
As a resigned MP I encouraged people to testify to the BICI, argued with the skeptics that BICI could be a force for good and spent much time promoting your Commission far and wide.
Whilst I understood the limitations of your remit I was over all encouraged by your final report and believed it could be the first step towards the democratic change that the people of Bahrain have been crying out for.
Like many I saw the potential of your Commission to finally end the gross violations that the people of Bahrain have suffered for decades and that have been horrifically accelerated since February 2011.
It is for this reason more than anything else that I must respectfully register my disappointment with your recent comments in your interview with Sir David Frost on Al Jazeera English (March 20th 2012).
You claim very clearly and confidently that since you and your fellow investigators entered Bahrain there have been no more allegations of torture and mistreatment.
I must sadly inform you that this claim is false and given your role in Bahrain and continued presence you should know this. The fact that you cannot recognize this suggests that either you are being fed incorrect information that you are not verifying, or you are remaining willfully ignorant of the reality. I hope it is not the latter, but whatever the reason, you are overlooking the facts and this is extremely unhelpful to the Bahraini people.
If you had simply stated that there has been no torture since July 2011 at least we would know that you believe this to be the case. But I found it truly astounding that you claim that there have been no further allegations.
In January there were two cases of deaths whilst in custody which can be attributed to torture. Since you are clearly not aware of these cases I shall report them to you now and I hope you can change your stance with immediate affect.
On 13th January 2012 the body of 24-year-old Yousif Ahmed Muwali was found on a beach. He had last been seen 5 days previously when he was arrested during a demonstration. When his family was able to see his body they found clear marks of torture. Tell me, Professor Bassiouni, how do you think Yousif came to be washed up on a beach a few days after being arrested, with signs of torture on his body?
The second case relates to 37-year-old Muntadher Saeed Fakhar who died on 25th January 2012. He was arrested and taken to Hoora Police station where at some point over the next 24 hours he died.
Witnesses claim to have seen police beating Fakhar and a number of photographs before his burial show clear markings of torture on his body. One such photograph shows the marking of a shoe on his head.
Both these cases have been widely reported and, given that you were in Bahrain just a short time after this; I simply cannot believe that you have not heard about these deaths.
The final image the Father of Yousif Ahmed Muwali saw of his son was a body, grossly deformed, covered in marks and bruising. Why don’t you ask him if torture still exists in Bahrain? Or why not ask the family of Muntadher Saeed Fakhar why, if there’s no more torture, they will never see him again?
Professor Bassiouni, you claimed in your interview that there is no more torture in Bahrain and you know this because both the King and the Minister of Interior told you.
With all due respect, sir, do you think that maybe you need to base your opinions on something more than what you are told by the Head of State and his Ministers? During the interview, Sir David Frost referred to you as “The Father of international law”. An accolade I imagine you didn’t earn from simply accepting as truth the word of Kings, Presidents and Prime Ministers.
If you are serious about your beliefs I would urge you to contact the families of those individuals referred to above and reiterate your commitment to human rights. I know you are no longer investigating Bahrain but if you are unaware of the facts I would suggest you avoid making statements that are simply untrue.
As your Commission makes fundamentally clear torture is just the tip of the iceberg of violations in Bahrain. In your interview you argued that there is “much improvement taking place”. Again I must challenge you as the reality on the ground portrays a very different story.
On the 23rd November 2011 you stood next to The King and presented your report. The whole world listened to you, as did I, and hoped that never again would we see the horrors of the previous 10 months.
Since that day at least 25 people have been killed relating to “excessive force” – a term I should remind you that was used by your commission on describing security services behavior.
Can you please tell me how that would constitute as an improvement? My intention here is not to claim that BICI was not incredibly useful and without merit. Indeed it raised clearly to the whole world the violations that our Government is guilty of.
But The Authorities have tried to give the impression that they are implementing your recommendations whilst in reality the situation on the ground has only worsened. How can this happen and more importantly why can you not recognize this?
More deaths, continuous attacks on peaceful demonstrations, covering whole villages in tear gas, still stopping some from returning to work, continuing to detain political prisoners and the upholding of unfair charges are not improvements. Bahrain as a nation would benefit so much from the simple act of you stating this.
You told Sir David Frost that you it is difficult to establish responsibility for abuses when political individuals are involved in the chain of command. I understand this but then why would you precede this statement by exhorting all responsibility from some individuals?
You said the Crown Prince, The King, The Minister of Interior and The Minister of Justice couldn’t be held responsible for violations. It seems strange to highlight these prominent people as absolved of responsibility but it also points to the possibility that you think other individuals are responsible. You do not mention The Prime Minister; does this mean he has responsibility? If you think so, why don’t you just say so?
I also agreed with some areas you highlighted in your interview. You are absolutely correct to say that the violations committed by Bahrain are symptoms and not causes. The real causes are political. I agree with you 100% on this matter. You are right to highlight the lack of access to power given to those from the Shi’ite community, although your claim that the Shi’ites are 60% of the population actually contradicts your own report that suggests the figure is closer to 70%.
Aside from this factual error I would argue that you have shown a clear and shrewd understanding of the political problems in Bahrain. So given this, I find it even more remarkable that you can tell the world that torture no longer exists because the King told you so.
Can you not understand that without serious international pressure there will be no political reform in Bahrain and that means key individuals, such as yourself, must be honest and frank about what is currently happening in Bahrain.
By claiming that ‘things have improved’ you are not aiding the cause of reform in Bahrain, to the contrary you are making it less likely.
I do hope that you can take this letter in the respectful but critical manner it was intended and that you may have a stronger understanding of the impact of your words. I want to defend the BICI and I want to defend you. But your recent interview has made this very difficult to do.
I call on you to withdraw your statement that allegations of torture no longer exist in Bahrain and to help us to begin the process of serious and meaningful political reform.
I don’t want to call your investigation a failure but it will be wasted in the dustbin of history unless real change emerges from it. Thus far that change has not been seen.
As ‘the father of international law’ your loyalty should be with people not rulers. Please remember this in your future work with Bahrain.
Resigned Bahraini MP
Ali Alaswad also wrote a number of tweets on this subject: