Protest as UK continues to arm repression in Bahrain

14 February 2012

Anti-arms trade activists demonstrated today against UK arms exports to Bahrain outside the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) in Victoria Street. BIS is the government department which granted licences to export military equipment to Bahrain and which houses UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO), the government's arms promotion unit.

The protest, organised by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), marked the first anniversary of the Bahrain uprising - 14 February 2011 - and focused on the role played by the UK in arming Bahrain in the brutal repression which has seen the deaths of over 50 civilians in the past year. Protesters, dressed in black and displaying bloodied hands, unrolled a list of names of those known to have been killed in the crackdown.

The UK has long-standing political and military links with Bahrain which have been reinforced by arms exports. In 2010, equipment licensed for export by the UK government included tear gas and crowd control ammunition, equipment for the use of aircraft cannons, assault rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles and sub-machine guns.

In February 2011, the UK government announced that it had revoked 44 arms export licences to Bahrain. However, despite continuing violence against civilians and arrests of activists, the UK quickly resumed arms sales and by June it was back to business as usual. The latest statistics available covering the third quarter (July-September) of 2011, saw the UK license military exports worth £1.3 million.

Sarah Waldron, CAAT Campaign Coordinator, says:

The UK was wrong to be arming Bahrain and other repressive regimes in advance of the uprisings, and it is certainly wrong that it continues to do so now.

The UK has blood on its hands. Despite everything that has happened in the last year, it continues to bolster authoritarian regimes with weapon sales and to spend taxpayers' money on promoting further deals. This completely undermines both its duty to control arms sales and any commitment to human rights.

For further information contact CAAT's Media Co-ordinator Kaye Stearman on 0207 281 0287 or email Kaye Stearman.

Notes

1. Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) in the UK works to end the international arms trade. The arms business has a devastating impact on human rights and society and damages economic development. Large-scale military procurement and arms exports only reinforce a militaristic approach to international problems Around 80% of CAAT's income is raised from individual supporters.

2. Bahrain is classed as an authoritarian regime by the Economist Intelligence Unit Index of Democracy. Bahrain is ruled by the Al Khalifa family as a hereditary monarchy. The principal divide is between the minority but dominant Sunnis and the poorer Shia majority, who have been excluded from political power. The current protests began in February 2011, when activists, inspired by democracy movements in Tunisia and Egypt, occupied a central roundabout in the capital Manama and demanded political and economic reforms.

3. The subsequent crackdown saw the routine use of firearms and teargas against protesters, resulting in at least 35 deaths between February and June and others since. Teargas had been used widely and "inappropriately" including being fired into homes, and its inhalation is associated with a number of deaths. A list of recorded deaths can be found here.

4. In March 2011, as the Bahrain government imposed martial law, troops from the Saudi Arabia National Guard entered Bahrain to support the government. They were transported in Tacticia armoured personnel vehicles, manufactured by BAE Systems. The UK government has not revoked any licenses for weaponry sent to Saudi Arabia, which is the UK's largest customer in the region.

5. The Bahrain government has detained hundreds of prisoners who were were tried in military courts in unfair trials and imprisoned for offenses such as speaking out against the regime and participating in peaceful protests – impinging rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Many are still detained. Injured protesters and medical staff who treated them have been detained and tried. Pre-dawn arrests and arbitrary raids have continued. Human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, sentenced to life imprisonment in June 2011, has started an indefinite hunger strike. Further information can be found here. In November, an independent report, the "Bassiouni report", found "systematic abuses" during Bahrain's crackdown on protests.

6. Prior to 2011, the government listed Bahrain as a key market for UK arms exports. UKTI DSO supported the Bahrain International Airshow 2010, where it organised an outdoor event and UK armed forces have been used in support of sales efforts, demonstrating arms to the Royal Bahrain Artillery. Bahrain was invited to attend the Farnborough Airshow in 2010 and Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) in 2009 and 2011.

7. The UK government announced that it revoked 44 military licences in February and March 2011 to Bahrain. However, many licences remained in place and many military licences have been issued since then. In the second quarter of 2011, the UK licensed £127,000 worth of military goods to Bahrain; in the third quarter this reached over £1.3 million.

8. Despite ongoing repression in 2011 the UK continued to promote arms sales to Bahrain. In September 2011 staff from the UK Trade & Industry Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO), the government's arms sales unit, spoke at a seminar on arms sales to the Middle East. The prospectus stated: "The Middle East is one of the regions with the greatest number of opportunities for UK defence and security companies. .... Within the Middle East, Saudi Arabia stands out as the top destination for the UK defence industry. Also featured in this list .... are Oman, UAE and Bahrain, however the Middle East as a whole represents a priority market ... and is undoubtedly a very worthwhile region to target."

9. On 7 February the Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC) questioned Business Secretary Vince Cable and Foreign Secretary William Hague on UK arms export policies, and their stated commitment to human rights. Vince Cable admitted: "We do trade with governments that are not democratic and have bad human rights records... We do business with repressive governments and there's no denying that". Further information can be found here.

ENDS

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