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For Immediate Release

US Should Not Reward Bahrain with Military Equipment

PHR calls on Obama Administration to have greater transparency in its dealings with country

Cambridge, Mass. - 01/30/2012

Over the weekend, the US administration chose to move forward with the sale of military equipment to Bahrain, despite the fact that tear gas assaults on minority Shi’a neighborhoods recently took the life of a 6-day-old girl and a 14-year-old boy.

Such a sale, even if it does not include weapons, sends the wrong message to the people of Bahrain who are protesting government oppression. PHR calls on the US government to unequivocally oppose violent government crackdowns and not reward governments with arms and military supplies when they are oppressing their own people.

In September 2011, the US administration notified Congress of a $53 million arms deal to Bahrain that included significant weaponry. While the proposed arms deal cleared the required congressional notification process, human rights advocates and concerned citizens were outraged that this military sale might occur even as the US government was expressing its deep concern over the Government of Bahrain’s attacks on civilians. Apparently recognizing this policy contradiction, the administration announced that it would delay the arms sale.

With the quiet revelation last Friday that the sale of military equipment would indeed take place, human rights observers are now forced to weigh the administration’s words against its actions.

“The US administration needs to understand the message that this sends to the people of Bahrain – that the US will continue to help the Government of Bahrain no matter what it does to its citizens,” said Hans Hogrefe, Chief Policy Officer at PHR. “The sale of military equipment at this juncture is just unnecessary. The US 5th Fleet provides stability to the region, and there is no discernible immediate threat to Bahrain that would require such action. Instead of sending military items to Bahrain, the US should take a strong and unwavering stance against the Government of Bahrain’s use of force against civilians and should press for significant human rights improvements in the country.”

The administration’s announcement of its sale of military items to Bahrain comes at a time when the Government of Bahrain continues to suppress peaceful opposition. PHR continues to hear from contacts within Bahrain of nightly raids, abductions, and beatings at the hands of Bahraini security forces. The intimidation and harassment of the medical profession also continues – just yesterday, two nurses were arrested for treating protesters. PHR continues calls for the release of all detained medics who were involved in the treatment of protestors.

The developments in today’s trial of 20 Bahraini medics accused of overthrowing the regime and other felonies only adds to the growing list of human rights concerns in Bahrain. During the trial session, the court informed the defense team that it would convene a committee drawing upon the Ministry of Health, forensic doctors, and the University of Bahrain to analyze the medics’ allegations of torture in detention.

“Any credible evaluation of the medics’ experience must be done by impartial and highly-qualified forensic and medical experts” said Hogrefe. “The work of this committee must also adhere to the gold standard of torture investigations – the UN Istanbul Protocol, the internationally-recognized standard for evaluating and documenting acts of torture.”

The US administration should embrace greater transparency regarding its dealings with Bahrain, especially since individuals across the US Government and civil society groups are actively monitoring the developments there. Given the opposition of leading voices within Congress to the arms sales to Bahrain, the State Department should ensure that it fully engages with Congress and invites all members to detailed briefings on any pending sale or distribution of military materials to Bahrain.

According to the State Department, the materials it will send to Bahrain include items for “external defense” which cannot be used against protesters.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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