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EXCLUSIVE: Notorious Bahraini judge appointed to investigate alleged war crimes in Yemen

Bahraini soldiers [file photo]
Bahraini soldiers [file photo]

The army officer assigned to investigate alleged Saudi war crimes in Yemen played a key role in the 2011 crackdown on Arab Spring protesters in Bahrain, MEMO can reveal. In the wake of the start of the ongoing 2011 uprising, Bahrain’s military lawyer Colonel Mansour Al-Mansour presided over the First Instance Court of National Safety, a tribunal set up to process the trial and prosecution of hundreds of peaceful protesters and human rights and pro-democracy activists after they took to the streets calling for urgent reform of the tiny Gulf monarchy.

Al-Mansour now acts as legal adviser to the Joint Incident Assessments Team (JIAT), the body set up by the Saudi-led coalition to investigate bombings against civilian targets. He is playing a key role in assessing whether human rights violations have taken place.

Amongst Al-Mansour’s notorious convictions are the so-called “Bahraini Thirteen”, a group of activists, journalists and politicians who alleged torture, including sexual assault and beatings, during their detention. Several media and foreign human rights monitors were barred from observing their trial, the conduct of which drew strong criticism from the United Nations, European Union, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Religious leader Mirza Al-Mahroos, who was convicted by Al-Mansour to fifteen years in prison, said that he was “unable to stand due to the severity of what had happened to me.” This was a reference to the alleged daily torture and beatings during his pre-trial detention; on one occasion, he claimed that an interrogator stuffed shoes into his mouth. “I could not look at [the judges] because of the beatings on my eyes,” he recalled. Al-Mansour, he complained, had failed to respond to complaints of torture when raised.

According to Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, the Director of Advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, Al-Mansour sentenced protesters vindictively on behalf of the Bahraini regime. “Rather than being held accountable,” he told MEMO, “Al-Mansour has been promoted to whitewash the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. His story is a clear marker of the descent of Bahrain and the Gulf further into dictatorship and authoritarianism.”

Others convicted by Al-Mansour include Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, a human rights activist and co-founder of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, as well as the academic and writer Abduljalil Al-Singace, who was arrested initially on his return from Britain where he attended an event in the House of Lords in parliament in August 2010. Al-Singace was detained for six months before being released at the height of the protests, re-arrested, then sentenced by Al-Mansour to life imprisonment. Both men continue to serve their sentences and have been on several hunger-strikes in protest at their incarceration.

Human Rights Watch called the conduct of the trials “unfair”, characterised by “serious due process violations.” The organisation’s official report concluded that “serious abuses included denying defendants the right to counsel and to present a defence, and failure to investigate credible allegations of torture and ill-treatment during interrogation.” Those on trial included health workers, with one nurse convicted of “destroying moveable property in furtherance of a terrorist purpose” because she allegedly stepped on a photo of the prime minister.

Al-Mansour has since specialised in humanitarian law and attended training sessions from the Bahraini Red Crescent Society and the International Committee for the Red Cross, as well as advising his country’s Shura (Consultative) Council in March, on whether to adopt the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. This includes bans on dangerous unexploded ordinance, incendiary devices and other bombs “deemed to be excessively injurious or to have indiscriminate effects.” Before the council approved the accession, Al-Mansour reassured legislators that the convention would not apply to the use of weapons within the kingdom.

The convention is actually a watered-down version of the international treaty on “cluster bombs”; Bahrain currently refuses to sign this. Instead, the government in Manama calls for “explosive ordnance that has been primed, fused, armed or otherwise prepared for use and used in an armed conflict” to be cleared from civilian areas after being dropped, rather than banned outright. The legislation clarifies that such ordinance may have been “fired, dropped, launched or projected, and should have exploded but failed to do so.”

Opting for this diluted version of a cluster bomb ban over an outright prohibition preferred by other countries, the Saudi-led coalition has since been accused of using such munitions in Yemen. This is highly controversial because the “bomblets” often fail to explode.

As concerns have mounted internationally about alleged war crimes committed by the coalition air forces in Yemen, Al-Mansour has played a prominent role in playing down the allegations to local, regional and international media. He appeared in media briefings conducted in Riyadh while wearing civilian clothing.

In August, Al-Mansour claimed that a Medecins Sans Frontieres hospital hit by coalition air strikes had been used as a base by Houthi militias. MSF refuted the story, saying that the tented clinic had been set up in an empty field in a residential neighbourhood where many internally displaced people had gathered, noting there had been no air strike, nor any fighting in the area, for several months. The GPS coordinates of the MSF medical facilities had also been shared with the Saudis on the morning of the attack. All six of the incidents investigated by JIAT found no wrong-doing on the part of the coalition. MSF has since been forced to withdraw from Yemen after several incidents of a similar nature in which, again, there was found to be no coalition wrong-doing.

JIAT has since admitted that a recent coalition attack on a funeral, which Houthi rebels claim killed eighty-two Yemenis and the UN says could have killed up to a hundred and forty, was the result of a commander who failed to obtain permission from his seniors for the strike. “Naturally, these people must be confronted about what led to this mistake,” Al-Mansour said. “They have the right to defend themselves, but if it becomes clear that legal measures should be taken, the coalition forces are concerned with that.” This, remember, is the man assigned to investigate allegations of war crimes in the same country by the same Saudi-led coalition.

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