A HUMAN rights group yesterday welcomed a package of reforms announced by the Interior Ministry in response to the findings of an independent inquiry into Bahrain's unrest.
The Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society (BHRWS) said it was vital to implement recommendations put forward by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI).
News that international experts would be brought in to help develop Bahrain's police force and a code of conduct was being brought in for policemen coincided with the announcement that the National Security Agency (NSA) would no longer have powers of arrest - one of the key recommendations of the BICI.
Interior Minister Lieutenant-General Shaikh Rashid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa revealed the plan, saying a team had been put in place to oversee the recommendations being put into practice to prevent excesses in future.
BHRWS secretary-general Faisal Fulad is also proposing an independent commission to receive complaints against police, such as the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) in the UK.
"Everyone, especially the Interior Ministry, needs to work hard to make deep-rooted changes," Mr Fulad told the GDN.
"Without an independent body like the IPCC to regulate and monitor tactics used by police and any violations committed by them, there is no point in all these changes."
Mr Fulad is also urging the Interior Ministry to prosecute those responsible for human rights violations during unrest.
"We are under an international microscope at the moment and we need to take serious steps to rectify mistakes made and make actual changes," he said.
The BICI had called on the Interior Ministry to investigate and prosecute 35 deaths that occurred between February 14 and April 15 in connection with unrest.
It concluded 13 of these were a direct result of unnecessary force by security forces, while five were due to mistreatment in custody.
"Riot control operations were carried out by Public Security Force (PSF) units that used force and firearms in an excessive manner that was, on many occasions, unnecessary, disproportionate and indiscriminate," said the report.
"Units fired shotguns on civilians in situations where police personnel were not subjected to an imminent threat of death or serious injury.
"Even in the situations where forces were attacked by civilians, the nature and intensity of these attacks did not warrant the use of shotguns against civilians.
"PSF personnel should have resorted to less lethal means of confronting civilians."
The report says nine of the deaths blamed on use of unnecessary force were attributable to the Interior Ministry, one was thought to be connected to the ministry but there was insufficient evidence to prove this, two were attributable to the BDF and one could not be attributed to a specific government agency.
Seven civilians died from shotgun wounds, five died from the use of another type of firearm and one died from beating.
However, the BICI confirmed that investigations had been launched.
"The commission has been provided with evidence of investigations in all nine cases (attributed to the Interior Ministry)," said the BICI report.
"Three of these investigations have resulted in the criminal prosecution of the responsible police officers.
"Five investigations are pending and the commission has not received any indications as to when conclusions may be achieved."
Three policemen were also killed by protesters during that time and two Asians were confirmed to have been murdered by civilians (believed to be protesters).
A fourth policeman was killed accidentally at a BDF checkpoint, while an Indian national is believed to have been hit by a BDF bullet.
The deaths of an Asian apparently hit by a car and a BDF lieutenant who suffered a heart attack remain a mystery, while the BICI was unable to attribute the deaths of eight other Bahrainis during that period to a perpetrator - although three were labelled "intentional killings".
While police were credited with using self-restraint and minimal force against civilians after the GCC (Pearl) Roundabout was reopened to protesters on February 19, the BICI said this changed after the State of National Safety was announced in mid-March.
"Witness statements and information indicate that security forces used excessive force when searching vehicles and individuals at these checkpoints," it said.
Meanwhile, the report describes how five detainees allegedly died after being abused in custody - three at the Dry Dock Detention Centre, one at the BDF Hospital after being transferred from NSA custody and another four days after he was released from police custody.
The BICI attributed the death of Hasan Jassim Maki to mistreatment in custody, despite Interior Ministry investigations claiming medical negligence and the prosecution of a doctor.
The report states that Ali Isa Saqer's death resulted in the prosecution of five Interior Ministry personnel on May 25 - with three charged with manslaughter and two accused of failing to report the crime.
Another five Interior ministry personnel were prosecuted for the death of Zakariya Al Asheri for mistreatment in custody, according to the BICI.
Meanwhile, the death of Abdulkarim Fakhrawi resulted in the prosecution of two NSA agents for physical abuse, it said.
However, the BICI also accused the Interior Ministry of failing to investigate the death of Jaber Yousif, which occurred four days after his release from the Dry Dock Detention Centre.
Meanwhile, the report also criticised the conduct of the NSA for failing to follow proper procedures - often using "excessive force" and causing "unnecessary damage" to properties during raids on homes.