Bahrain Blocks UN Human Rights Investigator

So this happened:

An independent United Nations expert today urged the Government of Bahrain to honour its international commitments and allow him in to assess whether torture and ill-treatment are taking place in the country, after repeated postponements of planned visits.

“This is the second time that my visit has been postponed, at very short notice. It is effectively a cancellation as no alternative dates were proposed nor is there a future road map to discuss,” UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez stressed in a news release.

Mr. Méndez added that he is “deeply disappointed” with the decision to cancel the 8 to 15 May trip which was organized “in the spirit of cooperation” and expressed his compassion with the people of Bahrain who had expected the visit.

The Government’s decision comes after yet another week of continued clashes between demonstrators and security forces and the release of several reports criticizing what they call Bahrain’s failure to hold senior officials accountable for torture since 2011.

In a letter handed to the Special Rapporteur on 22 April, during a meeting in Washington DC, the Government said that the ongoing National Dialogue has unexpectedly taken much longer than envisaged and that a visit could be immensely damaging to the chances of the Dialogue’s success.

Meanwhile, in a statement issued to the media, the Government claimed that Mr. Méndez “put off” the visit.

In response, Mr. Méndez said that the decision to postpone the visit was solely that of the Government, “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.”

UN “Special Rapporteurs” can’t just helicopter into a country and conduct an investigation. Rather, they require some degree of cooperation from the host country to do their work.  This could be as simple as issuing a visa, or the cooperation can be more robust.

Regardless, it is a kind of peer pressure that ultimately gives these investigators access to countries. Most governments — even those with questionable human rights records —  want to at least appear to be pro-human rights and therefore are generally cooperative. Only truly rogue countries are completely obstinate–indeed, being obstinate can be a manifestation of a government’s rogueness.

Governments that simply don’t care about how other countries view them are the the ones to worry about. Robert Mugabe, for example, blocked Mendez’s predecessor from leaving the airport in Harare back in 2010. 

It seems that Bahrain is well on its way of becoming the Zimbabwe of the Gulf: increasingly brutal to dissenters at home, and increasingly unconcerned about its image abroad.