20 September 2011, 14:39

US weapons were used against protesters in Bahrain - expert

US weapons were used against protesters in Bahrain - expert
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Interview with Nabil Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and Deputy Secretary General for the International Federation of Human Rights.

Can you detail some of the human rights violations of the Bahrain government for our listeners?

We have a culture of human rights violation and of crime, committed against humanity in Bahrain, especially in the past 6-7 months, since the Arab uprising – and, as you know, we started our uprising on January 11. Since then, there was a bloody crackdown, where thousands of people were detained and tortures. At least two people for every thousand citizens were in detention, thousands of people sacked from their jobs, expelled from their schools, their universities. There were systematic tortures, hospitals were taken by the military and patients were abused and tortured in the hospitals. Many people fled the country as people died or were tortured to death. We have a bad human rights record, especially the one we have since last March.

There have been a lot of reports about US weapons being used to suppress democracy demonstrations in Bahrain. Can you give us some details on that?

First of all, the American political position on Bahrain was totally different from their foreign policy towards other revolutions and other uprisings that were calling for democracy and human rights. The Americans and some other western countries were very silent on Bahrain. And not only that. Their weapons were used against protesters and human rights defenders in Bahrain, especially tear gas. At least ten people died in the past ten days because of the tear gas that was used by the special forces and riot police. And this tear gas is made in Pennsylvania, in the US. Unfortunately, human rights record is not a standard to the Americans when they sell weapons to Bahrain. Bahrain has a very bad human rights record, and it was very disappointing for the people of Bahrain, for human rights activists and for democracy fighters that the US did not only take their side in the uprising but was supplying the repressive regime with weapons in the region. That has a very poor human rights record. The people of Bahrain look at the US very differently than they did before February 13, especially when they saw our revolution, our uprising, which was calling for democracy and human rights, being banned, punished – and they still gave them aid and they still supplied them with weapons and tear gas that was used against the protesters and democracy activists.

The US base in Bahrain, does that have any relationship for the US supporting government?

I think the US base is the policy-maker in Bahrain, rather than the Embassy and the State Department of the US in Bahrain. The US naval base has more power than the Embassy, and I think that was the main reason why the American government has taken the side of the Bahraini regime – because they see that their benefits and interests lie with the dictators and the repressive regime, not with any future democracy. People thought that the presidents of America and Bahrain would help them struggle for democracy and human rights. That’s what they thought in the past. But now it’s very clear: their president was very negative and helped the regime and the repressive ruler more than the people of the country.

So we see a complete double standard?

We are a victim of the American double-standard foreign policy, we are a victim of the American interests, we are a victim of the American military presence in Bahrain. For that reason, as well as due to the complication of US’s foreign relations with Iran and other countries, we have to pay the price, because the US government’ still sees its interests lie with the dictators in the Gulf Region. That’s why they have reacted very negatively in the Gulf region, totally different to how they had reacted in Syria, Libya, Iran and Egypt. You could see that when the US president in his speech, where Saudi Arabia wasn’t mentioned at all, although Saudi Arabia is known to have the most oppressive regime in the region, spoke about most of the Arab countries but not those countries, because I think the flow of the oil has more importance than human rights of the people here.

How many people have been killed, in your estimation, by the government of Bahrain?

At least 40 people were killed in the past months. Thousands of people detained and systematically tortured. Those numbers are very high percentage wise, if you take into consideration the population of Bahrain, which is around half a million people only. It is more than in Tunisia, it is more than in Egypt. But, unfortunately, we have seen complete silence from the US, because of their interests, because of their military presence, because of the arms sales, because of the oil sales. I think the US is creating people who don’t support it in the region. They have lost the hearts and minds of the people in that part of the region. Since my country gained independence, the army has been used only once – against peaceful protesters that were calling for democracy and human rights. It’s the only time that the Bahraini army has been deployed. Not only that, the Bahraini government did worse than any other country, because they killed their own people with their own army, but they invited other troops, from Saudi Arabia, from UAE, to take part in the bloody crackdown against the people of Bahrain.

You say, people are arrested, tortured and disappear, they lose jobs, they are kicked out of universities. On what basis could this happen?

Unfortunately, the crackdown has targeted people mostly in the sectarian basis, because the majority of protesters were calling for equality – they come from the indigenous Shiite population. The government targets them, targets their businesses, targets them at schools, at universities. Many people lost their sight because they were shot in the eyes.

Would you characterize human rights violations in Bahrain as crimes against humanity?

What happened in Bahrain is a crime against humanity.

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