|At least two dozen protesters died from exposure to tear gas in November [REUTERS]|
The US has repeatedly sent ammunition to military-ruled Egypt even as the North African country’s security forces were cracking down on unarmed protesters, human rights organisation Amnesty International reports.
Amnesty International on Wednesday criticised the US government for allowing arms shipments to Egypt despite its security forces’ record of harsh crackdowns on protesters.
Amnesty said Washington permitted three shipments to Egypt from US weapons producers between April and October.
Shipping records show that the shipments included bullets, cartridges and “ammunition smoke,” probably meaning tear gas, the London-based group said in a report.
These licenses were authorised during a period where the Egyptian government responded to protests by using excessive and often lethal force,” Amnesty’s Brian Wood said.
“It is inconceivable that the US authorities did not know of evidence of widely documented abuses by the Egyptian security forces. These licenses should not have been granted.”
‘Weapons used incorrectly’
Egyptian security forces have repeatedly cracked down on protesters since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in February in a popular uprising. Some 40 protesters were killed in a week of clashes last month.
Amnesty said the weapons are not illegal, but that Egyptian forces often use them incorrectly.
US officials have acknowledged munitions shipments to Egypt, and have condemned the excessive use of force.
“We do take allegations of misuse of tear gas very seriously,” Mark Toner, a state department spokesman, said on Wednesday.
“Last week, we said that there was an ongoing license that has since expired, but there was another shipment that was delivered to Egypt, I believe just last week, with tear gas. But beyond that, there are no additional shipments that we’re aware of and no additional licenses that we’re aware of.”
On November 29, however, Toner drew criticism for his comments that there was no “real concrete proof” that the Egyptian authorities were misusing tear gas.
As recently as November, protests against the ruling military council were violently dispersed with an unusually strong type of tear gas, resulting in at least two dozen deaths and hundreds of injuries.
Many of the cartridges and grenades picked up by protestors in Cairo’s Tahrir Square were US-made tear gas, including those carrying the markings of Combined Systems, a munitions manufacturer based in Jamestown in the US.