Senate Blocks Resolution Disapproving US Arms Sales to Bahrain, But Votes Show Increasing Congressional Concern for Human Rights in the Kingdom

13 June 2019 – Today, the United States (US) Senate voted to block a resolution (S. J. Res. 20), introduced by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), which would have disapproved of the proposed sale to the Government of Bahrain of “certain defense articles and services.” Under the Trump Administration, the State Department has made determinations approving over $8.5 billion worth of arms sales, upgrades, services, and training to the kingdom. While the resolution ultimately failed, the vote of 56 to 43 shows an increase in concern for the human rights situation in Bahrain among members of Congress.

Last November, Senate rejected a similar effort by Senator Paul to block arms sales to Bahrain, when the resolution (S. J. Res. 65) failed in a 77 to 21 vote. Support to block arms sales to Bahrain more than doubled with the recent vote, demonstrating momentum within Congress to hold Bahrain accountable for its ongoing rights violations. This heightened concern in Congress regarding Bahrain’s human rights record was also demonstrated in a briefing that was held earlier this week, highlighting the findings of Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) on systematic repression, brutality, and Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior. Representatives McGovern and Omar spoke at the briefing, noting Bahrain’s  suppression of dissent and the frequency at which political prisoners and activists are jailed, raped, tortured, executed, or disappeared. They called on Congress to look closely at ending arms sales.

“When we support a government that violates human rights, we undermine our efforts and standing around the world,” said Congresswoman Omar.

Internal repression in Bahrain has dramatically increased in recent years, with the Bahraini government effectively closing civil space. As mentioned in Senator Paul’s remarks, Bahrain has banned all political opposition, and political leader Sheikh Ali Salman is serving a life sentence on spurious charges. Bahrain has also cracked down heavily on online activism, with prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab serving a 5 year prison sentence solely relating to tweets. New amendments to Bahrain’s counter-terror legislation have essentially made it so Bahrainis can now be charged with ‘promoting terrorism’ for simply liking a tweet that the Bahraini government deems critical.

“We are glad to see increasing interest on Bahrain in Congress, and this vote is an encouraging sign that arms sales to countries with severe rights violations, like Bahrain, might one day stop,” says ADHRB Executive Director Husain Abdulla. “It is the responsibility of Congress to ensure Bahrain is not awarded for is poor human rights record with arms sales.”