Karen McVeigh - guardian.co.uk
Amnesty International condemns State Department as 'irresponsible' for granting export licences to munitions firms.
Two US companies have shipped crowd control munitions and teargas to Egypt – one firm repeatedly – in the midst of violent and often lethal crackdowns on protesters by security forces, according to an Amnesty International investigation.
The human rights group has asked for Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, to stop granting export licences for teargas and other munitions, pending an investigation into its misuse by Egyptian forces.
Combined Systems Inc (CSI), based in Jamestown, Pennysylvania, has sent at least three arms deliveries to Egypt since the protests began in Tahrir Square on 25 January, according to Amnesty. The most recent delivery, addressed to the interior ministry, arrived in the port of Adabiya near Suez on 26 November, only 48 hours after days of bloody clashes between interior ministry troops and protesters left two dozen dead and thousands injured.
Amnesty said the November shipment contained at least seven tonnes of "ammunition smoke" - which includes chemical irritants and crowd control agents such as teargas.
The investigation tallies with eyewitness reports from Egyptian demonstrators who told the Guardian last month they had seen teargas canisters branded with CSI's name and address.
The US State Department, which has condemned the excessive use of force on demonstrators in Cairo and has begun an investigation into misuse of teargas by Egyptian authorities, has confirmed that two export licenses for "teargas and other non-lethal riot control agents" from US companies were approved in July and arrived in Egypt in November.
The second company has not been identified.
Amnesty's arms expert, Brian Wood, condemned the State Department as "irresponsible" for approving them.
He said: "These licences were authorised during a period where the Egyptian government responded to protests by using excessive and often lethal force. It is inconceivable that the US authorities did not know of evidence of widely documented abuses by the Egyptian security forces. These licences should not have been granted."
"The Egyptian security forces have a reputation for violations against human rights. The US should be suspending these supplies pending proper changes in the way they deal with crowd control."
Since January, and particularly in the run-up to the election, protesters in Egypt have subject to violent crackdowns by security forces, resulting in deaths and hundreds of injuries. Medical staff have reported that some fatalities have been caused by the misuse of teargas.
Wood said that while the use of teargas was not wrong per se, it was potentially lethal if misused.
He said: "It is a dispersal tool and it should not be used in a situation such as in narrow streets where a crowd cannot disperse. There are videos showing security forces firing directly at protesters."
"Egypt's security forces, including riot police, must be reformed and trained to respect UN standards on use of force and firearms. Without fundamental change in the behaviour and accountability of the security forces, it is irresponsible for foreign countries to provide arms and other equipment to forces that are most likely to misuse them."
Wood said that the November 26 shipment was linked to CSI by a cargo manifest from Egypt. According to Amnesty, it was carried aboard a Danish ship, the Marianne Danica, was organised by defence logistics company Nico Shipping and left North Carolina on October 13.
Amnesty said the company had also sent a shipment of 21 tonnes of ammunition to Egypt – enough for 40,000 rounds of tear gas grenades and cannisters – on 8 April from Wilmington, North Carolina, and another shipment of 17.9 tonnes from New York on 8 August. According to the commercial trade database Piers, both were listed under the product code of bullets, cartridges and shells, but the New York was also described as "ammunition smoke".
Amnesty said they could not "100% verify" the authenticity of the cargo manifesto, because it was not provided to them by the shipping company, but said that the information in the manifest corresponds with other data it had from the US State Department, the shipping route, and the US supply company.
CSI manufactures a range of arms, including rubber baton and chemical irritants, for military forces and law enforcement.
When asked about the export of teargas by US companies to Egypt, a State Department official referred the Guardian to two previous statements. On 29 November, spokesman Mark Toner told reporters: "What we've seen is a lot of circumstantial evidence, but we haven't seen any real concrete proof that the Egyptian authorities were misusing teargas".
Two days later, on 1 December, he said department was investigating allegations that teargas had been misued. He said: "With regard to the allegations of misuse of tear gas, we take those allegations very seriously, and we are, in fact, following up on these allegations to determine if there was some measure of misuse. And we're carefully monitoring the ongoing situation and also seeking additional information."
He added: "I can say that we have approved export licenses to two US companies for the export of teargas, and other non-lethal riot control agents to the Egyptian government. And the most recent export license approval occurred in July, and that was, in fact, the shipment, I believe, that arrived in Egypt on 25 November."