Call for Global Arms Trade Treaty after US, Russian, European Arms Used to Kill 'Arab Spring' Protestors
October 29, 2011
The wanton unlawful killings and human rights abuses committed in response to the mass protests and demands for change that gripped the Middle East and North Africa region since late 2010 underscore the urgent need for the establishment and implementation of an effective global Arms Trade Treaty. The inescapable fact is that the majority of the weapons used to kill 'Arab Spring' protesters was sold and supplied by European countries, Russia and the USA.
ARMS TRANSFERS TO THE MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA:
LESSONS FOR AN EFFECTIVE ARMS TRADE TREATY
The numerous unlawful killings and other gross human rights abuses committed in response to the mass protests and demands for change that have gripped the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region since late 2010 underscore, both vividly and tragically, the urgent need for the establishment and implementation of an effective global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).
All across the region, government authorities responded to protests seen as heralding an “Arab Spring” by using excessive, often lethal force even against peaceful demonstrators while deploying a wide range of weaponry, munitions, armaments and related material much of it imported from abroad.
In Bahrain, Egypt and Yemen, riot police and internal security forces used firearms, shotguns and shotgun cartridges, live ammunition, rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannons and armoured vehicles to suppress and disperse protesters.
In Libya, as the country slid into armed conflict, Colonel Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi’s forces launched Grad rockets, mortars and fired artillery into densely-populated civilian residential areas.
In Syria too, government forces have used heavy weaponry, artillery and tanks to fire at civilian areas in their efforts to crush the protests. Incredibly, however, thousands upon thousands of ordinary people have maintained their protests and refused to be cowed by high levels of state violence.
The protests have brought sharply into focus the appalling human rights records of many governments in the MENA region, which Amnesty International has been documenting for decades. They have also highlighted how the sale and supply of weaponry, munitions and related equipment to those very same governments have impacted on human rights in the region. Used against protesters, the majority of this weaponry, munitions and related equipment was sold and supplied by European countries, Russia and the USA.
In response to the mass violations committed by governments during the uprisings of the Arab Spring, Amnesty International called for the suspension of the export, import and international transfer of arms (in other words both the trade and government-to-government supplies and aid) for the riot police and internal security forces of Bahrain, Egypt and Yemen, and for the immediate imposition of comprehensive arms embargoes on Libya and Syria.
The organization also called on all states that had been supplying arms to these countries to undertake an immediate and thorough case-by-case review of their arms transfers and trade – in order to ensure that no further weaponry, munitions or related equipment, or parts thereof and technical support, are supplied in circumstances in which there is a substantial risk of their being used to commit serious human rights violations. Where a substantial risk does exist, transfer authorizations must be denied until there is clear evidence to show that there are comprehensive safeguards in place to guarantee that the arms under consideration for transfer will not be used to commit such violations.
In 2012, UN Member States will gather at the UN’s headquarters in New York to negotiate the final text of the ATT. Some states, including China, Egypt, Russia, and the USA, want to limit the content of the Treaty. Worryingly, in the current UN draft text, the types of arms falling within the scope of the Treaty could exclude much of the weaponry, munitions and related equipment that has been used and is being used by security forces in the MENA
region to commit unlawful killings and other serious violations.
As the demand for change continues to spread across the MENA states, those governments supplying, or authorizing the sale or transfer of, the arms that have been used by security forces to fire on and brutally disperse protesters, must reflect on the criteria and methods used in their arms transfer decisions to prevent as far as possible the further blatant misuse of such arms. If those decisions knowingly aid or assist another state to commit an internationally wrongful act such as the perpetration of crimes against humanity or human rights violations by a police force, then the transferring state will also be responsible under international law.
This report explores lessons that can be learned by states authorizing transfers to MENA states of the weaponry, munitions and related equipment used to commit or facilitate serious human rights violations in recent months. Applying these lessons effectively according to highest common standards is now critical to ensuring that the ATT is effective, rather than a replication of existing arms export controls with their loopholes and weaknesses.
Chapter two sets out guidelines for assessing the risks to human rights relating to a proposed international sale or other transfer of arms and looks at the key elements to consider in reaching a judgment of whether or not to licence the arms transfer. It examines in particular two key concepts - serious violations and substantial risk - in order to show how a rule to help safeguard international human rights standards can be applied to arms transfer decisions by governments in a reasonably fair and objective manner.
The five country chapters included here -- on Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen -- examines the generic types of arms used in the response to the uprisings, the main suppliers, states’ actions to suspend arms supplies, and the level of risk of those arms being used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international human rights law (IHRL) or international humanitarian law (IHL). Each chapter concludes with Amnesty International’s recommendations on how governments should approach the sale and transfer of arms to each country.
Chapter eight focuses on the importance of ensuring there is an effective human rights parameter in the Treaty so that states deny an arms transfer authorization where there is a substantial risk of the arms being used for serious violations. It outlines the safeguards that should be in place before such a risk can be mitigated. It examines how an ATT can overcome weaknesses in existing arms control mechanisms, particularly the EU common position on arms exports which is regarded as one of the most advanced international instruments.
The report concludes with a series of recommendations on the provisions needed in an effective ATT, including on the scope, parameters, implementation and enforcement of the Treaty. It also sets out the action required by states considering further supplies of arms to governments in the MENA region in order to mitigate the risk of any further arms transfers being used to commit or facilitate serious human rights violations.
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