Bahrain said Wednesday it accepted “90 percent” of reforms urged by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in the wake of a popular uprising, amid US criticism that the kingdom was dragging its feet.
“The government of Bahrain is pleased to fully accept 145 (out of 176 recommendations) and partially accept 13 more,” Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa told the Council, adding that “significant challenges remain”.
“We have undertaken unprecedented reforms”, he said, responding to numerous recommendations by the Council first made in May and covering notably Bahrain’s criminal justice system, the prevention of torture and the rights of women, children and minorities.
The Bahraini representative also pointed to the creation of a special unit tasked with investigating mistreatment by security services.
But he added: “Some, unfortunately believe that continued unrest on the streets affords them a political advantage. To keep up the momentum and media coverage, they fuel the flames of extremism and violence.”
Since February 2011, thousands of anti-government protesters have staged regular demonstrations and called for reforms in the Gulf kingdom, which is ruled by the minority Sunni Khalifa family.
The Shiite-led opposition’s demands for an elected government involve constitutional changes that would reduce the power of the dynasty.
While the 21st session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva saw several countries including China, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Yemen applaud Bahrain for its moves so far, the United States was less forthcoming.
“The government needs to be attendant to accountability,” Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, told reporters outside the chamber, adding that progress was “slowing down”.
“We have yet to see a successful prosecution of anyone in connection with some of the torture cases and deaths in custody last year. It’s now a long period,” he said, adding that he planned to meet the Bahraini representative later in the day.
Cases involving doctors and prominent human rights activists still in detention or pending after the demonstrations “need to be resolved”, he added.
While acknowledging continued violence on the streets involving “Molotov cocktails and young kids throwing things at the police”, Posner criticised the “excessive force, large amounts of tear gas” used by police in response.
“Those are things that are not helping to lead to an environment where a negotation dialogue is going to be fruitful,” he said, adding that Washington would continue to hold discussions with Bahrain on police and labour reform, trade union membership and the freedom of expression.
“Human rights issues in Bahrain are critically important and they actually help reinforce our security interests. A stable, healthy democratic Bahrain where human rights issues are dealt with appropriately is one that is going to be a strong ally and we need that,” said the US representative.
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) said on Tuesday that 80 people have died in Bahrain since the start of the violence on February 14 last year, including 34 since the release of a report by an independent commission of inquiry on November 23.
Earlier this month UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon sharply criticised tough jail terms imposed on 13 leading Bahraini opposition figures, calling on the kingdom to ensure the right to a fair trial.
The jail terms, which included seven life sentences, were imposed on charges of plotting to overthrow the monarchy during last year’s protests.