Bahrain to mull ways to improve rights record

Bahrain has agreed to consider recommendations to release political prisoners, outlaw torture and join the International Criminal Court, a move that could open it to international prosecutions of alleged abuses, the U.N.'s top human rights body said Wednesday.

In its highly anticipated review of the Gulf kingdom's record, the U.N. Human Rights Council said Bahrain will consider 176 recommendations submitted by other nations. The council's report, part of a process that all 193 U.N. members are required to undergo every four years, reflects international concern about the 15-month Bahraini uprising by majority Shiites against the ruling Sunni monarchy.

Nations are not required to adopt the recommendations of other countries that are included the report, but often nations will reject recommendations without first agreeing to consider them. Among the other recommendations included in the report are for Bahrain to consider abolishing the death penalty, commuting death sentences to prison terms and improving laws that protect freedoms of expression and assembly.

Bahrain also has agreed to consider a recommendation to release political prisoners, a major concern of some Western nations over jailed Bahraini activists such as Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who has been on a hunger strike since February. He and others have claimed that they suffered abuses and torture, and demanded their release.

Al-Khawaja and seven other activists were sentenced to life in prison last year by a military-run court as part of crackdowns by Bahrain's Sunni rulers on a Shiite-led uprising calling for a greater political voice in the Gulf kingdom. A civilian court retrial was ordered in April for 21 people convicted of anti-state crimes, with the court adjourning the case until May 29.

Bahrain's human rights minister, Salah bin Ali Mohammed Abdulrahman, led a delegation this week that told the 47-nation council the government is moving quickly to improve its human rights record after allegations of abuses by Bahraini security forces and crackdowns such as widespread arrests and workplace purges.

More than 50 people have died in the unrest since the spring of 2011 in the Western-allied nation that hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. Some nations have praised Bahrain for setting up an independent inquiry into the crackdown but called for urgent action on its findings that security forces resorted to unnecessary and excessive force against protesters and that many detainees were tortured or had their rights violated.