UK Committee says Government must “make it a priority” to persuade Bahrain to allow visit by UN torture expert
The UK Government should make securing an invitation for the Special Rapporteur on Torture to visit Bahrain a priority in its discussions with that state, the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) said in a report released today after a year-long inquiry into the UK’s relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
Bahrain has twice cancelled a visit by Juan Mendez, the Special Rapporteur, most recently in April this year. REDRESS and other NGOs made submissions to the FAC inquiry on a range of human rights concerns in Bahrain, including piecemeal and superficial reforms on the prohibition of torture. The FAC noted that “British engagement … [with Bahrain] should not be unconditional in the face of continued violations and slow implementation of reforms” in its inquiry entitled The UK’s relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
The FAC report also says that Saudi Arabia has a very poor human rights record, pointing to evidence of torture and other serious human rights violations that REDRESS and several others submitted. However, the FAC believes the UK policy of engagement with both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia is the correct one, while acknowledging that “it is important the UK maintains credibility at home and abroad with regard to its human rights work.”
“We welcome the FAC’s call on the UK Government to press Bahrain to allow the Special Rapporteur on Torture to visit Bahrain,” said REDRESS’ Director Carla Ferstman. “Many of the human rights recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) made almost exactly two years ago, which Bahrain said it accepted, have not been implemented. The fact that the Special Rapporteur has to date twice been denied access is a further indication of the Bahraini Government’s lack of seriousness in preventing torture.”
Importantly, the FAC’s recommendation recognises that the UK Government can, and must, take concrete steps and use available diplomatic avenues to help bring about the change needed. The FAC says there are big challenges for democratic governments like the UK “in trying to reconcile their liberal constituencies at home with the need to maintain relationships with undemocratic and conservative regimes that are important to their interests on a regional and global level.” However, its recommendation on Bahrain makes it clear that any UK foreign policy engagement with countries such as Bahrain must form part of, if not take the lead in, international efforts to prevent torture.
“While there are strong historic, strategic and economic links between the UK and Bahrain and Saudi Arabia,” said Ferstman, “this is no excuse for condoning torture by not always speaking out against violations of the total prohibition. UK foreign policy should reflect a principled and coherent position towards all states on human rights and torture specifically. The UK should now heed the FAC’s call and make the visit of the Special Rapporteur on Torture a benchmark for its engagement with Bahrain.”
REDRESS was founded by a British torture survivor in 1992. Since then, it has consistently fought for the rights of torture survivors and their families in the UK and abroad. REDRESS takes legal challenges on behalf of survivors, works to ensure that torturers are punished and that survivors and their families obtain remedies for their suffering. REDRESS has intervened in a range of leading torture cases.