Demand for Libyan compliance highlights U.S. hypocrisy on Bahrain

As Talking Points Memo reports today,

President Barack Obama and his British and French counterparts are demanding that Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi immediately comply with a U.N. Security Council resolution creating a no-fly zone aimed at protecting civilians from attacks.

Obama phoned British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy Thursday evening after the Security Council vote on the resolution authorizing the no-fly zone and “all necessary measures” to protect the Libyan people from Qaddafi’s forces, the White House said in a statement.

Military intervention against Libya may start within “several hours,” French government spokesman Francois Baroin said in an interview on RTL radio, according to a Bloomberg report.

Ostensibly, the tough stance on Libya has been prompted by Qaddafi’s brutal repression of the Libyan people, who like others throughout the region, have risen up against a firmly entrenched dictator for greater freedom and democracy in their country. But even as the U.S. takes a tough stance against Libya, including the implicit threat of force, U.S. military aid continues to flow to nearby Bahrain, which is also carrying out systematic human rights abuses against its people.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called King Hamad of the Gulf state yesterday to express his “deepest concern over reports of excessive and indiscriminate use of force by the security forces and police in Bahrain against unarmed civilians, including, allegedly, against medical personnel,” a UN statement said.

He also “noted that such actions could be in breach of international humanitarian and human rights law.”

Amnesty International documented in a report issued yesterday how security forces have used live ammunition and extreme force against demonstrators without warning and prevented medical staff  from helping the wounded. Amnesty identified some of the ammunition found in the aftermath of the raid on Pearl Roundabout on February 17, which include U.S.-made tear gas canisters and U.S.-made 37mm rubber multi-baton rounds.

Amnesty International called on governments who supply weapons to Bahrain “to immediately suspend the transfer of weapons, munitions and related equipment that could be used to commit further human rights violations, and to urgently review all arms supplies and training support to Bahrain’s military, security and police forces.”

But even as the UN and human rights groups intensify their criticism of the Bahraini government’s crackdown on protesters, U.S. government aid continues to flow. This is despite the fact that international and domestic law requires that the U.S. cut military aid to states that commit violations of human rights.

According to the International Law Commission (ILC), the official UN body that codifies customary international law,

A State which aids or assists another State in the commission of an internationally wrongful act by the latter is internationally responsible for doing so if: (a) that State does so with knowledge of the circumstances of the internationally wrongful act; and (b) the act would be internationally wrongful if committed by that State” (Article 16 of the International Law Commission, “Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts,” (2001) which were commended by the General Assembly, A/RES/56/83).

Further, the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act stipulates that “no security assistance may be provided to any country the government of which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” and the Arms Export Control Act  authorizes the supply of U.S. military equipment and training only for lawful purposes of internal security, “legitimate self-defense,” or participation in UN peacekeeping operations or other operations consistent with the UN Charter.

The U.S. provided Bahrain $19 million for the fiscal year 2010, and this fiscal year, the island monarchy is on track to receive $19.5 million in military aid.

So why the two different approaches to Libya and Bahrain? How is it that in one case, the U.S. is demanding under threat of military action that Libya complies with international law and in the other, the U.S. turns a blind eye to gross human rights abuses?

Bahrain, a former a British colony, currently hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet. While the population is mostly Shiite, the royal family is Sunni and closely allied with Saudi Arabia. The Shiites are discriminated against by law, including a legal prohibition against serving in Bahrain’s army. So, in Bahrain, the people are coming out in mass protests against a regime solidly supported by the West and reactionary Arab forces like the Saudis. Further, if the Bahraini government were to fall, it could be replaced by a Shiite regime sympathetic to Iran, the United States government’s great nemesis in the region.

Libya, on the other hand, has consistently antagonized the West. It recently forced foreign oil companies, especially France’s Total, to agree to take a much smaller percentage of the oil and gas yielded from their wells, under threat of renationalization. In Libya, the armed rebel groups have Western support. The leaders of the U.S., Britain and France have all called for the toppling of the Libyan government, and have continually threatened to intervene unless Qaddafi steps down.

Thus two very different struggles are taking place in the region, and two very different responses are being made by the U.S. and other Western powers. It appears for now that Qaddafi is complying with the Security Council resolution, declaring a ceasefire with the rebels. But the situation remains tense, and the possibility of Western military action remains real.

If it comes to war, the U.S. should at least be forced to answer how it is that it can apply two such wildly divergent policies in the region — in one case holding up international law as an inviolable principle, and in the other disregarding it completely.

About The Compliance Campaign

Campaigning for a United States in compliance with its international obligations. Follow on Twitter here: Facebook: Comments, article submissions or news leads are welcome at compliancecampaign [at]

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