Sens. Wyden and Rubio Introduce Bill to Hold Arms Sales to Bahrain

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Resolution S.2009, to prohibit the sale of arms and other equipment to Bahrain contingent on reforms, was introduced by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) this week. The bill (text available here) “would block the sale or transfer of certain arms to Bahrain until the State Department certifies that Bahrain has fully implemented all of the recommendations by an independent oversight commission [the BICI].” Following harsh suppression of pro-democracy protests in 2011, Bahrain formed the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) and vowed to implement all 26 of the commission’s recommended reforms. However, the vast majority of recommendations have not been implemented according to a State Department assessment.

The legislation comes after the June decision by the Obama administration to lift the hold on arms sales which had been in place since the 2011 crackdown. On lifting the hold, the State Department cited “meaningful progress on human rights reform and reconciliation.” However, after the U.S. announcement to resume sales, recently released opposition politician Ibrahim Sharif was re-arrested and human rights groups questioned the extent of the government’s reforms.

Regarding the bill, Wyden stated, “This legislation sends the clear message U.S. arms should not aid and abet the Bahraini government’s continued repression of its own people. It is deeply troubling that the State Department has decided to lift its ban on certain arms sales to Bahrain while it continues to torture and imprison peaceful political protesters.”

Senator Rubio expressed similar sentiments, saying, “The Bahraini government’s ongoing repression of its citizens is unacceptable, and the U.S. should not be providing weapons which could be used to suppress peaceful dissent until the government adopts meaningful political reforms,” adding that “the State Department has made a grave error in looking the other way on human rights in Bahrain.”

Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) plans to introduce similar legislation in the House of Representatives when Congress returns from recess. “If the U.S. is truly committed to regional stability, we must push allies like Bahrain to embrace policies that will strengthen free societies, not silence entire segments of their population. This is the only way to combat extremism,” said McGovern. Human Rights First and ADHRB both welcomed the legislation.

Senator Wyden led the 2011 effort to hold arms sales, saying at the time that continuing sales would be “antithetical to our foreign policy goals and the principle of basic rights for all that the U.S. has worked hard to promote.”