These photographs were sent to Bahrain Watch by a Bahraini Journalist after a protest in Daih village on 28th February ,three years after a French Official stated in Le Point newspaper that “all of the exportation of law enforcement products to Bahrain ceased on the 17th February 2011.” A similar statement was made in an Amnesty press release dated January 2014 that stated “US, French and Spanish officials have indicated in recent weeks to Amnesty International that they have suspended supplies of chemical irritants to Bahrain.” The tear gas canisters in these photographs are manufactured by French company SAE Alsetex. Bahrain’s Government has used tear gas to shoot at peaceful, pro-democracy protesters leading not only to serious injuries but also death in some cases.
The apparent reappearance of SAE Alsetex canisters three years after France claimed to cut off sales raises the question of whether France has resumed tear gas exports to Bahrain. The 2013 French arms export report which is the most recent report available to us showed that French arms exports to Bahrain valued over €5 million euros in 2012 including over €250,000 “toxic chemical and biological agents and riot control equipment.” While these figures do not necessarily represent tear gas, they seemingly represent the “law enforcement products,” of which France claimed to halt Bahraini exports in February 2011.
In November 2013, Bahrain Minister of Interior Rashid Al-Khalifa attended the Milipol Arms Exhibition in Paris, at the invitation of French Interior Minister Manuel Valls. The French Interior Minister commended the efforts of the King, praising the development in the country.
There are many possibilities as to why these French canisters have reappeared, it could be a resumption of direct tear gas exports to the Bahraini government. Another possibility is that they have been re-exported by proxy through Saudi or the UAE given the vague GCC security agreement between these countries. This was highlighted a few weeks ago after an Emirati policeman was killed in Bahrain, indicating that cooperation is quite possibly extended to the supply of security equipment as well as personnel. Whatever the reason for the reappearance of French tear gas is, it is important to reaffirm that it does not absolve the French government from its obligation and commitment to ensure that its arms exports do not end up in the hands of human rights violators.
France’s 2012 arms exports to repressive Bahrain, and the warm reception for Bahrain’s Interior Minister at Milipol Paris, are both at odds with France’s pro-democracy rhetoric. France cannot claim ignorance of the situation in Bahrain, as their February 2011 cessation of exports showed awareness of the government’s cruel and excessive crackdown against peaceful protesters.
The situation on the ground in Bahrain has not improved since February 2011, with continued reports of torture, and ongoing misuse of tear gas and birdshot. After three years of documenting systematic tear gas misuse, the deaths caused directly by tear gas continue, on March 15 CCTV footage captures last moments of Jawad al-Hawi who died of a heart attack after he got attacked by tear gas while out to do some grocery shopping (while Abdel Aziz al abar continues to lie in a coma.)
Governments around the world should carefully examine their arms exports, to ensure that they are not placing profit above human life.