International panel to probe uprising in Bahrain

MANAMA, (Reuters) – The international committee  investigating violent protests in Bahrain this year will be  given access to official files and be able to meet witnesses in  secret, the panel’s chair said yesterday.

The five-member panel of human rights and legal experts,  unveiled ahead of a national dialogue set to start on Saturday,  is part of Bahrain’s efforts to restore its image after its  Sunni rulers cracked down on demonstrations led mostly by the  Shi’ite majority in February and March.

“We will ask for files, we will go to the prisons,” said  panel chairman Cherif Bassiouni, an Egyptian-American law  professor and U.N. war crimes expert who was involved in the  formation of the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC)  and recently headed a U.N. inquiry into events in Libya.

“This is no different from any criminal investigation,” he  told reporters in Manama, blocks away from where protesters had  taken to the streets.

At least two dozen people were killed, including protesters  and security personnel, and hundreds were arrested during the  unrest, which Bahrain’s Sunni rulers said was mostly the work of  Shi’ite protesters pushing a sectarian agenda, backed by Shi’ite  Iran.

Shi’ites deny the accusations and say they were protesting  against systematic discrimination that limits their access to  jobs and social services. Many say people have been tortured in  the crackdown.

“The events that took place were very, very controversial  throughout the region, and nobody knows what really happened,”  said Khalid al-Dakhil, a Saudi political analyst who has argued  for more open government in his own country.

The government has said the commission’s final report and  recommendations, due in October, will be published in full.

Bassiouni said the panel would meet in Bahrain around July  20 and that its investigations would probably extend to events  before and after the peak of unrest in February and March.

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