Washington is blocking $53 million in arms sales to Bahrain because of unfulfilled security sector reforms as clashes between riot police and anti-government protesters increase on the eve of the first anniversary of the uprising.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland says the Obama administration is concerned about security forces breaking up demonstrators trying to reach Manama’s Pearl Roundabout – the symbolic center of last year’s protests.
“We want to see demonstrators demonstrate peacefully,” she says. “We want to see security forces exercise restraint and operate within the rule of law and international judicial standards.
U.S. officials say the government has taken “some initial steps” to begin implementing the recommendations of the Bahraini Independent Commission of Inquiry into last year’s violence including dissolving the State National Safety Courts and granting greater autonomy to the Inspector General of the Ministry of Interior.
U.S. officials are encouraged by Bahrain’s transfer of investigations and prosecutions of human rights violations from criminal courts to civilian courts and by a memorandum of understanding with ICRC to provide access to detainees.
But those changes do not go far enough to warrant lifting a block on the sale of military equipment that “would significantly enhance their military capacity,” including TOW missiles, Humvees, tear gas, and small arms.
“We are not going to go forward until we see more progress,” Nuland says.
In addition to more extensive security sector reforms, Washington wants to see the reinstatement of workers unfairly dismissed during the unrest, the resolution of ongoing court cases against doctors, journalists, and former lawmakers “which appear to be based, at least, in part on criticism of government action,” and the creation of a media environment conducive to free expression and a free press.
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Scott Stearns is VOA's State Department correspondent. He has worked as the Dakar Bureau Chief, White House correspondent, and Nairobi Bureau Chief since beginning his career as a freelance reporter in the Liberian civil war. He has written for the BBC, UPI, the Associated Press, The Jerusalem Post, and The Economist. Scott has a Bachelors and Masters in Journalism from Northwestern University.