Rubber bullets and tear gas – hardly your typical Valentine’s Day gift

Love it or loathe it, for most of us Valentine’s Day is about flowers (normally overpriced), chocolates and lots of affection (or lack of!).Rarely does 14 February mean peaceful demonstrations turning ugly because of heavy-handed behaviour from  the security forces. 

Yet, this is the grim reality for hundreds of women and men in Zimbabwe who form the group Women of Zimbabwe Arise (or WOZA) as they mark their 10th anniversary. Police have today put a stop to WOZA’s planned march, declaring the gathering illegal.  WOZA are regularly harassed and threatened by the authorities in Zimbabwe. More on that here.

WOZA aren’t the only ones at risk from security forces resorting to unwarranted violence. Today the security forces in Bahrain fired rubber bullets and tear gas as people attempted to mark the one year anniversary of pro-democracy protests in the country.  Last year at least 35 people died during protests in February and March in Bahrain, including, according to Amnesty, five members of the security forces and three migrant workers.

An Amnesty report published in November revealed that in 2010 the UK authorised the sale of a variety of weapons, including grenade launchers, riot guns and tear gas to Bahrain, despite being foreseeable that these weapons could be used to carry out serious human rights violations in the country. The Guardian is today reporting a story linked to recent arms sales to Bahrain authorised by the US and UK. Whilst current UK licensing data does not give information as to whom or for what purpose these recent licenses were for, hard questions need to be asked about the specific purpose these arms were to be put. The onus must be on the UK government to demostrate how these weapons will not be used in the current violent and brutal crackdowns. It’s painfully clear that  there needs to be closer scrutiny of all transfers and licensing agreements in the global arms arena. It’s why we need  a strong, comprehensive and effective  international arms trade treaty.

As I type, discussions are taking place within the United Nations in New York, where key governments are thrashing out the details for an historic new arms trade treaty.  As Kate Allen, Barbara Stocking, Thomas Nash and Henry Smith point out in today’s Guardian letters, never has there been a greater need for a robust Arms Trade Treaty.  The UK Government has a key role to play, championing efforts to create a truly effective treaty – not one that simply pays lip-service to human rights.

Syria and Bahrain are sharp reminders of the need for the treaty – one that ensures that weapons do not end up in places where they’re used to commit serious human rights violations.

You can help us to persuade the UK Government to make sure that we get a strong, effective, human-rights centred treaty this year. It’ll probably be one of the best messages you could deliver today.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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