Monthly Archives: May 2012
Today, the U.S. State Department issued its annual “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices”, the latest edition being for the year 2011. The report is mandated by Congress and has been produced for more than 30 years. It is designed to inform legislators about conditions in more than 200 countries as the lawmakers make decisions about distribution of foreign aid and military aid.
The section regarding human rights in Bahrain in 2011 is 37 pages in length (2011 Country Report on Human Rights Practices – Bahrain (PDF)) and chronicles the worst abuses of 2011, particularly those that took place between February and June, and identifies many areas of concern to activists worldwide, including the Bahrain Coordinating Committee. The report draws heavily from accounts in the BICI report, which is typical of other country reports — the reports are compiled from many sources, as well as from accounts by human rights officers in U.S. embassies.
The most egregious human rights problems reported in 2011 included the inability of citizens to peacefully change their government; the dismissal and expulsion of workers and students for engaging in political activities; the arbitrary arrest and detention of thousands, including medical personnel, human rights activists, and political figures, sometimes leading to their torture and/or death in detention; and lack of due process.
Other significant human rights concerns included arbitrary deprivation of life; detention of prisoners of conscience; reported violations of privacy and restrictions on civil liberties, including freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, and some religious practices. In some instances the government imposed and enforced travel bans on political activists. Discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, nationality, and sect persisted, especially against the Shia population. The government demolished multiple Shia religious sites and structures during the year. 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.
Posted on Twitter, this is a typed transcript of a handwritten letter ascribed to Zainab al-Khawaja, who is currently imprisoned in Bahrain and awaiting trial after her arrest for protesting.
The judge might think that I will be attending my next trial session. He told my lawyer the last time I was not present that he might have considered releasing me had I gone to court. Not only does that statement carry no weight when spoken by a judge who is ruling in an unfair political trial, but what he should realize is it is not my release from prison that I seek.
Yes, I do dream of my daughter, while I sleep and also when I’m awake, but when I am home with her, I know my mind won’t be at peace. How could it be, while Jaffar Salmans twin daughters are living without their dad for more than a year now. Jaffar, an innocent man, who was shot in the face with birdshot gun, Jaffar who lost both his eyes, Jaffar who was sentenced in a trial that lasted less than 15 minutes, without a lawyer, without any family members, the judge looking at the blind, injured man, and he shouted “Don’t bother sittting; you are sentenced to two years in prison.”
I could hold my daughter in my arms, but I’ll close my eyes and imagine Jaffar hearing his daughters’ voices after months and monts living in prison, in darkness. But as he reaches out to his babies, a guard shouts at him, “You’re not allowed to touch them!”
If I get released, like previous times, the prison guards will hand me a stapled plastic bag with my belongings. Among them, I’ll see a handmade wristband, made by a political prisoner, Hassan Oun, a boy who has been arrested more than 5 times in his young life. Hassan Oun, who is a torture victim who spoke out, he dared to come forward and speak up. But his courage did not save him from the hands of his torturers. Hassan was re-arrested, and we could not save him from being subjected to the same nightmare again.
Though I never met Hassan, I did meet his younger brother. I still remember his smile as he drank warm milk and told me to take a picture of him. “Who knows, I might be the next detainee,” he said. In a call from prison, I was told Ahmed has been injured, when he went to hospital, he was detained for the second time.
In the same prison, the Oun brothers are detained in, there are hundreds of other political prisoners. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are cells kept for specific families, for example, the family of the old martyr Ali Al-Shaikh. Not only was Ali killed, but his family are being punished. Many of his family members have been in and out of jail. Some, the ones who witnessed the killing, have not come out.
I might get released, but young Mansoor won’t be waiting to ask me “What abuses are we documenting today?” Although a high school student, he was determined to become an activist, to help in any way he could. Last time I spoke to him, he did not ask me what he could do to help, but he asked me to please pray for him, to pray that they don’t take him back to the interrogation room.
