|Dozens of people have been killed since protests in Bahrain began in February [Reuters]|
The US has said that it will consider a special investigation of alleged human rights abuses in Bahrain before moving ahead with a $53m arms deal to the Gulf kingdom.
In a letter to Ron Wyden, a US Democratic senator, and in public statement, the state department said on Tuesday that it shared congressional misgivings about Bahrain’s treatment of protesters and would await the results of a special inquiry established by the king.
The commission’s report to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa is due on October 30.
“That’s something we would look at closely,” Mark Toner, the State Department spokesman, said, speaking about the commission’s report.
“We’re going to continue to take human rights considerations into account as we move toward the finalization of this deal.”
He added that several procedural steps remain before the US could deliver the weapons to Bahrain and noted the sale pertained to equipment for Bahrain’s “external defence purposes”.
Wyden and Jim McGovern, a US Democratic representative, have introduced a resolution to block the arms sale to Bahrain, which includes Humvee combat vehicles and missiles.
At least 35 people have died since Bahrain’s Shia Muslim-led majority began protests in February seeking greater rights from the ruling Sunni monarchy in the strategic nation, which is home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet.
In the US, at least six senators, including Wyden, have written to Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, criticising Bahrain’s human rights violations and resistance to demands for reform.
They have said completing the arms sale would weaken US credibility amid democratic transitions in the Middle East.
‘Weapons to repressive governments’
The state department statement comes as Amnesty International published a report into arms sales by the US, Russia and European countries to Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen.
It said the countries “supplied large quantities of weapons to repressive governments in the Middle East and North Africa before this year’s uprisings despite having evidence of a substantial risk that they could be used to commit serious human rights violations”.
Helen Hughes, Amnesty International’s principal arms-trade researcher on the report, said: “These findings highlight the stark failure of existing arms export controls, with all their loopholes, and underline the need for an effective global Arms Trade Treaty that takes full account of the need to uphold human rights.”
The main arms suppliers to the five countries included in Amnesty’s report were Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the UK and the US.
The UK-based rights organisation said in the report that it recognised that the international community has taken some steps this year to restrict international arms transfers to the countries named.
But Amnesty said that existing arms-export controls had failed to prevent the transfer of arms in the preceding years.
“Arms embargos are usually a case of ‘too little too late’ when faced with human rights crises,” Hughes said.
“What the world needs is rigorous case by case evaluation of each proposed arms transfer so that if there is a substantial risk that the arms are likely to be used to commit or facilitate serious human rights violations, then the government must show the red stop light.”