For Immediate Release: October 19, 2011
Washington, DC – Human Rights First today praised the United States government’s decision to hold off on the sale of $53 million in arms to Bahrain because of the country’s recent record of torture and abuse. The State Department acted after Congress, Human Rights First, and other human rights organizations exposed the reality of how damaging this sale would be to prospects for democracy in Bahrain and to the United States reputation in the region.
While the delay is welcome, the State Department’s decision to wait for the findings of the Bahraini Independent Commission of Inquiry into human rights abuses – scheduled for release on October 30 – is the wrong way to go. The Bahrain government-funded report should not be the deciding factor in the ongoing arms sale debate.
“We do not need to wait for the BICI report to tell us serious human rights violations happened and are happening in Bahrain,” says Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “We already know that hundreds of people have been abused in detention and hundreds have been sentenced after unfair trials. The United States government already has the facts that violence is being perpetrated against civilian protesters.”
In a public letter from the State Department to Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), the United States asserted that it would take human rights into account before finalizing the arms sale. There are already widespread, credible reports of detainee abuse, and former detainees have told Human Rights First that during their custody they were tortured by the Bahraini military. In addition, military courts have also convicted civilians and sentenced them to long prison terms. Dooley, who was in Bahrain this past summer, has authored two reports detailing these abuses, titled, Bahrain: Speaking Softly, and Bahrain: A Tortuous Process.
“Selling arms to the dictatorship in Bahrain is detrimental to the United States’ reputation in the region,” said Dooley. “The fact that the government would even consider going through with the sale in light of the human rights abuses is unjustifiable, morally and politically.” Just yesterday Jaleela al-Salman, a teacher who has been tortured while in detention, was rearrested in the middle of the night by masked security forces in civilian clothing. Days before the arrest she spoke with Dooley about her torture while in police captivity for 44 days. Dooley notes that there is a very real danger that she will be tortured again.
Bahrain is ruled by a monarchy in which the king’s uncle has been the unelected prime minister for the last 40 years. Since peaceful pro-democracy protests began in Bahrain in February, the Bahrain government has cracked down violently on those supporting political freedom, arresting over 1,500 people. Four people have died in custody.
“We don’t need delays from the U.S. government. We need action. It should abandon this arms sale and tell the Bahraini government that its human rights abuses must stop immediately,” Dooley concluded.