Thursday Jul 18, 201305:35 PM GMT
British govt. encourages chemical weapons use in Bahrain, Syria
Bahraini protesters are engulfed in tear gas fired by regime forces during an anti-government demonstration. (File photo)
Bahraini protesters are engulfed in tear gas fired by regime forces during an anti-government demonstration. (File photo)
Thu Jul 18, 2013 5:22PM
By Finian Cunningham
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Official data provided by the London-based Campaign Against the Arms Trade shows that the British government approves hundreds of export licenses for the supply of weapons to the Bahraini regime. Britain continues to approve of this trade with Bahrain even though it earlier said that it would suspend the supply of weapons when reports of repression emerged during 2011."

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Little Sajida Faisal had only just come into this world. But five days after her birth, she was dead, killed by suffocation from tear gas. She died on 11 December, a Sunday, in 2011 in her family home in the Bahraini village of Belad al-Qadeem.


Her father later told how Bahraini riot police had been firing tear gas into the streets for several days without stop. The whole village was under a toxic cloud of chemical gas, and with military checkpoints everywhere, the residents of Belad al-Qadeem were effectively held hostage, forced to breathe in the deadly fumes.

The family tried their best to shield the baby from the smoke seeping into the home. Her mother dabbed Sajida’s face with water and that of her older sister, three-year-old Sarah. But it was no good. Sajida’s father said the newborn baby’s skin began to turn blue and then she died. He managed to get past the checkpoints hemming in the village to rush the infant to the hospital. But it was too late. The doctor confirmed that the baby girl had died from suffocation. Even if she had survived, the doctor said the lack of oxygen would probably have left her brain-damaged.

Ever since that day, Sajida’s family has been living with the pain of her horrible death. That pain is compounded because the Bahraini regime wrote in the official death certificate that the cause was bacterial meningitis.” Of course, the regime is lying. To say “suffocation from tear gas fired by Bahraini police” would be admission of the crimes against humanity that the civilians of Bahrain have been subjected to, ever since they began protesting for the democratic overthrow of the Al Khalifa monarchy in mid-February 2011.

According to records kept by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, over the past two years at least half of the total deaths caused by the Bahraini regime security forces have resulted from tear gas suffocation. The very young, elderly and infirmed are most at risk.

There is little doubt that the excessive use of toxic chemicals is a deliberate policy of repression. The repression is aimed at “collectively punishing” the civilian, mainly Shia, population who have steadfastly supported the pro-democracy movement against the unelected Sunni royal rulers. Typically, the riot police do not limit their deployment of tear gas to disperse protesting youths on the streets. Regime forces routinely fire inordinate numbers of canisters into surrounding streets, with the effect of saturating whole villages and districts of the capital, Manama, with toxic fumes. The following day, entire skip-loads are filled up with the empty gas canisters swept off the streets by residents.

But the misconduct of regime forces is even more sinister. In addition to indiscriminate blanketing of neighborhoods, there are reported incidents of police officers breaking windows or doors and firing gas canisters into homes.

The excessive use of toxic gas in civilian areas goes hand-in-hand with house raids by the regime. In the past two weeks, Bahraini police have stepped up warrant-less arrests against dozens of civilians in villages across the Persian Gulf island. The raids have been accompanied by even greater use of tear gas. This week, the latest victim of suffocation from the gas was Saeed Marzouq, 55, who died while regime forces raided his village of Diraz. The village is seen as particularly supportive of the Shia-led pro-democracy movement and has been subjected to intense repression.

Ironically, in this same week, the British foreign secretary William Hague announced that his government would be sending protective gas masks abroad. Not to Bahraini civilians, but to Syria. Moreover, the British equipment to protect against toxic chemicals is not being sent to Syrian civilians, but to the foreign mercenaries fighting a covert war on behalf of Britain, the US and France and their Persian Gulf Arab allies to overthrow the government of Bashar al-Assad. Consistent reports show that it is the Western-backed mercenaries in Syria who have been using chemical weapons against civilians to leverage their objective of terrorizing the population into relinquishing support for the Damascus government.

