UN Torture Expert Denied Visit to Bahrain: What Are They Hiding?

The Bahraini government indefinitely postponed a United Nations torture expert’s mission trip to their country, giving no reasons and proposing no alternative dates.

This is the second time Bahrain has blocked a planned visit from U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez. Initially planned for May 8 to 15, Mendez said the “postponement [of this visit] could be perceived as if there is something to hide.”

Ever since hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in protest back in February 2011, Bahrain and its ruler King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa have been under international scrutiny. Brewing unrest between a Shiite national majority and a Sunni absolute monarchy combusted into a storming of the capital, with demonstrators camping out at Pearl Square, demanding for an end to discrimination and for a more equitable political system.

The government responded with tear gas and concussion bombs for the demonstrators, which included families and children, and declared a state of emergency martial law in response to the protests. 

As a result of the hostile climate, the U.N. and human rights watchdog groups like Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, and Doctors Without Borders (DWB) all published respective reports classifying Bahrain as a ground of rampant human rights abuse.

In April 2011 report, DWB stated that the government used medical care as bait to identify protesters. Bahraini officials used wounds to pinpoint which patients were demonstrators, and would subsequently deny them health care or arrest them on site.

In November 2012, Amnesty stated the situation in Bahrain had “markedly deteriorated,” and accused the United States and the United Kingdom, both allies of the Gulf nation, of doing nothing to stop the Khalifa monarchy’s unbridled abuse of its own citizens.

Bahrain houses the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. Home to 2,300 military personnel, this naval base protects the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf to the West, and provides access to vital waterways such as the Suez Canal and Strait of Hormuz. In other words, Bahrain is of huge strategic value to the US and the UK.

However, Bahrain is a tyrannical monarchy that tortures false confessions out of demonstrators, denies citizens due process of law, throws grenades at families and young children, mistreats detainees to the point of death, and deprives its people of life and liberty. How have America and Great Britain flown under the international radar for two years, managing to sustain a business relationship without being chastised by the international community?

It may be due to the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), appointed by the Bahraini king in November 2011 to look into allegations of human rights abuse and improve their worsening reputation abroad. The BICI report confirmed the watchdog organizations' reports and also offered recommendations on how to implement change.

The BICI report, unlike others, came internally from within the Bahraini government. Therefore, the “much-hyped” report was seen as a step towards peace and reform. At the presentation of the report, the king declared, “This day turns a new page in history.” Washington also applauded the report, but took on an anti-interventionist tone, stating that it was “now on Bahrain’s government to hold accountable to those responsible for abuses and to undertake reforms to make sure they do not occur again.”   

It has been one-and-a-half years since the BICI report, and no change has occurred in the Arab nation. The report may have used hopeful rhetoric, but it seems that the its sole purpose was to serve as a crutch for Bahrain and its Western allies. As the Amnesty report states, “Bahraini authorities can no longer shield themselves from criticism by using the pretence of reform, and Bahrain’s close allies, including the USA and the UK can no longer brandish the BICI report to go back to business as usual.”

It is clear the Bahraini government has not made any steps forward, despite various denunciations from numerous international organizations. The incident with the U.N.’s Mendez certainly does not inspire hope. Most recently, Bahrain has implemented a blanket ban of all protests, stripped protesters of citizenship, and has spread its campaign of harassment and arrest to human rights activists and Shiite religious figures.

And the citizens of Bahrain should not expect progress until Bahrain’s Western allies stop putting financial investments and power over human vitality.