24 June 2004 Edition

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Cashing in on Death - European morality and arms dealing (Part I)

Some Europeans have taken the high moral ground when comparing European foreign policy to that of United States and highlighting the major role of European states as peace brokers, human rights defenders and conflict resolution masters. This is very shaky ground, however, as it transpires that some of the most powerful states within the EU are also major arms exporting countries. France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and Britain accounted for one third of the worldwide arms transfer agreements signed between 1994 and 2001 and the recipients of these exports have used them for grave human rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law.

Enlarged EU, enlarged arms sales

Although the EU's share of the market was smaller than the United States and Russia, it increased on 1 May 2004 when ten new countries joined the EU: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia. A report published by Amnesty International revels how some of these new Member States have significant arms production and exporting activities. For example, the enlarged EU now has over 400 companies in 23 countries producing small arms and light weapons (SALW) - only slightly less than the USA.

But, what is more important is that such a dramatic enlargement of the EU presents both potential opportunities and dangers for European arms control. The research 'Undermining Global Security: the European Union's Arms Exports, commissioned by the Irish Section of Amnesty International and released in the middle of May, highlights serious flaws in the EU's key arms control agreements, especially the 1998 EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports.

The establishment of these regulations in 1998 was a significant advance in regional arms export control. The 15 Member States declared at that time that they would set minimum common standards in controlling arms transfers, and would prevent exports which could be used for internal repression, international aggression, or would contribute to regional instability.

But the report uncovers how "the design and application of the EU Code are deeply flawed". Disturbingly, as this report shows, there are numerous reports of exports of MSP equipment, technology and expertise from existing EU Member States or new EU Member States which have been transferred — mostly in secret — to recipients who have used such items for grave human rights violations or breaches of international humanitarian law.


The report identifies major weaknesses, ambiguities or loopholes in the Code, related EU mechanisms and national export controls, that are to be reviewed during this year. The 15 Member States promised at the end of 2003 to review the Code during 2004 — a year which falls within the EU Presidencies of Ireland and the Netherlands.

This review process should involve not only the various national governments but also consultation with interested parties such as parliaments, the business community, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), professional associations and academic experts.

But Amnesty International is concerned that the review of the EU Code will not allow a thorough analysis of its weaknesses nor sufficient opportunity to address them. Currently, there does not appear to have been any decision made about wider consultation beyond the government officials and ministers of the EU Member States. "If sufficient time to deal with the weaknesses, loopholes and omissions detailed in this report is not allowed, the EU Code will continue to allow arms exports that fuel human rights violations to slip through the net, particularly now that the borders of the EU have grown, and the result will be to undermine international security", denounces the Amnesty International document.

"Free Interpretation"

There have been a number of cases where differing "interpretations" by EU governments of the EU Code have resulted in officially sanctioned arms exports in clear contradiction of fundamental EU Code criteria. For example, arms or security equipment from the EU has been transferred to embargoed destinations and, moreover, to security forces that are clearly likely to use such arms and security equipment for human rights violations or breaches of international humanitarian law.

In addition, Amnesty also denounces that "there have been interpretations of how to implement the Operative Provisions of the EU Code that have resulted in arms and security exports contrary to the purposes of the Code". For example, the EU Code and most national export reporting systems of EU Member States do not explicitly cover transfers of government-owned arms to other governments — "government to government" transfers. Furthermore, in many EU and new Member States, the level of secrecy around such "government to government" transfers means that neither parliament nor the public can be sure whether these transfers are consistent with national or EU export criteria.

Rifles to Nepal

Although government Ministers and officials may believe that such numbers are relatively low, in practice, each case of undercutting can potentially result in arms being sent to a country where there are serious concerns that the weapons will be used for human rights violations, as illustrated in the case of H&K G36 rifles to Nepal.

In May 2002 after a long delay, the German government formally refused to issue an export license for the export of this type of rifle to Nepal, after Amnesty International's German Section had raised concerns about the possible impact of such a transfer on human rights in Nepal.

In 2003, Jane's Infantry Weapons reported that G36 rifles are now in service in Nepal.

