'Galling': US Lifts Human Rights Restrictions on Arms Sales to Bahrain

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday lifted the government’s human rights restrictions on arms sales to Bahrain, in a move that Amnesty International called “galling” and “a dangerous signal.”

The State Department notified Congress of its intent to proceed with the sale of F-16 fighter jets and other weapons to the Gulf kingdom without the human rights conditions, according to Senate Foreign Relations Committee spokeswoman Micah Johnson. Congress now has two review periods to examine the trade and raise any objections.

Rights groups noted that Bahrain has a history of oppression against dissidents and participation in the Saudi Arabia-led coalition that has bombed thousands of civilians in Yemen—one of the six countries included in President Donald Trump’s now-suspended travel ban. (Notably, the Trump administration is also moving to escalate its role in that conflict.)

“While getting weapons from the U.S., Bahrain’s government is silencing critics at home and participating in a military coalition that is bombing civilians in Yemen,” said Sunjeev Bery, an advocacy director with Amnesty International USA. “This deal sends a dangerous signal to Bahrain and all other countries that engage in serious human rights violations. It is particularly galling to arm these governments while simultaneously barring those fleeing violence entrance to the U.S. These deals place the U.S. at risk of being complicit in war crimes, and discourage other countries, like Saudi Arabia, from addressing their own human rights records.”

Reprieve, a legal organization that fights against “extreme human rights violations,” also decried the move.

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