Bahrain understands need for futher reforms

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The decision by His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to establish an Independent Commission offered Bahrain an unprecedented opportunity to learn the truth about a painful time in our nation’s history. This forward-thinking move also provided a roadmap to ensure such events would not take place again.

Over the past eight months, Bahrain’s government has worked diligently to enact reforms in line with the Commission’s suggestions. To date, Bahrain has fully implemented 18 of the Report’s 26 recommendations. Work on seven of them has begun and they are in various stages of implementation. One is not yet applicable. The government’s actions resulted in meaningful steps toward reform that has positively impacted the situation on the ground.

Bahrain has begun the process of rebuilding religious sites demolished during the unrest. So far, five sites are nearing completion, eight sites have been prepared for work, and an additional nine sites have been designated for future construction.

With the help of former Miami-Dade Police Chief John Timoney, Bahrain has instituted a new police code of conduct, installed security cameras in all detention centers, begun a comprehensive retraining effort for Bahraini police officers and is working to expand the diversity of the police force.

Substantial progress has been made to reinstate those Bahrainis who lost their jobs during the unrest. To date, most government employees and 92 percent of private sector workers – excepting those charged with serious crimes – have returned to work at a level commensurate with the position they held before the unrest.

The Special Investigations Unit has investigated over 122 cases of misconduct. These investigations led to charges against 21 different police officers, including a lieutenant-colonel. These officers were charged with a variety of crimes up to and including murder.

Although a full accounting of the Bahrain’s response to the BICI report would take much more time and space, the above mentioned actions demonstrate the seriousness with which the government has taken its commitments. For a full accounting, I encourage you to visit my blog.

The progress made over the past eight months provides a genuine opportunity to re-engage with the opposition in a comprehensive, inclusive, multi-lateral dialogue without preconditions aimed at resolving our political differences. Bahrain’s government has repeatedly demonstrated its commitment – through His Royal Highness the Crown Prince’s dialogue initiative during the unrest, the comprehensive National Dialogue held in July 2011, and the National Commission appointed following the release of the BICI report – to resolve matters peacefully and at the negotiating table. The opposition failed to take advantage of each opportunity.

Despite this intransigence, the government has not lost sight of the need for political reform.  A variety of constitutional amendments expanded the powers of elected parliament to reject the government and its program, and updates to our freedom of expression law provide greater protection for those who engage in peaceful demonstrations. We have more to do, but progress is being made.

Bahrain has always been a politically progressive and religiously tolerant society. American missionaries established the first church in the Arabian Gulf in 1893. Today, standing next to thousands of mosques, Bahrain is home to 19 churches, a synagogue and countless Sikh and Hindu temples. Indeed, my story – that of a Jewish woman who rose on her merits to the top of Bahrain’s civil society – has been made possible by a country committed to religious pluralism and the freedom of opportunity. Continuing down a path toward greater inclusion of all genders and faiths must continue, because not doing so would be un-Bahraini.

Through its actions over the past eight months, the government of Bahrain has demonstrated its commitment to implementing the recommendations contained in the BICI report. The progress is measurable, verifiable, and significant. Bahrain welcomes the interest of our friends in Washington who are eager to share our successes and let us know when we can do more. Together, we can continue to shape the next chapter in the historic relationship between our two countries.

The writer is Bahrain’s Ambassador to the United States. Ambassador Nonoo blogs regularly on the U.S.-Bahrain relationship at http://houdanonoo.wordpress.com