Former BICI Commissioner Slams Cancellation of UN Visit

Sir Nigel Rodley, a former Commissioner of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, has expressed “extreme disappointment” at the decision of Bahrain to cancel the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.

In a statement released by the International Commission of Jurists, of which Sir Nigel Rodley is President, he accused Bahrain of using the possibility of a visit to deflect pressure to implement promised reforms.

He said Bahrain “keeps dangling the possibility of a visit when it is under pressure to do something about implementing the BICI recommendations.” Adding, “One does not have to be a cynic to infer that once the pressure eases – for example, because the Human Rights Council has concluded its review of Bahrain’s human rights performance or the Formula One race is over – it can then withdraw its invitation.”

Bahrain was widely criticized last week when they “effectively cancelled” the scheduled visit of Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, to Bahrain.

Juan Mendez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture

A statement in Bahrain’s state news agency suggested the UN official had “put off” the trip, which he strongly denied, saying, “Let me be clear, this was a unilateral decision by the authorities. Unfortunately, it is not the first time the Government has tried to avoid responsibility for the postponement of my visit, which was originally supposed to take place over a year ago.”

A spokesperson for the British Foreign Office also expressed disappointment over the cancellation, telling the BBC that the UK Minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, had raised the issue with the authorities.

Sir Nigel Rodley was one of 5 international commissioners who spent 4 months investigating allegations of abuses in Bahrain during February and March 2011, when thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators took to the streets. The Commission found a number of failings on behalf of the authorities and recommended a series of reforms including including effective investigations into all cases of torture and ill-treatment by an independent and impartial body; the establishment of a standing independent body to examine all complaints of torture or ill-treatment, excessive use of force or other abuses at the hands of the authorities; and the compensation and provision of remedies for all victims.

He also held the post of Special Rapporteur on Torture during the 1990’s, identifying Bahrain as a country where torture was a problem. He said, “The BICI’s recommendations included ones to address the serious problem of torture in Bahrain, a problem I had identified in the 1990s when I held the mandate Juan Mendez now discharges with consummate professionalism.”

In cancelling the visit, Bahrain cited the unexpected length of the national dialogue talks as the reason for the decision. But Sir Nigel Rodley contested this saying, “One may perhaps be pardoned for considering that the only threat posed by the visit to the political situation is the fear of what information would be uncovered by the visit.”

Al Wefaq, Bahrain’s largest opposition bloc echoed the sentiments. In a statement they said, “the authority is afraid UN’s torture rapporteur will condemn the continuation of torture.” Adding, “We consider postponing the visit as part of committing of the crime because torture and inhumane practices still take place under cover”.

Rights groups have also attacked the move, with Amnesty International claiming that it proves Bahrain is not serious about reform. Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty Deputy Director for the Middle East, said, “Bahrain’s allies have been far too keen to rely on the facade of reform and to go on with business as usual. The cancellation of the visit means there is no pretending anymore.”

There have been fresh allegations of torture in Bahrain in recent weeks, relating to cases of individuals accused of “terrorism” offences. Local rights groups have claimed that detainees are being forced into false confessions, extracted under torture, contradicting Government claims that there is no torture in Bahrain.

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