• Press Release

New Amnesty International Report Examines Arms Transfers to Middle East and North Africa, Including Weapons and Bullets from the United States and Other Countries Used Against Protesters

October 18, 2011

Human Rights Organization Is Pushing Legislation to Block $53 Million in U.S. Arms Sales to Bahrain
Contact: Suzanne Trimel, 212-633-4150, [email protected]
(New York) — Countries including the United States, the United Kingdom and others that say they stand in solidarity with protests across the Middle East and North Africa have supplied weapons, bullets and military and police equipment that were used against peaceful protesters in the region, Amnesty International said today in a new report.

The report, which examines arms transfers to Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen since 2005, is being released as Amnesty International pushes for passage in the U.S. Congress of  legislation that would block  $53 million in proposed U.S. arms sale to the Bahraini government. The main arms suppliers to the five countries included in the report were Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

"President Obama condemned the Bahraini monarchy's use of violence against protestors, so why is the administration now rewarding that same king with additional weapons?" asked Sanjeev Bery, Middle East North Africa advocacy director for Amnesty International USA. "This is a contradiction  with tragic consequences. From Bahrain to Egypt, American weapons sales hurt the very protestors that U.S. policymakers say they support."

In the U.S. Congress, Representative James McGovern and Senator Ron Wyden have introduced legislation to oppose the proposed weapons sale to Bahrain.  In addition, Senator Robert Casey and four senators have written to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, urging a suspension of the sales.

The United States, Russia, and  several European countries supplied large quantities of weapons to repressive governments in the Middle East and North Africa before the uprisings that began this year, despite evidence of a substantial risk that they could be used to commit serious human rights violations, the organization said in its report, "Arms Transfers To The Middle East And North Africa: Lessons For An Effective Arms Trade Treaty."

"These findings highlight the stark failure of existing arms export controls, with all their loopholes, and underline the need for an effective global Arms Trade Treaty that takes full account of the need to uphold human rights." said Helen Hughes, Amnesty International's principal arms trade researcher on the report.

"Toward this end, Amnesty International repeats its calls to the United States government to support a strong, robust, comprehensive Arms Trade Treaty" added Bery. "Without a strong global framework these "contradictions" will abound and human rights abuses will continue.

At least 11 states have provided military assistance or allowed exports of weaponry, munitions and related equipment to Yemen, where some 200 protesters have lost their lives in 2011. These include Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, the Russian Federation, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Despite the continued brutal crackdown against protesters, the international community has failed to take strong action to stem arms transfers to Yemen.

Obtaining arms data for Syria is difficult as few governments officially report on their arms trade with the Syrian government. But it is known that the biggest arms supplier to Syria is the Russian Federation, with reportedly about 10 per cent of all Russian arms exports going there.

Russia does not publish an annual report on its arms exports meaning that its arms transfers to the region cannot be quantified.

India authorized the supply of armored vehicles to Syria whilst France sold munitions between 2005 and 2009.

Amnesty International has identified 10 states whose governments licensed the supply of weaponry, munitions and related equipment to Colonel Mu'ammar al-Gaddafi's regime in Libya since 2005, including Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain and the United Kingdom.

During the conflict, al-Gaddafi forces have committed war crimes and abuses which may amount to crimes against humanity.

Spanish cluster submunitions and MAT-120 cargo mortar projectiles, licensed for sale in 2007, were found by Amnesty International in Misratah when it was being shelled by al-Gaddafi forces earlier this year.  This equipment is now prohibited by the Cluster Munitions Convention which Spain signed less than a year after supplying the submunitions to Libya.

Much of the heavy weaponry found in Libya by Amnesty International researchers looks to have been manufactured during the Soviet-era — Russian or Soviet-made, especially the Grad rockets which are inherently indiscriminate and have been widely used by both sides during the conflict. Some of the munitions found were also Chinese, Bulgarian and Italian, such as the Type 72 anti-tank mines, rocket fuses and 155mm artillery rounds, respectively.  

At least 20 countries have sold and supplied small arms, ammunition, tear gas and riot control agents, and other equipment to Egypt. The USA has been the biggest – annually providing $1.3 billion. Others include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Italy, and Switzerland.

Shotguns were widely used in both Egypt and Bahrain by the security forces with devastating lethal effect.

Amnesty International recognized that the international community has taken some steps this year to restrict international arms transfers to Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen.  But the organization said that existing arms export controls had failed to prevent the transfer of arms in the preceding years.

"Arms embargos are usually a case of 'too little too late' when faced with human rights crises," said Hughes.

"What the world needs is rigorous case-by-case evaluation of each proposed arms transfer so that if there is a substantial risk that the arms are likely to be used to commit or facilitate serious human rights abuses, then the government must show the red stop light."

"This proactive 'Golden Rule' is already in the United Nations draft paper for the Arms Trade Treaty talks which resume at the United Nations in February. If the major arms exporters fail to adopt the Golden Rule, and recklessly continue a 'business as usual' approach, fuelling human rights crises as we have witnessed across the Middle East and North African region this year, it will needlessly shatter lives and undermine global security."
Arms Report Briefing Oct. 20 at United Nations
Amnesty International will  hold a briefing on this report at the United Nations in New York on Thurs., Oct. 20, at 1:15 p.m. The briefing is co-sponsored by the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Permanent Mission of Costa Rica to the U.N.

Where:        Conference Room 4, North Lawn Building, NY UN
Chair:        Ivan Simonovic, OHCHR
Panel:        Helen Hughes (Amnesty International Arms Trade Researcher)
Said Boumedouha (Amnesty International Middle East & North Africa researcher)
        Clare da Silva (Legal Adviser to Amnesty International on the Arms Trade Treaty)

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 2.8 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

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