UK accused of 'double standards' over weapons exports to Bahrain

Rights groups say situation in flashpoint country is being ignored while 'commercial interests' are put first

A Bahraini human rights organisation has issued a stinging rebuke of Western governments and their attitudes to what it describes as a desperate situation in the country, saying that many are putting commercial interests ahead of human rights.

On Wednesday, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) was among the winners at the Index for Censorship awards ceremony, and yesterday it reiterated its case that the situation in the tiny Gulf state was being ignored.

"It is largely about arms sales," said Maryam Al-Khawaja, head of the BCHR's international operations. "The West is guilty of double standards. The US, UK and France attack Russia for providing weapons to Syria, but that's exactly what they are doing for the Bahrain government; Russia is criticised for a naval base in Syria, but the US has one here.

"How can it be that bodies like the UN intervene in Libya and openly talk about backing those wanting greater freedoms in Syria when the intervention here is on the behalf of those that continue to crack down on these demands?"

In February last year, at the height of the unrest, the British Government said it would review arms exports to Bahrain, which at the time included crowd control measures such as "CS hand grenades, demolition charges, smoke canisters and thunderflashes".

According to research by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, several licences were granted for arms exports, including in February and March 2011, and during the height of the violence. In April last year, an export licence for "training hand grenades" worth more than £70,000 was issued, and was followed later in the year by licences for the sale of "body armour" "gun silencers" and "weapons sights".

It is not possible to tell if this equipment was used by the Bahraini government. Since January 2010, more than £7m of military export licences have been granted to British companies by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. It said yesterday: "The Government takes its export responsibilities very seriously, and operates one of the most rigorous arms export control regimes in the world.

"We reacted quickly to events of the Arab Spring, reviewing all licences to Bahrain, and we have revoked licences where there was evidence that they were no longer in line with the consolidated criteria. Events of the Arab Spring have underlined the importance of ensuring that exports of UK defence equipment are carefully scrutinised."

Denis MacShane, the Labour MP who challenged the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, in the Commons last year over arms exports to Bahrain, said Britain should be ashamed of its record of arms sales to Bahrain. "Last year's review... was utterly cynical and the Government should be ashamed," he said.

The Bahraini government says it has made progress in implementing reforms suggested in the wide-ranging Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report. The report was backed by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and in parts was damning of the state's response to the uprising, between the largely Shia opposition, the majority in the country, and security forces backing the ruling Sunni elite.

The Foreign Office has said that it believes there is room for further reform by the Bahraini government, despite evidence of progress.

Britain gives £500,000 to Syrian rebels

Britain will provide £500,000 in aid for the Syrian opposition groups inside the country. It is intended that some of the money will be used to secure evidence of atrocities committed by the forces of Bashar al-Assad.

The remainder of the funds is expected to be spent on communications and medical equipment and civic society projects. The money comes on top of the £450,000 that has been given over the past eight months to rebel groups outside Syria.

The international Friends of Syria group meets in Istanbul this weekend to discuss more backing for the opposition, with Saudi Arabia and Qatar pressing for rebel militias to be given military support.

Kim Sengupta

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own