MANAMA, Bahrain: A U.S.-based rights group urged Wednesday for a worldwide ban on sales of tear gas to Bahrain until the Gulf state conducts a full-scale inquiry into allegations of its excessive use against anti-government protesters.
The appeal was part of a wide-ranging report by Physicians for Human Rights into what it called "unprecedented" levels of tear gas use by Bahraini security forces. The kingdom's majority Shiites began an uprising more than 18 months ago seeking greater rights from the ruling Sunni monarchy, which is backed by fellow Gulf Arab states and the West.
More than 50 people have died in the unrest. The report cites claims that some of the fatalities came from protesters hit by tear gas canisters or suffering respiratory complications.
Bahrain's government said it "denies and condemns the use of lethal force or unlawful means in controlling demonstrations."
"Any means that have been exercised by security forces adhere to international standards of riot control," said a statement in response to the rights group report. "Suggestions that the use of tear gas in Bahrain is severely injurious or even lethal is simply not backed up by any research or proof."
Bahraini officials also have promised investigations into allegations of police abuses in the strategic kingdom, which hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.
The report described the intensity and frequency of Bahrain's tear gas use as "unprecedented in the 100-year history" of non-lethal chemical use in crowd control. It specifically cautions Bahrain against using tear gas "in large quantities and in enclosed spaces" because of elevated health risks and potential for fatal breathing complications.
"Equally unprecedented is the government of Bahrain's transformation of toxic chemical agents into weapons used methodically to attack Shiite civilians inside their homes and cars," the report said, noting that such measures "flout international human rights law and constitute torture, cruel, and inhuman treatment."
In addition to the appeal for a global ban on tear gas sales to Bahrain, the group urged the country to suspend use of its tear gas supplies and open investigations into the claims of excessive and improper tear gas use. The group also called on Bahrain to disclose information about the chemical agents used in its tear gas purchases.