Posted: 17 March 2011
‘We need to see all UK export licences for Bahrain suspended’ - Oliver Sprague
Amnesty International today revealed evidence of the Bahraini security forces’ systematic use of excessive force in cracking down against protesters, as fresh violence left as many as eight people dead.
In a new report released today, Bloodied but Unbowed: Unwarranted State Violence against Bahraini protesters, Amnesty documents how security forces used live ammunition and extreme force against protesters in February without warning and impeded and assaulted medical staff trying to help the wounded.
The report, which is based on first-hand testimonies given to an Amnesty team in Bahrain, comes as the country is gripped by further violence, after Saudi Arabian and UEA forces entered the small Gulf state three days ago and Bahrain’s king declared a national state of emergency.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Malcolm Smart said:
"It is alarming to see the Bahraini authorities again resorting to the same tactics that they used against protesters in February but on an even more intensive scale.
“It appears that the government has decided that the way to deal with protests is through violent repression, a totally unsustainable position and one which sets an ominous example in a region where other governments are also facing popular calls for change.
“The authorities must exercise proper control over the security forces, uphold and protect the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, including the right to peaceful protest.”
Dr Hani Mowafi, a US medical doctor who was part of the Amnesty team, found a pattern of fatal and serious injuries showing that the security forces used live ammunition at close range and apparently targeted protestors’ heads, chests and abdomens. They also fired medium-to-large calibre bullets from high-powered rifles on 18 February.
The worst violence took place early on the morning of 17 February, when five people were killed. Witnesses told Amnesty that tanks blocked access to the Pearl Roundabout as police used live shotguns as well as tear gas, batons and rubber bullets to disperse protesters, many of whom were camping there. One witness said that riot police were shooting from different angles, including from a bridge over the roundabout, while protesters desperately ran for cover. Among the injured were people clearly identifiable as medical workers, who were targeted by police while trying to help wounded protesters at or near the roundabout.
On 3 March Bahrain’s Minister of Social Development, visiting London, told Amnesty that the Bahraini government was holding an investigation into the killings that will report directly to the King, and that two members of the security forces had been taken into custody.
Amnesty called on the Bahraini government to ensure there is no repeat of the use of excessive force seen in February. The organisation also called for victims of violence by the security forces to receive reparation.
Amnesty has identified some of the ammunition found in the aftermath of the raid on Pearl Roundabout on 17 February. It includes US-made tear gas canisters, US-made 37mm rubber multi-baton rounds, French-made tear gas grenades, and French-made rubber “dispersion” grenades - which fragment into 18 pieces and produce a loud sound effect.
Amnesty called on governments that supply weapons to Bahrain to immediately suspend the transfer of weapons, munitions and related equipment that could be used to commit further human rights violations, and to urgently review all arms supplies and training support to Bahrain’s military, security and police forces.
Following the Bahraini security forces’ use of unwarranted force against protesters, the UK government revoked some licences for arms exports to Bahrain, and the French authorities have suspended the export of security equipment to the country.
Amnesty International UK Arms Programme Director Oliver Sprague said:
"The UK has licensed the export to Bahrain of tear gas, assault rifles and machine guns and it’s a very real possibility that some of this equipment could recently have been used to commit serious human rights violations by the security forces.
“We welcomed the UK’s suspension last month of 44 export licences for arms and security equipment bound for Bahrain, but we need to see all UK export licences for Bahrain suspended.
“It’s no good the UK hastily trying to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted. Recent events in Bahrain and the wider Middle East and North Africa have exposed serious shortcoming in the UK’s risk assessment procedures when deciding whether to sell weapons.”
Amnesty conducted a fact-finding mission to Bahrain between 20-26 February. The delegation comprised two Amnesty researchers and a US medical doctor specialised in emergency care and public health. The delegation interviewed witnesses to the violent events of mid-February, victims and their relatives, and hospital and mortuary staff. They also met government officials and human rights activists.