U.N. Welcomes Bahrain Probe of Unrest


U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon welcomed Thursday a move by Bahrain to launch a probe to investigate the violent repression of pro-democracy protests, but stressed its independence was key.

The secretary-general "welcomes this development and underscores that the commission should be granted full access to all individuals, organizations and information relevant to the investigation," his spokesperson said.

Ban insisted the five-man panel appointed to investigate the bloody unrest that erupted during anti-regime protests in February and March must "be able to work with full independence in accordance with international norms and standards."

The commission, which must submit its findings by October 30, will have "free access to any person it deems useful," including "the alleged victims and witnesses of alleged violations of human rights," according to a royal decree.

"The government should not interfere in any way in the work of the commission," which may recommend "to try any person, including officers or employees" in order to "prevent a repeat of events" in the tiny Gulf kingdom.

Ordered by King Hamad on Wednesday, the five-man panel will be chaired by Mahmud Sharif Bassiouni, an international expert in criminal law.

It will also include Philippe Kirsch, a Canadian lawyer and former president of the International Criminal Court, and Sir Nigel Rodley Simon, member of the U.N. Commission for Human Rights.

The king decreed that cases not yet heard by military courts will be referred to civil courts, and that verdicts issued by the former may be appealed.

Despite an apparent calm in Bahrain, tensions are high in the kingdom where the Shiite majority has been hardest hit by a wave of layoffs and lawsuits that has been denounced by human rights organizations.

Twenty-four people died in the repression of popular protests between mid-February and mid-March, according to official figures from Manama. Four protesters have since died in custody.