Bahrain's king orders rights probe over unrest deaths

Bahrain's king orders rights probe over unrest deaths

Bahrain's King Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has set up an independent commission to investigate alleged human rights violations during a security crackdown on pro-reform protesters earlier this year, dpa reported.

At least 30 people are believed to have been killed in security crackdowns in the weeks following the start of street protests on February 14.

Last week, a military court sentenced 21 opposition leaders and activists to sentences ranging from life to two years imprisonment for attempting to overthrow the government.

During protests in mid-March calling for political reform in the Sunni-ruled, Shiite majority Bahrain security forces were assisted by Gulf troops, mainly from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The commission was established after consultation with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR), the king told an extraordinary cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

It is to investigate allegations of brutality, acts of violence, illegal targeting and demolition of places of worship and media incitement against those who took part in the protests.

Those who testify before it are to be given full immunity.

"Any person, whether acting on behalf of the government or any other capacity should be aware that we have not given up on our principles and would not tolerate any human rights violations," King Hamad said.

He said he had instructed his cabinet to cooperate with the commission - comprised of five individuals with "extensive knowledge of international law, human rights, and have no role in the government."

The commission is to be chaired by UN war crimes expert Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni and present its findings by October 30.

Its members will include former International Criminal Court (ICC) president Philippe Kirsch, former UN Special Rapporteur on torture and legal advisor to Amnesty International, Nigel Simon Rodley.

On June 1, Bahrain lifted its martial law imposed in mid-March but the arrest of suspected pro-reform protesters and their supporters continued, along with military trials.

According to Bahraini officials, more than 1,000 people - most of them Shiite Muslims - were detained. Some 400 to 500 remain in the custody of security forces face.

More than 2,000 people, including doctors, teachers and unionists were sacked from their jobs for allegedly taking part in the protests.

Scores of students in schools and universities were also suspended, expelled or had their scholarships withdrawn, with many being questioned and arrested.

According to activists, a least 30 people were killed in two separate crackdowns by security forces, where live ammunition had been used in some of the instances. Four had died in police custody.

The Interior Ministry has confirmed the deaths of four policemen.

The United States and Britain, and organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Doctors Without Borders (Medicines Sans Frontiers, MSF) have criticized the Bahraini government over the violence.

The US recently listed Bahrain, along with Iran, Syria and Libya, as a country where human rights violations occur.

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