Arms Trade: Profits Before Human Rights?

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Al Jazeera

Arms Trade: Profits Before Human Rights?

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Egypt’s activists held up tear gas canisters labeled, “Made in the USA.”

According to an Amnesty International report, the US, Russia and a number of European countries supplied large quantities of weapons to repressive governments in the Middle East and North Africa before this year's uprisings.

The report says that these arms deals were signed despite evidence of a substantial risk that they could be used to commit serious human rights violations.

The human rights group reports that in the five years preceding the Arab spring $2.4bn worth of small arms, tear gas, armored vehicles and other security equipment was sold to five specified countries that have faced or are facing popular uprisings - Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen.

And these sales were committed by at least 20 governments including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the UK and the US.

The Amnesty International report also says that existing arms export controls have failed to prevent the transfer of arms.

It finds that US is the biggest arms supplier to Egypt that provides the Egyptian government with both military and law enforcement equipment that is worth $1.3bn.

And it identifies the 10 states whose governments licensed the supply of weaponry, ammunition and related equipment to Libya since 2005 - these include Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain and the UK.

It says India authorized the supply of armored vehicles to Syria while France sold ammunitions between 2005 and 2009 and Russia is also a main supplier to Syria.

The report expressly written with a pending international arms trade treaty in view - UN members voted on forming an arms trade treaty by an overwhelming majority of 153 countries in favor and only one country against it on October 30, 2009.

The goal of this treaty is to regulate the global arms market in order to prevent weapons reaching the hands of those who would use them to undermine stability, harm development and abuse human rights. The member states of UN will meet again in July to negotiate this treaty.

Does business come before humanitarian principles? And can the arms trade really be controlled by an international treaty?

Inside Story, with presenter Mike Hanna, discusses with guests Alexandre Vautravers, a professor of International Relations at Webster University, Geneva and editor of the Swiss Military Review; Gamal Abdel Gawad, a professor of Political Science at the American University in Cairo and a consultant to the Al-Ahram Center; and Helen Hughes, Amnesty International's Principle arms trade researcher.

 

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