Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Report on Bahrain's Crisis Released Today

Readers of this blog may recall several postings on the Arab Spring in the early months of 2011, especially reports on my friend Shubbar who was arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned for fifty days--just because he was the son-in-law of a prominent opposition leader. He was one of many victims of a harsh crackdown by Bahrain's security forces, carried out by the Sunni-dominated government against protesters from the Shia majority.

Another prominent victim was the Bahrain national team soccer star Alaa Hubail, whose story was recently covered in this poignant ESPN report:

Today, however, the government of Bahrain received a 500 page report from an independent commission that it had appointed to study the crackdown. To its credit, it allowed the commission to work quite freely in Bahrain and it allowed the document to be made public on the Web.

A quick review of the report suggests that the Commission was very careful to document facts as much as possible. For example, their staff compiled sixty vivid, firsthand accounts of arbitrary arrest and torture (see Annex B in the document).

In addition, Annex A records all the deaths tied to the unrest and crackdown:
  • Thirteen civilian deaths attributed to security forces
  • Eight civilian deaths "not attributed to specific perpetrators"
  • Five deaths attributed to torture
  • Four expatriate workers killed
  • Five police officers and military members killed (three by protesters)
  • Eleven killings that occurred "outside the Commission's temporal mandate" (after the cutoff date)
In a crude calculus of the two sides' losses, at least forty opponents of the government were killed, in contrast to three members of the police and security forces.

Scanning the bulk of the report feels a bit like reading a divorce proceeding, with the two sides bitterly disputing each point. But its thoroughness is a tribute to the work of the commission and its chairman, M. Cherif Bassiouni.

How this will play in the Bahraini government is the real question. My hunch is that the younger members of the royal family will try to use this as ammunition to force out the old guard (the prime minister), but they'll have an uphill battle, as Anthony Shadid pointed out yesterday in the New York Times.

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