DW- Activists in Bahrain say the misuse of teargas by security forces against protesters amounts to chemical warfare. They believe a German-South African defense company is among the suppliers.
Used properly, tear gas is non-lethal. Used improperly it can cause death, blindness and miscarriage. Used improperly in great quantities on a daily basis, it is considered tantamount to chemical warfare. That, say Bahrainis, has become the face of their existence.
A layman could easily be forgiven for thinking teargas canisters a uniform product, but the average Bahraini is more expert than lay. Citizens on the tiny Gulf Island have become so familiar with the canisters that have rained on them since their uprising in early 2011 that they can easily differentiate between the various models in circulation.
Many are boldly emblazoned with their country and even company of origin. Not so, however, the widely used 40mm silvery gold canisters with a thick red band and lettering. Activists at the human rights organization Bahrain Watch say the unnamed cartridges bear an uncanny resemblence to those manufactured by the German-South African defense company Rheinmetall Denel Munition Pty (RMD).
Bahrain Watch has a track record of tracing scantly unmarked spent canisters back to their place of manufacture. Last year the group’s research into the provenance of an unlabelled brand led them to South Korea’s Dae Kwang chemical corporation. "The company had the products on its website," Reda al-Fardan of Bahrain Watch told DW. "The features were the same as those on the ones being fired and the dimensions gave us further confirmation."
Having established that Dae Kwang was poised to export up to three million canisters to Bahrain in early 2014, the rights group launched a campaign to stop it. And they achieved their goal. In the first week of January, South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) announced it would halt the planned shipment on grounds of "political instability" in the recipient country.
Amnesty International’s Head of Arms Control, Brian Wood, heralded the change of tack, as "a clear message that the Bahraini authorities’ ongoing repression of peaceful protests is unacceptable and will not be rewarded with future weapons transfers." But there is always another supplier eager to do business.
Scouring defense manufacturers’ brochures and stands at arms fairs for products that match used cartridges is a painstaking process, but in a sector characterized by shady dealings, Al-Fardan says it is often the best starting point. Bahrain Watch has seen photographs of RMD’s tear gas canisters in its promotional material, and says their size and markings appear to be the same as the models that litter the streets of the country.
DW has seen the images and can confirm the visual similarities, but for copyright reasons cannot publish the pictures. Despite repeated requests, Rheinmetall Denel did not make a picture of its tear gas canisters available. It did, however, offer a statement saying its subsidiary Rheinmetall Denel Munition (Pty) Ltd had to date "neither offered nor supplied tear gas cartridges to the government of Bahrain."
A follow-up request for information about any exports to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) - both of which provided military power to help crush the uprising three years ago - went unanswered.
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