DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahrain's main opposition group has criticized an Arab League decision to set up a pan-Arab human rights court in Manama, saying the Gulf Arab state was the "black hole of human rights".
U.S.-allied Bahrain's human rights record has come under scrutiny over its handling of unrest since anti-government protests broke out in early 2011, putting it in the frontline of the region-wide tussle between Shi'ite Muslim Iran and Sunni Arab states such as Saudi Arabia.
Bahraini officials welcomed the Arab ministerial council's decision in Cairo on Sunday as a recognition of its eligibility to host such an important institution. Bahrain strongly rejects charges it violates human rights and says Manama was a signatory to most international covenants on human rights.
The kingdom, ruled by the Sunni Muslim al-Khalifa family and base for the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, was behind a proposal to create the Arab Human Rights Court.
No details have been issued about the mandate and powers of the court and how judges would be appointed, but the Bahraini foreign ministry said last year that experts from the Arab League would write its charter.
Bahrain's Shi'ite Islamic al-Wefaq movement said Manama's hosting of the court casts doubt on the credibility of the tribunal.
"Al-Wefaq revealed that there are more than 55 types of human rights violations that have been perpetrated by the regime in Bahrain against citizens, including natural and fundamental human rights," the group said on its website www.alwefaq.net.
"This entrenches the idea of Bahrain being the human rights black hole," it said.
A Human Rights Watch (HRW) official also criticized the decision to place the court in Bahrain.
"The establishment of a glitzy new court won't disguise the fact that Bahrain has a dismal and worsening record in that regard," Nicholas McGeehan, Gulf researcher with Human Rights Watch, told Reuters.
Bahrain's information affairs minister rejected the charges as politically motivated.
"Wefaq has an agenda against Bahrain as a state, and thus its comments against Bahrain cannot be taken at face value," Samira Rajab told Reuters.
"Bahrain is a state of institutions where the rule of law is supreme.
An international inquiry commission, invited by Bahrain's government, said in a report in November 2011 that 35 people had died during the anti-government protests.
The dead were mainly protesters but included five security personnel and seven foreigners. The report said five people had died from torture.
The report also said authorities had used widespread and excessive force, including torture, to extract confessions.
The Bahraini government says it has taken steps to address the problems by dismissing those responsible and introducing cameras at police stations.
(Reporting by Mahmoud Habboush,; Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy, Editing by Angus MacSwan)