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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2905

British arms sales to Bahrain more important than rights abuses

Daya Gamage - Asian Tribune Foreign News Summary
Washington, D.C. 31 January (

Why is Cameron silent on Bahrain's human rights abuses? This issue came up at the British House of Commons January 23 when they debated Sri Lanka's accountability and transparency.

Of course there was a consensus in the British parliament during the debate on Sri Lanka on January 23 that Britain should support the US-sponsored resolution in the UNHRC in Geneva in March against Sri Lanka to launch an international investigation to alleged abuse of human rights violations.

But it was interesting that the issue of how Britain 'select countries of concern' to put on the list of human rights emerged when Sri Lanka was discussed by the British parliamentarians; It was revealed that Bahrain, well known for its human rights abuses brutally suppressing peaceful demonstrations, torture and killing scores of demonstrators in recent times was, in fact, not on the 'British list of concern for human rights'.

Mark Simmonds, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, made a futile attempt saying "I want to assure those hon. Members who still harbor worries that the criteria for selecting countries of concern have become subjective. They have not; they remain objective. We continue to prioritize our efforts on the basis of our influence, not our interest, and that will remain the case."

Moving away from the main issue of Sri Lanka but well connected to human rights as to why Sri Lanka is on the British list of concern and not Bahrain, a country that has displayed its total disregard to human dignity and rights democracy and rule of law, emerged when Labor Party parliamentarian Sandra Osborne raised this:

(Quote) No one pretends that it is easy to effect change in brutal regimes that are strangers to the concept of basic human rights, but bringing UK interests into the equation, in the way that that is being done, devalues our own commitment as a country to the need to uphold universal human rights. For example, Bahrain should be rated as a country of concern because of human rights abuses. However, they also believe that that is not being done because of the UK’s interests in selling military equipment to Bahrain. I would be interested to hear from the Minister how that can be classified as an objective evaluation, as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office says is the case in the criteria for countries of concern. There seems to be inconsistency; some countries that are left off the list are just as bad as some of the countries that are on it. (End Quote)

The report of the Foreign Affairs Committee, issued on 17 October 2012, noted that Bahrain was not listed as a "country of concern" by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office annual Human Rights Report despite its appalling human rights record and suppression of democratic protest and recommended that it be classified as such. s record.

In a report issued on 17 July 2013 the British parliamentary Committees on Arms Export Controls was deeply critical of the Cameron government's arms sales to Bahrain and added Bahrain to their list of 27 "countries of concern" for their record of human rights abuse. It reiterated its belief that there is "an inherent conflict between strongly promoting arms exports to authoritarian regimes whilst strongly criticizing their lack of human rights at the same time" and asked the Government to acknowledge the contradiction. "

The Cameron government has so far ignored the request.

Here's what the 2013 US State Department Human Rights Practices Report had to say about Bahrain:

(Quote) The most serious human rights problems included citizens’ inability to change their government peacefully; arrest and detention of protesters on vague charges, in some cases leading to their torture in detention; and lack of due process in trials of political and human rights activists, medical personnel, teachers, and students, with some resulting in harsh sentences. Some protesters engaged in lethal acts of violence against security forces, including the use of improvised explosive devices, Molotov cocktails, and other improvised weapons.

Other significant human rights problems included arbitrary deprivation of life; arrest of individuals on charges relating to freedom of expression; reported violations of privacy; and restrictions on civil liberties, including freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and some religious practices. The government sometimes imposed and enforced travel bans on political activists. Discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, nationality, and sect persisted, especially against the Shia population. There were reports of domestic violence against women and children. Trafficking in persons and restrictions on the rights of foreign workers continued to be significant problems. (End Quote)

Bahrain is not rated as a country of concern by Prime Minister Cameron's government. Here's why:

Bahrain is a long-established market for UK arms exports. In 2012 the UK licensed weaponry worth £4.6 million to Bahrain. The largest category by far was “small arms”, amounting to £4.2 million. A single license, approved on 26 October 2012, amounted to £4.1 million, including 400 machine guns. In addition, there were licenses totaling over £3.3 million for dual use items, of which over £3.2 million was for “telecommunications and information security” which could be used to monitor civilians.

The new arms deal is the latest in a long line of UK military ties with Bahrain. On 29 April last year a British arms sales team from United Kingdom Trade & Investment Defense & Security Organization (UKTI DSO) visited Bahrain while a few days before, a son of the ruler, who is a senior commander in Bahrain's Royal Guard, toured Counter Terror Expo in London.

UK Trade & Investment Defense & Security Organization(UKTI DSO) is the government's arms sales unit, based in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

Prior to 2011, the British government listed Bahrain as a key market for UK arms exports. UKTI DSO supported the Bahrain International Airshow 2010, where it organized 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 2012 Defense and Security Equipment International (DSEI) in 2009 and 2011

The UK government announced that it revoked 44 military licenses in February and March 2011 to Bahrain, at the beginning of the Arab Spring protests. However, many licenses remained in place and by June 2011 military exports had resumed. On 10 October 2012 the UK signed a new defense agreement with Bahrain.

Will those who handle Sri Lanka's external affairs take this seriously when they decide to use public diplomacy and strategic communication to save Sri Lanka from the 'Global Diplomatic Insurgency’?

- Asian Tribune -

British arms sales to Bahrain more important than rights abuses
Bahrain's ruling regime has suppressed a series of popular demonstrations using British arms
Protesters stand off against Bahraini riot police, trained by the British.
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