Middle East

UN torture investigator 'deeply disappointed' with Bahrain

A tear-gassed woman sits next to a mural of jailed activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja
Image caption Human rights groups have condemned Bahrain's treatment of detained activists

The UN special rapporteur on torture has expressed his "deep disappointment" over Bahrain's decision to indefinitely postpone his visit to the county.

Juan Mendez accused the Bahraini government of trying to "avoid responsibility" for the postponement.

The country's official news agency said the trip was called off "until further notice", but Mr Mendez said it was "effectively a cancellation".

The Gulf kingdom has been wracked by civil unrest for two years.

The violence has left at least 50 people dead.

Mr Mendez refuted a Bahraini media statement that claimed he had "put off" his visit.

"Let me be clear," he said, "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."

On Monday, a spokesperson in the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) told the BBC the decision was "disappointing". He said FCO minister Alistair Burt, had raised the issue with the Bahraini government "stressing the importance we and the international community place on the visit".

He added: "We hope that a new date for this visit can be found soon."

The comments come just days after the release of a US State Department report on human rights in Bahrain which spoke of "significant" violations including torture in detention.

The report spoke of "serious human rights problems", including "citizens' inability to change their government peacefully; arrest and detention of protesters on vague charges, in some cases leading to their torture in detention; and lack of due process in trials of political and human rights activists".

The US ambassador was summoned to a meeting with Bahrain's Foreign Minister Khalid ibn Ahmad Al Khalifa on Monday.

Mr Al Khalifa is said to have expressed his dismay with the report.

The ministry said the report "lacks objectivity and impartiality and has overlooked Bahrain's progress in protecting and promoting human rights".

However Mr Mendez said the decision to postpone his visit did not "demonstrate a commitment to redress impunity regarding any violations".

The special rapporteur called on the Bahraini government to "honour its commitments" and spoke of his "compassion with the people of Bahrain who were expecting my visit, and in particular, victims of torture and ill-treatment and their families".