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Arms: 'Irresponsible' trade fuelling human rights abuses - new report

Call for an international Arms Treaty ahead of key UN meeting in October

Weapons transfers that fuelled the military crackdown in Burma and the ongoing conflict ravaging the Darfur region of Sudan may have been prevented had an international Arms Treaty been in place, said Amnesty International today (17 Sept) as it published its new report.

The 125-page report – Blood at the crossroads: Making the case for a global Arms treaty – reveals how serious human rights violations are allowed to occur because of the variation and loopholes in the multi-billion pound global Arms.

It discloses evidence of weapons continuing to flow into Darfur despite an UN arms embargo in place; shows that approximately 360,000 weapons are unaccounted for in Iraq due to a poorly managed and unaccountable arms-trading process, and documents how huge quantities of arms are still being supplied to Burma despite the ongoing state repression.

At the UN next month discussions will start on whether to move forward on an international Arms Treaty. In its report Amnesty International is urging world leaders to ensure that central to the Treaty is the ‘golden rule’ on human rights: that governments must prevent arms transfers where there is a substantial risk they may be used for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“Next month’s decision at the UN is crucial. Governments around the world cannot go on ignoring the untold suffering and dreadful abuses caused by irresponsible global arms transfers.

“World leaders have to uphold their obligations on human rights and to move forward on an international Arms Treaty which is underpinned by the ‘golden rule’ on human rights.”

Last week UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband expressed commitment to push for a robust and effective Arms Treaty to be delivered at next month’s UN meeting. However a few states – including China, India, Pakistan and the USA – are likely to block, delay and water down proposals, which would make the treaty fail in its objectives and allow the continued unchecked trade in arms.

Kate Allen continued:

“A small minority of countries want to turn a blind eye to blatantly irresponsible arms transfers, rendering most national arms controls and UN arms embargoes weak and ineffective.

“The UK cannot afford to rest on its laurels at next month’s meeting. Its challenge – along with the other countries that support of the Treaty – is to ensure that human rights remains integral to the Treaty, and to deliver a working system in the shortest possible time frame.”

Blood at the Crossroads uses detailed case studies from Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Guatemala, Guinea, Iraq, Burma, Somalia, Sudan, Chad and Uganda to graphically demonstrate the catastrophic human rights consequences of unrestrained arms trading.

In Darfur weapons have been used to commit multiple human rights abuses. China and Russia are the largest suppliers of conventional arms to Sudan. Chinese weapons have been witnessed as being used in the Darfur conflict.

On 19 February 2008, two Chinese fighter jets called Fantans were used in an aerial attack in the town of Beybey in Darfur where three large bombs were dropped in a settlement killing eight people including Children's rights and wounding others. The Fantans had recently been serviced by Chinese technicians and Sudanese pilots were allegedly trained in China to fly the jets.

Meanwhile in Iraq, despite the context of serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict in Iraq, the threat posed by the proliferation of small arms in Iraq has been made worse by poor systems of arms management by arms suppliers like the US and UK, as well as by the Iraqi government.

Amnesty International shows that there appears to be no accountable and transparent audit trail for approximately 360,000 infantry weapons supplied to the Iraqi security forces, making the weapons now almost totally untraceable.

The easy availability of small arms and lack of accountability in Iraq has contributed to sectarian killings by armed groups, as well as torture and other ill-treatment; extra-judicial executions by Iraqi government forces and the continuing arbitrary detention of thousands of suspects by Iraqi soldiers backed by US armed forces since 2003.

In Burma, despite the persistent pattern of well-documented human rights violations committed by government forces, China, Serbia, Russia and Ukraine have supplied armoured personnel carriers, trucks, weapons and munitions, while India has recently offered to supply yet more arms.

Blood at the Crossroads also graphically shows how UN arms embargoes continue to be breached in Cote d’Ivoire, Somalia and Darfur because of weak national laws and a lack of commitment and capacity by some governments, making the case for an effective treaty even stronger.

Kate Allen said:

“The time for an Arms Treaty is now. Sixty years after the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the same governments that sought a better world after the horrors of the Second World War can, and should, deliver an effective agreement on international arms transfers with human rights at its heart.”

  • Read the report em> Blood at the Crossroads - Making the case for a global Arms treaty (PDF)
  • Take action - send an appeal to help securing an Arms Treaty /li>
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