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Robert Cooper, a hand-picked senior adviser to Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, must not have gotten the memo. His boss had acknowledged that Bahraini security forces used violence and excessive force to suppress largely peaceful pro-democracy protests, offered her condolences to the families of those killed, and stressed that Bahrain's rulers need to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.

But in a statement to the European Parliament on 22 March, he publicly defended Bahrain's brutal crackdown and chalked up the deaths of unarmed protesters and bystanders as merely the sort of "accidents" that happen during policing operations.

It was no accident when UK-supplied tanks and other Bahraini military vehicles rolled into Pearl Roundabout. The security forces there tear-gassed and beat protesters, while security forces in Shia villages elsewhere used live ammunition. It was no accident that police and soldiers pointed guns at women and children. It was no accident that security forces beat medics tending to the wounded, barricaded hospitals, and prevented the wounded from getting treatment.

Similarly, the disappearance of more than 100 people since 14 March can in no way be considered an "accident", nor can the arrest and incommunicado detention of dozens of people, including prominent opposition figures, human-rights activists, doctors and medical workers. Pre-dawn raids on homes of opposition figures by masked men, accompanied by uniformed security personnel, were no accidents.

Rather, these are calculated actions to intimidate and repress. And no, we are not talking about Libya but about Bahrain - though the crimes seem straight out of Muammar Qaddafi's playbook.  

Apology needed

Cooper should know better, having just been to Bahrain, and he owes an apology to the score of civilians who were killed or maimed in this recent violent crackdown. Ashton urgently needs to denounce her adviser's public statement and ensure that EU policy vis-à-vis Bahrain is clear, principled and brought into line with international human-rights law.

The EU should never be an apologist for abuse. Instead the EU, and that means its high representative and its 27 member states, should address the serious human-rights violations in Bahrain - the use of excessive force against protesters, extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances, possible torture of detainees, and interference with medical services.
Given the ongoing and severe repression, the EU should announce an immediate ban on security assistance to Bahrain, including the sale of riot-control materials and military hardware, until Bahraini authorities halt the abuses and hold those responsible accountable. The EU should remind Bahraini authorities that the right to life may not be suspended or ignored, even under a state of emergency. It should also press Bahrain to clarify, with specificity, the powers of the Bahrain Defence Force under "the state of national safety", which appears to lack limits on the security forces' behaviour.

Allegations of torture

Since the imposition of martial law on 15 March, security and possibly military personnel have arrested protesters, opposition leaders, activists and doctors, including some opposition activists who had been released on 23 February, after about six months in custody. Some of them alleged in court that they had been tortured in detention. Lawyers and family members of those arrested in recent days have been unable to learn where they are or why they were arrested.
The EU should urge Bahraini authorities either to release them or promptly charge them with a recognisable criminal offence. To prevent abuse of detainees, the Bahraini authorities should immediately stop holding detainees incommunicado and immediately allow them to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before an independent judicial authority. Those who have been lawfully detained should be allowed prompt access to lawyers and family members.
The EU should press the Bahraini authorities to account publicly for everyone who has been killed or injured and others who remain missing.

The EU should urge the Bahraini authorities to open an independent, impartial and transparent investigation into all deaths, injuries, arrests, detentions and other possible human-rights violations committed by government forces or officials since the protests began on 14 February.
The EU should impress upon Bahraini authorities at the highest level that they need to declare zero tolerance for the ill-treatment or torture of detainees, to initiate an independent, impartial investigation into all allegations of torture, and to hold accountable those responsible for ordering, carrying out or failing to prevent torture and ill-treatment.
The EU should urge Bahraini authorities to end any and all interference with the provision of healthcare.
The EU should demand that all those responsible for human-rights violations be brought to justice, regardless of rank, position or affiliation.

Finally, in light of the deteriorating human-rights situation in Bahrain , the EU should call for a special session of the United Nation's Human Rights Council and push for Bahrain's suspension from the council.
Rather than support Bahrain's ruling elite as it intimidates and suppresses pro-democracy demonstrators, as Cooper did, the EU should support democratic reform while stressing the importance of human rights and the rule of law.
Lotte Leicht is the EU director of Human Rights Watch.

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