US lawmakers urge Bahrain to allow UN torture envoy

Twenty US lawmakers urged the king of Bahrain on Monday to immediately allow the UN envoy on torture to enter the kingdom, after the government postponed his trip at the last minute.

The Gulf state had advised United Nations Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez on April 22, after renewed clashes between security forces and pro-democracy activists, that they were halting his trip, essentially a second cancellation after a previous planned visit was also scrapped.

"As you know, serious accusations have been made in recent years against members of the Bahraini security forces, who are accused of torturing detainees with impunity," the 20 Democrats, including current longest-serving Senator Patrick Leahy, wrote in their letter to King Hamad.

The government's "refusal to allow Juan Mendez to visit the country is also inconsistent with recommendations made by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, including torture allegations be independently investigated, which your government agreed to implement," they added.

A visit by Mendez "would have helped address these issues."

Sunni-ruled Bahrain was rocked by month-long pro-democracy protests led by the kingdom's Shiite majority in early 2011 that were crushed with the help of Saudi-led troops.

The ensuing dialogue failed and was only resumed in February.

Several reports accusing Bahrain of failing to hold top officials responsible for the 2011 violence were released early this year.

Allowing Mendez to visit the country "demonstrate your commitment to help put an end to such abuses,"the US lawmakers told King Hamad.

Civil liberties group Human Rights First, whose staffers have also been barred from entering the kingdom, said the lawmakers were right to speak out against Bahrain's refusal to admit Mendez.

"If the government of Bahrain has nothing to hide, it should have no qualms about complying with this request," Human Rights First's Brian Dooley said.