I propose to take Questions Nos. 34 and 54 together.
I have made clear my strong condemnation of the ongoing violence and serious repression of human rights in Syria, most recently in a statement on 20 December and in my reply to Question No. 47 on 11 January. The UN estimates that more than 5,000 people have been killed by Syrian forces since last March. I am gravely concerned that, despite the presence of an Arab League observer mission since 27 December, the killings of unarmed protestors and widespread human rights abuses continue and I fully support the call from Arab League Secretary General el-Araby for a complete cessation of all violence in Syria.
The international community, including the EU, the UN and the Arab League, has reacted to the violence in Syria with a series of robust economic, political and diplomatic measures to compel the Syrian regime to cease its appalling and unacceptable attacks on the Syrian people. I will outline these measures in more detail in other questions on Syria later. However, the important point is that the international community is determined to maintain strong and united political pressure on the Syrian regime until it ends the violent repression against its own people and begins a process of transition. I will be discussing the current situation in Syria with EU colleagues at next week's Foreign Affairs Council.
In Bahrain, while I welcome the positive steps taken by the Bahraini authorities to implement the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, I remain concerned about continuing tensions within the country and allegations of excessive use of force employed by the police against peaceful protestors. These concerns are shared by our EU partners and will be relayed to the Bahraini authorities.
In Yemen, presidential elections are scheduled to take place on 21 February following former President Saleh's resignation in November. His resignation marked the first step in Yemen's political transition. EU High Representative Ashton has emphasised to Vice President al-Hadi that the transition process must be inclusive and reach out to the large numbers of unemployed young people, the youth movements and other groups. While protests have continued since President Saleh's resignation, I regard it as a positive that these have not resulted in violent clashes of the kind witnessed prior to the transfer of power.
In regard to the export of arms, I fully support the restrictive measures against Syria adopted by the EU, which includes an arms export ban and an export ban on equipment which might be used for internal repression. In regard to the export of arms to Bahrain and Yemen, the decision to transfer or deny the transfer of any military technology is at the national discretion of each exporting state.
In 2008, the EU adopted a Common Position which defines the rules governing the control of exports of military technology and equipment by member states. Under this Common Position, member states assess all licence applications for military exports against eight separate criteria, including the human rights situation on the ground. As a result, I would note that armaments companies in the EU are in compliance with one of the strictest export control regimes in the world. The operation of the Council Common Position is kept under constant review by member states in light of changing circumstances in individual buyer countries.