The media's been up in arms of late

Arms deals - legitimate or otherwise - have been hotly discussed in the media in recent days.

British gunrunner Gary Hyde is back in the news as he’s in court in South London accused of making illegal weapons shipments to Nigeria from China. Amnesty’s been following Gary Hyde’s activities for a few years (see this Mirror story and this Observer piece) – so we’re following this trial at Southwark Crown Court with keen interest.

Meanwhile, the MPs from the Committees on Arms Export Controls’ criticism on the Government for its on-going supply of weapons to Saudi Arabia has gained a lot of attention. And rightly so, I think given the Kingdom’s notoriously bad record of violations against its own people and it has also come under intense criticism for the fighter jets it supplied to Yemen (supplied by the UK) which were used to bomb villages in the north of the country.

Even the most casual observer must question the UK’s rationale in positioning itself as a key trading partner for Saudi Arabia despite the country’s unscrupulous human rights record, and despite the UK promising to apply a higher level of scrutiny on weapons exports to the Middle East and North Africa.

Hard on the heels of criticism about the Saudi deals came a scathing attack from yesterday’s Independent on Sunday which accused the UK Government of hypocrisy for having granted permission to export millions of pounds of weapons to repressive regimes, including Egypt and Bahrain.Certainly very hard questions need to be asked about who these weapons were for, and who is going to use them.

And today the Times has run a piece (a similar piece appears to have run in Time in May last year) that the price of weapons on the black market in Lebanon have skyrocketed on account of the Syria uprising. Nicholas Blanford writes how a weak domestic arms market has meant that arms dealers in Lebanon are reporting record profits. For example, a standard AK47 which used to cost just over £700 is now going for more than £1300, while the DShK machine gun now costs about £3250 with each round of ammunition costing £1. A costly business – in more ways than one. But when you consider how certain states – namely Russia and Iran – appear to be turning a blind eye to the atrocities currently taking place in Syria. It’s little wonder that dealers on the black market are also cashing in on this conflict.

Clearly the arms trade is out of control. Very little scrutiny seems to be applied to so-called legitimate arms deals, while states are blatantly breaching arms embargoes and illegal gunrunners are having a field day.

Most of these antics can be explained by the fact that there is absolutely no internationally-legally binding legislation on the arms trade. This means that existing weapons controls are arbitrary and range hugely from one state to another. Plus, there’s no international scrutiny or penalty for making deals. Final discussions to agree an international Arms Trade Treaty are taking place this year (February and July), where it is hoped that states will agree to a robust human rights-centred arms trade Treaty.

Rather than all these countries (including the UK it would seem) joining the mad scramble to cash in on arms sales to the Middle East, wouldn't it be more sensible to put the same amount of effort into securing a robust Arms Trade Treaty that prevents weapons being sold before they are used to commit atrocities?Makes sense to me.


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