If I get released, every village I pass through will shout the names of countless prisoners of conscience. All the walls will show me their faces. Around me, I will see their grief-stricken mothers and fathers, their wives, their children. I will see the two boys of the woman who has become my sister in this prison cell, a mother who sits on her bed, crying for her children, as I write.
I am not Zainab only; I am Jaffar and Hassan, I am Ahmed and Abbas, I am Masooma and Mansoor. My case is the case of hundreds of innocent political prisoners in Bahrain; my release, without them, means nothing to me.
I will not be attending the trials, no matter how many they are. Freedom, and not my release, is what I want and dream of.
I will sit in my prison cell, I will listen to its walls reciting the poetry of another political prison, Sadeq Al-Ghasra, reminding me that our struggle for liberty shall continue not only from inside this prison, but even from under the soil.
All my admiration, for my imprisoned brothers and sisters, whose determination and patience give me hope.
Isa Town Prison
May 19, 2012
On the occasion of the 13th Session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Bahrain, sponsored by the United Nations Human Rights Council and held in Geneva, Switzerland this week, the United States expressed concern over what it called the “failure of state institutions to effectively investigate and prosecute alleged human rights abuses and to ensure accountability of officials at all levels of responsibility implicated in abuse, torture or death of civilians.”
The State Department intervention report, issued on Monday, May 21, also mentioned concerns about specific political prisoners, including the imprisoned human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who has been on a hunger strike for more than 90 days, and the twenty Bahraini medical professionals who treated injured protesters and who are still facing prosecution.
The report also condemned the excessive use of force by the Bahraini police and their increased use of tear gas and bird shot ammunition.
The United States made the following recommendations to the government of Bahrain:
- Review convictions, commute sentences, or drop charges for all persons who engaged in non-violent political expression.
- Create a more diverse, inclusive police force, reflective of society, and establish an independent police commission to advise on best practices and respect for human rights.
- Prosecute officials at all levels of responsibility who are implicated in abuse, torture or death of civilians during the period of unrest.
- UN: Bahrain to mull ways to improve rights record (kansascity.com)
US PRESSES AHEAD WITH ARMS SALE DESPITE ONGOING VIOLATIONS
No Investigation into Past Misuse of US-origin Helicopters, Armored Vehicles, and Rifles
[Manama] On 11 May 2012, the US State Department announced it would proceed with an arms sale to Bahrain. The sale is reported to include patrol boats, air defense systems, fighter jet parts, and night-vision equipment. The sale also includes refurbishment for Bahrain’s fleet of Cobra helicopters. The Bahrain Defence Force (BDF) opened fired on protesters from Cobra helicopters last year.
Arms sales to Bahrain’s Government are problematic, as the Government has failed to address continuing human rights violations and implement promised reforms. Bahrain Watch’s Government Inaction project details the Government’s continuing noncompliance with most of the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI).
Bahrain Watch has also documented the deployment and use of various US-origin weapons over the past year by both the police and BDF. US law limits the permitted uses of certain US-origin weapons, and requires that buyers submit to investigation, including on-site inspection, to verify compliance. Bahrain Watch believes that misuse of US-origin weapons in Bahrain may have been responsible for at least three deaths and numerous injuries. The US Government has not announced any investigation or on-site inspection relating to the misuse of US-origin weapons in Bahrain.
Details are included below about US-origin weapons that were deployed or used against protesters in possible violation of their permitted uses. Given the evidence presented, Bahrain Watch believes that the US Government should conduct an investigation to understand whether Bahrain has broken its obligations to the US before continuing with any arms sale.
Bell AH-1 Cobra Helicopters
The New York Times reported that the BDF opened fire on protesters from helicopters made by US company Bell Helicopter last year. New York Times journalist Michael Slackman and his cameraman also came under helicopter fire while reporting near the Pearl Roundabout last February. The US Government granted a number of Bell AH-1 helicopters to Bahrain between 1994 and 2005. The helicopters were granted at little or no cost to Bahrain under the DoD’s Excess Defense Articles program using 22 USC § 2314 grant authority (22 USC § 2314 is also known as Section 505 of the Foreign Assistance Act).
