Brazil to investigate use of tear gas in Bahrain

A used Brazilian tear gas canister photographed by protesters in Bahrain. Note the "Made in Brazil" tag and the Brazilian flag.

THE Brazilian Foreign Ministry, Itamaraty, announced on Tuesday (10/01/2012) that it was going to investigate the lethal use of Brazilian-made tear gas against pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain, following the publication of my story in O Globo newspaper on Monday in which I quote Bahraini activist Zainab al-Khawaja saying that Brazilian-made tear gas was responsible for the deaths of at least two children.

The Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper carried the news this morning in its print edition and online. Click here to read the story in Portuguese.

Here is my quick translation of their story into English:

Brazilian foreign ministry investigates the use of tear gas in Bahrain

Claudia Antunes

Rio

The Brazilian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday it is examining whether there was a breach of contract in the use of tear gas made by a Brazilian company, Condor Non-Lethal Technologies, against pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain.

Re-exports of arms without the authorization of the seller country is prohibited, and Condor has not sold tear gas to the monarchy of the Persian Gulf, according to the company and the foreign ministry.

The most likely hypothesis, however, is that the gas was used by one of the other five monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council, led by Saudi Arabia, which sent troops to Bahrain in March 2011 to support the King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.

Condor, a maker of “non-lethal” weapons and ammunition based in Rio and that earns 30% of its earnings in exports, has confirmed that countries in the region are clients, but does not reveal which ones.

The use of the tear gas was denounced by activists from Bahrain and reported in the newspaper “O Globo” by journalist and blogger Rasheed Abou-Alsamh.

Activists attribute the death of a baby to a substance of the gas, whose main chemical agent is chlorobenzylidene malononitrilo.

Condor said it received the news of the baby’s death with “disbelief”, stating that its tear gas is also used in Brazil and in 40 other countries and that it follows “international safety standards.”

PRIORITY

This case calls attention to the lack of transparency in arms exports, when it is Brazil’s official policy to encourage the domestic arms industry.

In September, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff signed an interim measure to exempt such manufacturers from taxes, which the defense ministry says is aimed to put them on equal footing with foreign competitors.

At the time, Dilma said that one of its goals was to increase exports.

These sales must be authorized by the foreign ministry and the Directorate of Controlled Products Inspection, linked to the command of the Brazilian Army.

Asked if there is no political obstacle to the sale of weapons of crowd control to dictatorships, the Foreign Ministry said an analysis is made on a case-by-case basis.

Government and companies claim confidentiality agreements in not disclosing details of sales, and say this is international practice.

Legislation to be submitted to Congress by the defense ministry would provide for the setting-up of a public database on acquisitions and sales of weapons.

Numbers available today in the Ministry of Development show that exports of arms and ammunition, excluding dual-use items like jeeps and helicopters, grew 320% between 2000 and 2011, from $69.7 million to $293 million.

Brazil sold $19.5 million worth of weapons between 2006 and 2011 to five countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Kuwaitis), according to this data.

In the ranking of leading global weapons exporters, according to the International Institute for Peace Studies in Stockholm, Brazil was in 14th position in 2010. The list is headed by far by the US and Russia.