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DISARMAMENT: Arms Dealers Make Mockery of U.N. Embargoes

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 16 2006 (IPS) - The United Nations Security Council remains powerless and ineffective as mandatory military sanctions imposed on conflict-ridden countries and rebel groups are being openly violated, a coalition of international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) said Thursday.

“Over the past 10 years, systematic violations of U.N. arms embargoes have met with almost no successful prosecutions,” says Irene Khan, secretary-general of the London-based Amnesty International.

She said that “unscrupulous arms dealers continue to get away with grave human rights abuses and make a mockery of the U.N. Security Council’s efforts” (to punish governments and rebel groups caught up in conflict and post-conflict situations).

In a report released Thursday, the NGO coalition points out that “every one of the 13 U.N. embargoes imposed in the last decade has been repeatedly violated”.

“And despite hundreds of embargo breakers being named in U.N. reports, only a handful have been successfully prosecuted,” says the coalition, which includes Oxfam International, the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) and Amnesty International.

Last year a panel of U.N. experts identified companies and individuals from more than 25 countries – ranging from Albania and Belgium to United Kingdom and Zimbabwe – who have facilitated the supply of arms to embargoed destinations.

Additionally, weapons and munitions recovered by U.N. personnel have been traced back to their country or place of manufacture, including Bulgaria, China, Germany, Egypt, Romania, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine.

The current U.N. mandatory territorial arms embargoes are in force against the Ivory Coast, Liberia and Somalia. And the U.N.’s 191 member states are also barred from transferring arms to rebel groups and non-state actors in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and in Sudan, as well as to al Qaeda and associated persons.

In the last decade, military sanctions have also been imposed on Angolan armed rebels (1992 to 2002), Ethiopia and Eritrea (2000 to 2001), Iraq (1990 to 2003), Libya (1992 to 2003), and the former Yugoslavia (1991 to 1996, and again from 1998 to 2001).

Asked if arms embargoes are futile in the absence of strong U.N. monitoring mechanisms, Clare Rudebeck of Oxfam International told IPS that even though such mechanisms do exist, U.N. investigative teams tasked with monitoring the embargoes are given woefully inadequate resources and time.

As a result, she said, U.N. sanctions committees have to rely largely on member states to monitor and implement embargoes.

“However, member states, especially powerful states, do not support the United Nations with proper enforcement,” Rudebeck said. Moreover, state officials often cover up arms transfers when they report to the United Nations.

“Therefore, arms embargoes cannot be deployed effectively as an instrument by the United Nations to prevent illicit arms trafficking, without better national controls on international arms transfers. Currently these controls are woefully inadequate,” she added.

To tackle this problem, Rudebeck said member states must establish a more effective framework of controls based on a common set of criteria for international arms transfers fully consistent with international law – in other words, an international arms trade treaty.

According to the study released Thursday, an arms trade treaty would enable governments to act in unison to strictly control conventional arms transfers, thereby creating the conditions for U.N. arms embargoes to be properly respected.

Since the IANSA launched a global campaign in October 2003, over 45 countries have stated their support for such a treaty.

Last year, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged the Security Council to “name and shame” the habitual violators of arms embargoes.

The Security Council “may wish to produce a list of individuals, corporations, groups and countries violating arms embargoes”, Annan said in a report to the Council.

Considering the close links between the illegal trade in small arms and trafficking in women and children, “The Council may wish to assist in bringing those responsible for such crimes before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for prosecution,” he declared.

In a report to the Security Council last week, Cesar Mayoral, chairman of the sanctions committee monitoring al Qaeda said: “The lack of central authority in Somalia allows al Qaeda associates there to evade the arms embargo at will.”

The report also said “the situation appears to be getting worse, and continued arms embargo violations present a growing threat to international security, both in the region and beyond”.

With regard to implementation in Iraq and Afghanistan, both states lack the capacity to enforce the embargo and listed individuals and groups are able to circumvent it with little difficulty, the report added.

According to the NGO coalition, between 1990 and 2001 only eight of 57 conflicts had U.N. arms embargoes imposed. Even when U.N. embargoes were agreed, it was generally only once a conflict had begun.

An arms trade treaty, on the other hand, would provide a broader framework to prevent weapons being sold before wars start or human rights abuses reach their peak. This would also enable tougher enforcement of U.N. embargoes according to common standards based on international law, the coalition said.

The issue of arms embargoes is expected to come up at the U.N. world conference on small arms scheduled to take place in New York in June.

“In the 100 days until that U.N. conference starts, an estimated 100,000 people will be killed with arms and many more will be injured and suffer severely in other ways from armed violence,” warns Rebecca Peters, Director of the International Action Network on Small Arms.

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