The United States, Russia and other European countries provided large quantities of arms to repressive governments in the Middle East and North Africa before the revolts that began this year, despite ample evidence of the risk that those arms supplies would be used in such a way as to account for serious violations of human rights says Amnesty International in a report released today.
The document, entitled ‘Transfer of weapons in the Middle East and North Africa: lessons for an effective Arms Trade Treaty’, examines arms exports to Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen since 2005.
“Our findings highlight the profound failure of the current controls on arms exports, with all the existing loopholes, and underscores the need for an effective arms trade treaty that takes full account of the need to defend human rights,” said Helen Hughes, principal investigator of the report.
The governments that now claim to stand with the people in the Middle East and North Africa, said Amnesty, “are the same that until recently have supplied arms, ammunition and military equipment and police used to kill, injure and imprison arbitrarily thousands of peaceful demonstrators in countries such as Tunisia and Egypt and is still used by security forces in Syria and Yemen.”
The main suppliers of weapons to the five countries mentioned in the report are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, Czech Republic, Russia and the United States of America.
The report cites 11 countries (including Bulgaria, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, Czech Republic, Russia, United States of America, Turkey and Ukraine) which have provided military assistance or approved exports of weapons, ammunition and related equipment to Yemen, where hundreds of protesters have been killed this year.
“Despite the continuing brutal repression, the international community has failed to take decisive action to stop arms transfers to Yemen” denounced Amnesty.
As for information on the influx of weapons to Syria, this is difficult to obtain, because few governments officially report on arms exports to Damascus. However, it is known that Russia is the main supplier, allocating about 10% of all its weapons exports to Syria. Since the Russian government does not publish an annual report on its arms exports, its contribution to the transfer of weapons in the region cannot be quantified.
The Amnesty report also indicates that India has authorized exporting armored vehicles to Syria, while France, between 2005 and 2009, sold Syria ammunition.
Ten countries are identified in the report (including Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, Russia and Spain) whose governments have authorized the provision of arms, ammunition and related equipment to the Libyan regime of Colonel Gaddafi since 2005. During the conflict in Libya, Qaddafi’s forces have committed war crimes and human rights violations that may constitute crimes against humanity.
Spanish made cluster bombs and MAT-120 mortar shells, authorized for sale in 2007, have been found in Misrata, when the city was bombed by Gaddafi’s forces earlier in the year. These weapons are banned by the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which Spain has signed less than a year after sending such materials to Libya.
Much of heavy artillery found in Libya, said the authors of the report, appears to have been produced during the Soviet era, in Russia or other USSR countries, especially with regard to the Grad rockets, used indiscriminately and extensively by both sides in the conflict.
Some of the ammunition recovered was also made in China, Bulgaria and Italy, respectively, the Type 72 anti-tank mines, components for rockets and 155mm. artillery shells.
Meanwhile, at least 20 countries, led by the USA with equipment worth USD 1.3 billion, have sold or supplied arms to Egypt including ammunition, tear gas, riot control gear and other equipment. Austria , Belgium, Bulgaria, Italy and Switzerland follow as Egypt’s most prolific arms suppliers.
Rifles were used extensively by security forces in Bahrain and Egypt, with devastatingly lethal effects. Amnesty International recognizes that in 2011, the international community has made some progress, limiting international arms transfers to Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen.
However, according to the human rights organization, the current arms export controls are to blame for failing to prevent arms transfers in the past years.