In its 2003 Annual Report, Amnesty International reported that: "Against a background of mounting political crisis, there was a sharp rise in the incidence of unlawful killings, "disappearances", torture and arbitrary arrest and detention by the security forces, and of deliberate killings, hostage-taking and torture by the Maoists. The abuses were carried out in the context of the "people's war" declared by the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) (Maoist) in 1996, and the declaration of a state of emergency and the deployment of the army in late 2001."

Britain has also exported military components to China, despite the EU-imposed arms embargo in June 1989 after the Tiananmen massacre — when a student demonstration against government policies was savagely crushed by the Chinese Government. It was unfortunate that the scope of the ban was left to interpretation by national governments. And in the case of the British Government, the interpretation was very loose indeed.

The 2001 British Annual Report on Strategic Export Controls lists a number of components, technology, software, and related systems for weapons platforms licensed for export to China that year. These include categories of equipment that would clearly be for use in or with a weapons platform which would itself be subject to embargo.

Furthermore it seems that Britain is not alone in its narrow interpretation of the range of MSP equipment that might be used for "internal repression" — as defined in the EU Code. This report also details below how a number of EU companies have been involved in the supply of communication and surveillance systems to China that have contributed to internal repression.

Human rights in Colombia

Despise having one of the bloodiest human rights records worldwide, European governments are just to happy to fuel the conflict in Colombia by selling military paraphernalia to the Latin American country's military. Amnesty International points out how Spain, together with a number of other countries — including Britain and most importantly the USA — has authorised transfers of military, police and/or security equipment and other assistance to Colombia over the past few years.

Given the pattern of grave human rights violations committed by the Colombian security forces and by paramilitaries associated with them, such MSP transfers are almost certainly contrary to Criteria of the EU Code.

At the end of February 2003, the Spanish Government announced a huge unconditional package of military assistance to the Colombian Government armed forces "to fight any kind of occurrence that affects the security of the Colombian people", in the words of Federico Trillo, the then Spanish Minister of Defence of the right-wing government headed by José María Aznar.

The Spanish package reportedly included eight Mirage-F fighter planes, two C-212 military transport planes and real-time satellite intelligence, as well as the possibility of helicopters and patrol launches. Reports indicated that anti-terrorist equipment and exchanges of military personnel to help train the Colombian security forces in military intelligence and anti-terrorism were included in the package. The fighter planes were subsequently dropped from the aid package, and the new Spanish Socialist government which took office at the end of April 2004, instead of proclaiming a public rejection and immediate cancellation of the package agreement, has only suggested that it may review the 2003 agreement with Colombia.

(To be continued...)

EU arms export rules

The EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports requires EU Member States to use eight criteria to consider requests for exports of military equipment. These are:

Criterion One:

International commitments:

Should refuse export licenses if approval would be inconsistent with respect for international commitments such as UN, OSCE or EU arms embargoes or if approval would breach treaties that control specific arms such as missiles or completely prohibit specific arms such as anti-personnel mines;

Criterion Two:

Human Rights:

Will not issue an export license if there is a clear risk that the proposed export might be used for internal repression and will take into account the nature of the equipment to ensure respect for human rights;

Criterion Three:

Internal Conflict:

Will not allow exports which would provoke or prolong armed conflict or aggravate existing tensions or conflicts in the recipient state;

Criterion Four:

Regional Peace and Security:

Will not issue an export licence if there is a clear risk that the intended recipient would use the proposed export aggressively against another country or to assert by force a territorial gain or adversely affect regional stability in a significant way;

Criterion Five:

Defence and National Security:

Will take into account the defence and national security of Member States and their allies;

Criterion Six:

Terrorism and International Law:

Will take into account the recipient state's attitude towards terrorism and organised crime, as well as its compliance with international commitments, in particular on the non-use of force, including international humanitarian law and agreements on non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament;

Criterion Seven:


Will consider the risks of diversion, especially to terrorist organisations, given the capability of the recipient country to exert effective export controls;

Criterion Eight:

Sustainable Development:

Will take into account whether the proposed export would seriously hamper the sustainable development of the recipient country, considering the recipient country's levels of military and social expenditure.

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