Cosmetic Reforms: Assessing Bahrain’s Implementation of the BICI Recommendations Ten Years Later

Ten years ago, a popular uprising in Bahrain erupted with high hopes of democratic transition. Since then, the country has been in turmoil. The 2011 uprising is not the only one in Bahrain’s contemporary history but rather a continuation of decades of struggle for equal participatory rights and representative government. The 14 February Uprising started with a few thousand protesters and within a few days attracted hundreds of thousands of Bahrainis from different backgrounds, age groups, and sectarian affiliations. In response, the government of Bahrain (GoB) dispatched its security forces to quell the protests using excessive force. After a month of demonstrations, the King announced a “State of National Safety” for three months, starting 15 March 2011.

The Royal Decree No. 18 of 2011, declaring the “State of National Safety,” granted security forces broad powers to enforce its provisions, charged the Military Prosecution to issue arrest warrants and initiate criminal proceedings, and established the National Safety Courts (military courts) to try “crimes that have led to the declaration of a state of national safety” and those committed in contravention of the national safety measures.[1] There were mainly four security agencies responsible for the implementation of the Royal Decree: Bahrain Defense Force (BDF), the Ministry of Interior (MoI), the National Security Agency (NSA), and the National Guard. The interpretation of the law by the security and judicial bodies has paved the way for grave violations of human rights, including arbitrary deprivation of life, torture in detention, unfair trials in addition to arbitrary arrests, prolonged detentions without judicial authorization, solitary confinement, among other violations. This period witnessed the demolition of religious structures, summary mass dismissal of employees in the private and public sectors, arbitrary expulsion of hundreds of students and revocation of their scholarships, and a systematic crackdown on activists, opposition leaders, trade unionists, and anyone who participated or supported the pro-democracy movement.

Under international pressure, the King established the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), consisting of five international human rights experts and lawyers, issuing Royal Decree No. 28 of 2011. The BICI was created to “investigate and report on the events occurring in Bahrain in February/March 2011, and any subsequent consequences arising out of the aforementioned events, and to make such recommendations as it may deem appropriate.”[2] In November 2011, the Commission handed over its report to the King. It found that the security forces systematically violated fundamental human rights during the reporting period. They used excessive force against protesters, unlawfully killed civilians, tortured detainees, and engaged in “terror-inspiring behavior” and that the lack of accountability of officials within the security system has led to a culture of impunity. The BICI report highlighted grave violations of due process rights before the National Safety Courts and established that a great number of defendants were tried in relation to the exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association.

The report noted that the GoB should have realized that demolishing Shia religious structures “would be perceived as a collective punishment.” It also addressed the incitement of hatred and derogatory language used in the media coverage of the events, concluding that “the authorities attempted to restrict the freedom of expression and opinion of Bahraini media personnel,” and that the opposition lacks adequate access to mainstream media in Bahrain. The legality of the dismissals of both employees and students was contested by the BICI and deemed arbitrary. In conclusion, the BICI report stated 26 recommendations that constituted a roadmap for genuine reform in Bahrain.

Following the acceptance of the BICI report finding and recommendations by the King, the GoB has carried out several legal and institutional reforms. In May 2016, the GoB announced that the implementation of all BICI recommendations had been completed. However, Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) assessment has found otherwise.

Ten years on, the pro-democracy movement leaders are still behind bars, the major opposition political parties are outlawed, and the only independent newspaper in the country is indefinitely suspended. The GoB’s crackdown on free expression is in full force, as well as attempts to intimidate its critics into silence. The government officials responsible for killing dozens of protesters and torturing hundreds have not been held accountable, nor have those who directed the crackdown, as the government human rights bodies have proved ineffective. Most importantly, the grievances that sparked the 2011 uprising remain unaddressed. On the contrary, the GoB has escalated its repression, systematically and thoroughly closing civil and political space.

In assessing the BICI 26 recommendations, BCHR found that the GoB has fully implemented only one recommendation, while the others are either partially implemented or not implemented. Regarding the majority of the recommendations, although the GoB has acted on them, they have not been sincerely implemented, where the steps taken are not deep and comprehensive enough to bring about genuine change, or the bodies responsible for the implementation are not independent and effective. The half-hearted reforms indicate that the GoB has not been serious enough in addressing the issues raised in the report and has no intention so far to make substantial changes.

[1] Royal Decree No. 18 of 2011, accessible at

[2] Royal Decree No. 28 of 2011, accessible at

Full report: Cosmetic Reforms – Assessing Bahrain’s Implementation of the BICI Recommendations Ten Years Later