According to 22 USC § 2314 (d) and 22 USC § 2032, any weapons transferred under this grant authority may only be used for “internal security,” “legitimate self defense,” or peacekeeping and economic purposes consistent with the charter of the United Nations. As a condition of receiving the helicopters, Bahrain had to agree to permit future US investigation, including on-site inspection, to verify compliance with this regulation.
In this case, the DoD’s Golden Sentry program is empowered to conduct such an investigation, including an on-site inspection known as an “End Use Monitoring investigation visit.” As explained in a DoD policy memo, End Use Monitoring investigation visits may be “prompted by intelligence reports and/or other sources that indicate a host nation may be using U.S.-origin defense articles and services in ways that do not comply with U.S. laws and policies.”
M113 Armored Personnel Carriers
Bahrain Watch has determined that the BDF deployed a large number of M113 armored personnel carriers around Bahrain between 17 and 18 February 2011, and during the State of National Safety between 15 March and 1 June 2011. The standard weapon fitted on the M113 is the .50 caliber M2 Browning machine gun. The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) notes that typical BDF deployments around Bahrain during both periods included armored vehicles equipped with “.50 [caliber M2] Browning machineguns [sic]” (BICI 250, 252, 1101). Video footage of several BDF deployments during these periods shows that BDF units’ armor consisted exclusively or almost entirely of M113 vehicles.
According to a review of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s Arms Transfer Database, the United States is the sole supplier of M113 vehicles to Bahrain. The US Government granted the vehicles to Bahrain at little or no cost using the same process as for the Bell AH-1 Cobra helicopters. Bahrain took delivery of the M113s between 1991-1993 (about 115 vehicles), again in 2001 (19 vehicles), and finally in 2008 (100 vehicles). Note that the Netherlands supplied Bahrain with similarly-named “M113 C&R” vehicles, which are substantially dissimilar to the M113.
According to the BICI report, at least 3 deaths (Bahiya Alaradi, Stephen Abraham, and Jawad Shamlan) are attributed to.50 caliber bullets fired by the BDF from M2 Browning machine guns mounted on armored vehicles (BICI 548, 953, 1021, 1045). Two of these deaths (Bahiya Alaradi and Stephen Abraham) occurred near the area known as “Burgerland Roundabout” on 16 March 2011. The BICI report determined that a single BDF unit was responsible for both deaths (BICI 1020). There is extensive protester video footage of the Burgerland Roundabout area, hours before the two deaths. Highlights of the footage include:
- A video that shows at least four M113 armored vehicles and a tank in the area. Two of the M113s are located below a flyover, and identifying markings are legible on these vehicles. The identifying markings on two M113s positioned atop the flyover are illegible.
- A video that shows BDF personnel firing 3 shots at protesters from the weapon mounted on an M113 with a legible identifying marking. The protesters are standing a few meters from where Bahiya Alaradi’s car was found the following day. Her car was pictured facing the wrong way on the road with a single bullet hole in each of the front and rear windows.
- A video that shows BDF personnel firing several volleys from what sounds like a machine gun.
- A video that shows bullet holes in the windows of nearby buildings.
Additionally, Bahrain Watch has determined that at least one M113 was at the site of the 18 February 2011 shooting of unarmed protesters approaching the Pearl Roundabout. BDF investigations of this incident revealed that troops opened fire from various weapons, including .50 caliber M2 Browning machine guns mounted on armored vehicles (BICI 252). One protester (Abdulredha Buhamaid) was killed by the BDF in this incident, and several others were injured.
The DoD’s Golden Sentry program is empowered to conduct an End Use Monitoring investigation visit to determine whether Bahrain misused its US-origin M113 armored personnel carriers.
Bahrain’s riot police were spotted carrying what appear to be M4 rifles during the State of National Safety last year. According to the BICI report, up to three protesters died of non-shotgun gunshots at the hands of the police (BICI 862, 863), although no further information is available on the type of guns used.
