Amnesty international cancels Bahrain visit

March 1, 2012

MANAMA (Reuters) - Bahrain has imposed restrictions on groups trying to monitor reforms including the Gulf Arab state's handling of protests and asked the U.N. investigator into torture to postpone a trip, the United Nations and rights groups said on Thursday.

The U.N. human rights office in Geneva said Bahrain formally requested postponing until July the visit by the special rapporteur on torture, which had been scheduled for March 8-17. The investigator, Juan Mendez, will express his regrets to Bahraini representatives in meetings next week over this "last minute postponement," said Xabier Celaya, a spokesman of the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

He would also "seek to secure new dates as he remains very committed to undertaking this important visit," Celaya added.

VISA RULES FOR RIGHTS GROUPS

Three international rights groups including Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Bahrain's Human Rights and Social Development Ministry informed them this week of new rules limiting them to five-day trips which must be arranged via a Bahraini sponsor.

Brian Dooley, director of the Human Rights Defenders Program with U.S. group Human Rights First, said he made three trips to Bahrain last year without such limits.

"After the BICI report the Bahraini government was supposed to improve its human rights record, but limiting NGO access like this is a step backwards," he said. HRW said it had planned a three week trip in March. Amnesty also hope to send a team.

The ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Read full press release

Amnesty cancels Bahrain visit over rights restrictions

2 March 2012

Announcing the cancellation of an Amnesty International visit to Bahrain, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director said:

"Regrettably we have cancelled the fact-finding visit to Bahrain due to start today, as the new five day limit imposed by the Bahraini authorities for visits by international human rights organizations is a serious impediment to their ability to do their human rights work ".

"The Bahraini authorities have repeatedly stated their commitment to undertake human rights reform and to cooperate with international human rights organizations. These new restrictions contradict such commitment."

Amnesty International and other NGOs were informed in writing by the Bahraini Ministry of Human Rights and Social Development that their visits would now be limited to five working days excluding Fridays and Saturdays and, in addition, that they would need to be sponsored to obtain a visa.

It is essential for Amnesty International delegates to meet and engage, with no time restrictions, with all relevant parties, including the authorities, civil society organizations and victims of human rights violations. If the Bahraini authorities are truly committed to human rights and co-operation with international NGOs they should do away with these new, unjustified obstacles.

0n 29 February the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment was informed by the government that his visit to Bahrain scheduled for 8 March had been postponed to July.

Read the joint letter sent by four NGOs to the Bahraini Minister of Human Rights and Social Development

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