An official Russian report last week concluded that the Western-backed militants are using unguided rockets crudely fitted with chemical warheads, including the deadly nerve agent Sarin. These weapons are banned under international law. Therefore, their use is a war crime.

Perversely, the British government is intending to send gas masks to al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups - whom the British claim to be pro-democracy rebels - even though the evidence is growing that it is these groups who are guilty of wielding chemical weapons. If that responsibility is proven, then that makes the British government and its other Western allies indictable for complicity in war crimes in Syria.

That would add to similar indictable crimes that the British government is already complicit in, in Bahrain. Fittingly, there is a logical pattern here. In Syria, the British government is supporting militants using chemical weapons to sabotage democracy, while in Bahrain the British government is supporting a regime that is also using chemical weapons to sabotage democracy, or at least efforts to
establish democracy.

The description of “tear gas” may sound legitimate, but in the case of pandemic use against civilians in Bahrain it is far from legitimate. Tear gas or CS gas is officially meant for sparing use to fend off rioting crowds. These gases are highly toxic when used at saturation levels and especially in enclosed places, such as homes. In practice, therefore, the way in which these toxic materials are used in Bahrain in civilian residences constitutes a chemical weapon of mass destruction. Such use is a violation of international laws banning the use of chemical weapons, which makes it a crime against humanity.

As in Syria, the British government stands accused of crimes against humanity from the use of chemical weapons in Bahrain. Official data provided by the London-based Campaign Against the Arms Trade shows that the British government approves hundreds of export licenses for the supply of weapons to the Bahraini regime. Britain continues to approve of this trade with Bahrain even though it earlier said that it would suspend the supply of weapons when reports of repression emerged
during 2011.

Among the hundreds of items of weaponry sold to Bahrain from Britain are the following: CS gas, riot-control irritants, smoke generators, smoke canisters, smoke ammunition, stun grenades, “toxins”, and smoke grenades.

This trade with Bahrain is in spite of the stated British policy that it “does not supply weapons to countries where such arms could be used for internal repression”.

A British parliamentary committee on arms control this week reported that Britain supplies weapons to 27 countries which its own foreign office has listed for concern over human rights. The top two recipients of British weapons in the list of 27 - comprising more than 90 percent of a $19 billion annual trade - are Israel and Saudi Arabia. These two regimes are indictable for war crimes and crimes against humanity and yet they are both armed to the teeth by Britain.

In the case of Saudi Arabia, Britain supplies among other tools of repression: armored cars, crowd-control ammunition, tear gas, smoke grenades and stun grenades. For more than two years, since March 2011, British-equipped Saudi forces have been present in Bahrain to shore up the Khalifa regime. Saudi military dressed as Bahraini riot police accompany Bahraini officers during their deadly raids on Shia villages where families are on a daily basis poisoned in their own homes. The probable fact is that little baby Sajida Faisal was killed by forces wielding toxic gas made in and sold by Britain. Her death along with dozens of innocent Bahrainis in a very real way originates from toxic political decisions made in London.

The criminal use of chemical weapons of mass destruction by irregular militants in Syria and by regular security forces in Bahrain has a common denominator: both are supported by the British government to kill democratic freedom.

FC/SS
Finian Cunningham, originally from Belfast, Ireland, was born in 1963. He is a prominent expert in international affairs. The author and media commentator was expelled from Bahrain in June 2011 for his critical journalism in which he highlighted human rights violations by the Western-backed regime. He is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in journalism. He is also a musician and songwriter. For many years, he worked as an editor and writer in the mainstream news media, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent. He is now based in East Africa where he is writing a book on Bahrain and the Arab Spring.He co-hosts a weekly current affairs programme, Sunday at 3pm GMT on Bandung Radio. More articles by Finian Cunningham
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