The United States sold M4A1 rifles to Bahrain as part of a 2008 package. The M4A1 rifles were sold to to Bahrain under the Foreign Military Sales program rather than transferred using grant authority. However, the DoD’s Golden Sentry program is still empowered to conduct an End Use Monitoring investigation visit to determine whether Bahrain misused its US-origin M4 rifles.
Both government and protester video footage shows the BDF firing from what appear to be M16 rifles. The BICI report concluded that typical BDF deployments featured soldiers equipped with M16 rifles (BICI 1101). Further, BDF investigations revealed that the BDF opened fire with M16s during the 18 February 2011 shooting of unarmed protesters approaching the Pearl Roundabout (BICI 252).
The M16 rifle is manufactured both inside and outside the US. Bahrain Watch has no information on which country supplied Bahrain with its stock of M16 rifles.
Footage of the BDF using M16 rifles includes:
- Two videos from Burgerland Roundabout that show BDF personnel firing several shots from what appear to be M16 rifles in semi-automatic mode on 16 March 2011.
- Government footage from the 18 February 2011 shooting of unarmed protesters heading toward the Pearl Roundabout that shows a BDF soldier apparently firing into the air with what appears to be an M16 rifle.
- A video that shows an individual sustaining a gunshot to the leg on 16 March 2011. The author of the video told Bahrain Watch that the individual seen in the video was shot from close range by a BDF soldier who knelt and fired a single round from a rifle described as similar to an M16.
Bahrain’s police use an assortment of tear gas, including CS gas from US manufacturers Defense Technology and NonLethal Technologies. Physicians for Human Rights believes that up to 34 people may have died in Bahrain from the use of tear gas. Bahrain Watch has not tracked whether specific canisters manufactured in the US were responsible for any deaths.
US-origin tear gas is sold to Bahrain under the State Department’s Direct Commercial Sales program. Direct Commercial Sales are handled differently than Foreign Military Sales or grants. Restrictions on the use of weapons obtained by Direct Commercial Sales may be included in the classified Bahrain-US defense pact.
On or before March 22, 2012, the State Department was required by law to provide a report to the US Congress detailing crowd control items including tear gas shipped from the US to a number of countries that may include Bahrain. Another report is due in September. This was a special provision inserted into the FY2012 State Department Appropriations Act (Public Law 112-74). Bahrain Watch has so far been unable to obtain this report.
Bahrain Watch is a monitoring and advocacy group that seeks to promote effective, accountable, and transparent governance in Bahrain through research and evidence-based activism. About Bahrain Watch: http://bahrainwatch.org/about.html
Human Rights First presented an exhibit of art by Bahraini Children at the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC this week. The images portray their grief and anger over the violence that has affected their families.
Each of the images was accompanied by some background information on the child and his or her situation. Child psychology experts examined the drawings and presented their hypotheses about each child’s emotional state.
- Children’s Art Exhibit Highlights Atrocities in Bahrain (humanrightstodolist.wordpress.com)
Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Department of State and Foreign Operations. He is the author of the Leahy Law which prohibits U.S. aid to foreign security forces that violate human rights, and of an amendment enacted last year that restricts tear gas and other crowd control items to security forces of countries undergoing democratic transition in the Middle East.
He commented on the State Department’s announcement Friday of resumption of major military sales to Bahrain:
“The U.S. and the Government of Bahrain share strategic interests, but if history has taught us anything, this is a time to demonstrate our unambiguous support for the aspirations of the Bahraini people for greater political freedom. While I am pleased that the Administration is continuing to withhold tear gas, small arms and other crowd control items from the Bahraini security forces, this arms sale sends the wrong message. The Government of Bahrain has yet to respect the Bahraini people’s legitimate demands, or to hold accountable its own police and military officers for arresting, torturing, and killing Bahraini protesters.”
Source: PR Newswire (http://s.tt/1btxY)
- Protests Over Arms Sales to Bahrain (thelede.blogs.nytimes.com)