By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
MANAMA, Bahrain– The UN human rights office in Geneva, Switzerland stated that on Thursday 01 March 2012, the Bahraini government had formally requested that the visit of the special rapporteur on torture be delayed until mid-July. The investigator, Juan Mendex, had originally been scheduled the visit the Gulf island nation from 8 March to 17 March. The Bahraini government has also imposed restrictions on groups attempting to monitor reforms inside the nation, clearly desiring to keep all foreign influence away from its citizens.
While the protests and violence continues, three international human rights groups were informed last week by the Bahraini government of new restrictions on visiting the nation. Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International stated that Bahrain’s Human Rights and Social Development Ministry told them that new rules limited them to five-day trips and those trips must be arranged through a Bahraini sponsor.
Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, a regional Amnesty deputy director, shared these words in a statement concerning the situation.
“Regrettably, we have cancelled the fact-finding visit to Bahrain as the new five days limit imposed by the Bahraini authorities for visits by international human rights organizations is a serious impediment. The Bahraini authorities have repeatedly stated their commitment to undertake human rights reform and to cooperate with human rights organizations. These new restrictions contradict such commitment.”
The UN also released a statement concerning the inability to enter and inspect the nation. A spokesman for the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Xabier Celaya, stated that Mendez would express his regrets to Bahraini representatives in meetings this week concerning the “last minute postponement.”
“Mr. Mendez will seek to secure new dates as he remains very committed to undertaking this important visit. Bahrain is still undergoing major reforms and wants some important steps, critical to the special rapporteur’s mandate, to be in place before he visits so he can assess the progress that Bahrain has made to date.”
Bahrain is ruled by the Sunni Muslim al-Khalifa family and has been under tremendous pressure to institute political and rights reforms since the violent crackdown on the uprising. Bahrain’s Minister for Social Development, Fatima al-Balooshi, told the UN Human Rights Council this week that the kingdom had learned important lessons from the demonstrations and protests against the government.
“Mistakes were made. Serious wrongs were committed. We believe we are on the right track.”
The road leading up the delay of Mendez’s visit is rather peculiar one. In January, Bahraini officials told a number of human rights organizations that they should delay trips to the country until after 22 February 2012, the date that the government had set for a review of the changes in the way the country functioned as a whole. This included changes for the police, the judiciary, the educational system, and the media. Also, as recommended by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), a body of international legal experts, the reforms included the payment of compensation to torture victims and a process of national reconciliation. The recommendation from the BICI came in November 2011.
On Thursday 01 March 2012, the Bahraini government said that it needed as many as 20 more days to complete its plans for implementing the recommendations of the BICI. The BICI reported that demonstrators and protesters, who come primarily from the majority, non-ruling Shia population, had suffered from systematic torture to elicit confessions that were subsequently used in military trials.
The ruling, minority Sunni Muslim community in Bahrain has been under pressure from the non-ruling, majority Shia Muslim community to change the rules on the appointment of government officials. The Shia community believes that if they had more officials, more policies would better serve their interests. The Sunni ruling party has been very reluctant to allow this to occur. Thus, demonstrations and protests have occurred across the Gulf island nation.
The Bahraini government has moved swiftly to control any widespread, anti-regime movement. It has even strengthened its tourist visa restrictions, after some Western activists took part in anti-government demonstrations last month that marked the first anniversary of the uprising on 14 February 2012. Bahraini police officers allowed the main parties, led by the al-Wefaq group, to hold a rally inside the nation’s capital of Manama last week.
On Thursday 01 March 2012, Wefaq released a statement concerning the situation.
“Many villages were repressed brutally by security forces, leaving at least two people seriously injured. One of the injured had been hit in the head by a tear gas canister, while another had sustained injuries from shotgun pellets.”
Inspired youth protesters and activists have regularly held demonstrations in Shia districts, although Bahraini police usually quell any momentum using armored vehicles, teargas, and stun grenades. The Bahraini government has repeatedly reported that the youth protests are rioters simply causing chaos with no aim of political objectives. Until the voices of the majority are genuinely heard and addressed, it seems that the suffering and violence will continue. The continued denial of human rights groups into the country projects the message that the rights of those not in power do not matter.
For more information, please see:
Al-Jazeera – Bahrain Delays UN Investigator Visit – 02 March 2012
AllVoices – Bahrain: Government Delays Visit by UN Torture Investigator – 02 March 2012
Chicago Tribune – Bahrain Delays U.N. Investigator, Limit Rights Group Visits – 01 March 2012
Reuters – Bahrain Delays U.N. Investigator, Limits Rights Group Visits – 01 March 2012