The British Ministry of Defense (MoD) confirmed last week that U.K troops may have trained Saudi Arabia’s national guard before they were used to help crush civil rights protests in Bahrain.
Documents obtained by The Observer under Britain’s Freedom of Information Act revealed that British forces regularly instructed the Saudi national guard in “weapons, fieldcraft and general military skills training, as well as incident handling, bomb disposal, search, public order and sniper training.”
“All BMM personnel, as well as support costs such as accommodation and transport” was paid for by Saudi Arabia, according to the documents. Up to 20 teams a year are sent to the kingdom.
In March, 1,200 Saudi troops entered Bahrain to help quell demonstrations. The Sunni Saudi royal family was reportedly worried that the Shiite majority in Bahrain could gain control there.
While the U.K. said it was “deeply concerned” about human rights abuses by Saudi troops, the U.S. denied that the operation amounted to an occupation.
“Britain’s important role in training the Saudi Arabian national guard in internal security over many years has enabled them to develop tactics to help suppress the popular uprising in Bahrain,” the Campaign Against Arms Trade’s Nicholas Gilby told The Observer.
“Last year we raised concerns that the Saudis had been using UK-supplied and UK-maintained arms in secret attacks in Yemen that left scores of Yemeni civilians dead,” Amnesty International’s U.K. Arms Programme director Oliver Sprague said.
“We need a far more rigorous case-by-case examination of the human rights records of those who want to buy our equipment or receive training,” he added.
Additional Freedom of Information Act responses obtained by The Independent indicated that Britain also trained Bahraini army officers. That training continued even after the Bahraini royal family began to use the military to crush protests.
“All overseas requests for defense training are considered on a case-by-case basis and it would not be provided if we thought such training would lead to human rights abuses,” an MoD spokesman said. “Indeed, providing training to the same high standards used by UK armed forces helps to save lives and raise awareness of human rights.”
At least 29 people have died in demonstrations in Bahrain since February. Hundreds more have been injured.