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US Decision to Lift Arms Ban Doesn’t Reflect Bahrain's Ongoing Drop in Respect for Human Rights

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The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) raises concern over the recent decision by the United States to renew the arm sales trade with Bahrain, which doesn't reflect the ongoing drop in respect for human rights in the country, as reported by the US State Department. This decision is likely to have profound consequences for Bahrain’s protesters and human rights.  

On 29 June 2015, the plan to lift the long-standing ban on arm sales from the US came to the world’s attention. Initially the ban was imposed in 2011 during the Arab Spring uprisings, when Bahrain’s government cracked down on protesters. A US State Department official claimed that the Ministry of Interior in Bahrain was the primary responsible body for the government abuses in 2011 and argued that the renewed trade of arms sales will instead be taken up with the Ministry of Defence. Another official argued that no equipment released for sale has the capacity of “being used against protesters in any scenario,” e.g. tear gas. Yet, the full list of the equipment, its purpose and planned usage will not be released.

This lack of transparency is alarming given the power the Bahrain Defence Force (BDF) possesses. the United States cannot guarantee the arms sales to the BDF  will not be used to crush unrest. The army is known to have been participating in the Ministry of Interior’s activities related to suppressing peaceful protesters. Evidently, army vehicles were used at that time to evacuate the pearl roundabout as well as to place neighbourhoods under siege (Video from 2011 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x7uqDbcZwXc&sns=em).

One of the cases illustrating army involvement  is the arrest and detention of Zainab Al-Khawaja, when in 2012 she tried to reach Manama’s Pearl Roundabout with other female demonstrators. Her charges were “illegal gathering of more than five people” and “participating in an illegal march.” The Pearl Roundabout area remains a restricted area, where the army is currently responsible for its protection and the arrest of anyone who attempts to enter the roundabout. Another indicator showing the lack of respect to the standard of arms use is the case of Jaw Prison, where on several occasions tear gas and shotguns were used against inmates. Since 2011, there were 26 cases of deaths in Bahrain related to use of guns by the officials.    

The State Department report on the status of human rights in Bahrain states that:“The most serious human rights problems included arrest and detention of protesters (some of whom were violent) on vague charges, occasionally leading to their torture and mistreatment in detention; Other significant human rights problems included arbitrary deprivation of life; impunity for security officers accused of committing human rights violations;”

“The US decision is a step backwards in the efforts to improve the human rights situation in Bahrain,” says BCHR Vice President Sayed Yousif Al-Muhafdah. He continues: “After reporting serious human rights violations, and lack of reform, the US is giving Bahrain a green light to continue in the same direction by lifting the arms ban.”

Based on the above, BCHR calls on the United States:

  • To stop supplying military aid and arms to Bahrain;
  • To put pressure on the Bahraini government to fully reform and respect human rights.
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